ARLINGTON, Va. – The Food Marketing Institute commended the Obama administration for enacting a series of executive orders and proposing legislative recommendations that will further protect businesses from Patent Assertion Entities (PAEs) – also known as “patent trolls” – that aggressively pursue patent-infringement lawsuits usually regarded as unfounded.

“Patent trolls pose an increasing threat to supermarket retailers and we are heartened that the president is taking major steps to address the enormous burden they are imposing on businesses, and ultimately, consumers,” FMI Regulatory Counsel Erik Lieberman said last week in a statement.


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“It is our hope that these measures will serve to reduce the tens of billions of dollars trolls cost our economy every year and free up these resources to be used for innovation and job creation,” he added.

One legislative proposal is to protect off-the-shelf use by consumers and businesses by providing them with better legal protection against liability for a product being used off-the-shelf and solely for its intended use. One of the executive actions will authorize the Patent and Trademark Office to publish new education and outreach materials, including an accessible, plain-English website offering answers to common questions by those facing demands from a possible troll.

Natan Tabak, senior vice president and chief information officer, Wakefern Food Corp., Keasbey, N.J., supports federal legislation that would curb patent trolls. “The only thing patent trolls didn’t patent is breathing,” he told SN, adding, “They have become an obstacle to business.”

Some companies, Tabak noted, prefer to settle with patent trolls than be enmeshed in litigation. “We’re going to see patent trolls become a bigger issue for retailers.”

In 2004, seven bar-code scanner manufacturers prevailed in a case, later upheld on appeal, in which 14 scanning-related patents claimed by the Lemelson Medical, Education & Research Foundation, Portland, Ore., were found to be "invalid, unenforceable, and not infringed by current scanners." The case was described as a victory for retailers who scan bar-coded products and manufacturers who apply bar codes to their products.

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