Software patents are the biggest reason behind a rise in litigation over inventions, especially against companies that use the technology, the U.S. Government Accountability Office found.

Its study, required under a law passed in 2011 that overhauled the U.S. patent system, said the revisions and court rulings have made it easier to invalidate questionable patents and limited damages that can be collected on a minor feature.

The report recommended the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office do more to improve the review process.

The GAO found almost half, or 46 percent, of lawsuits filed from 2007 to 2011 involved software-related patents, and more than a third of those, or 39 percent, were against companies outside technology fields. Those included retailers and drugmakers who were sued over features on their websites. Companies told the agency that it’s often difficult to determine what the patents cover.

“Although there is some inherent uncertainty associated with all patent claims, several of the stakeholders with this opinion noted that claims in software-related patents are often overly broad, unclear or both,” according to the report.

Companies whose main business is to extract royalty revenue, called patent monetization entities or PMEs, filed about 19 percent of all lawsuits from 2007 to 2011, while operating companies brought 68 percent, the study found.

The number of defendants sued by patent monetization entities more than tripled, to 3,401 in 2011 from 834 in 2007, the study found,

Editors: Bernard Kohn, Steve Geimann

Topics Lawsuits USA