Lawmakers are considering proposals to stop so-called "patent trolls." They say people who fraudulently collect fines under the guise of protecting intellectual property are hurting small businesses.
"Patent trolls" and their lesser-known cousins, "copyright trolls," basically search for opportunities to make money by claiming someone has used a protected idea without permission.
Rep. Ann Williams (D-Chicago) says many businesses would rather pay the "fine" a patent troll asks for, rather than fight back in court alone.
"The patent trolls have really taken advantage of small businesses that don't have the financial resources to hire a legal team to fight off these patent challenges," she said.
Often, she says, the person or entity accusing a business of patent infringement doesn't even have the rights to that patent, and count on the fear of their targets.
Williams says the plan would give the Illinois attorney general more power to prosecute patent trolls.
A related plan in the Illinois House is intended to crack down on people who falsely allege copyright infringement.
Mark Denzler, with the Illinois Manufacturers' Association, says it's fairly easy to allege copyright infringement. "You could have someone send you a letter, send the radio station a letter saying, 'Hey, we're alleging a violation of copyright law. You pay us $5,000 and you can use it.'" he said. "They may not even have the copyright on it. They just may be a troll that's trying to get money paid for it." While the IMA supports the effort, Denzler says the language in the copyright troll legislation is too broad. Both anti-troll bills could still be approved before lawmakers are scheduled to adjourn for the summer on Saturday.