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By Diane Bartz
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. lawmaker who has been leading the charge against frivolous but expensive patent litigation released the draft of a bill on Monday aimed at hemming in so-called "patent trolls."
Representative Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, released a second discussion draft of a measure that would broaden the power of judges to award fees to the winner of a patent infringement lawsuit, among other steps.
Goodlatte, a Republican from Virginia, is working on the measure with his counterpart on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy. There is no firm timeline on when the legislation might be introduced.
A variety of bills have been introduced on Capitol Hill this year aimed at reducing the number of times that companies face unfounded patent infringement litigation, often from companies known derisively as patent trolls.
The effort is backed by Cisco Systems Inc, Apple Inc, Google Inc and other technology powerhouses. The companies have been sued repeatedly by "non-practicing entities," or companies that license patents as their primary business. Google has estimated the cost of such litigation to the U.S. economy at $30 billion a year.
The White House in June urged Congress to take steps to curb these lawsuits, and there are other proposals circulating on Capitol Hill.
Goodlatte's discussion draft calls for a change in how many documents can be requested before the trial begins, which is important because of the huge expense in gathering the material.
"The idea here is to limit discovery to a set of core documents that you need to prove your case," said Matt Levy, the patent counsel for the Computer and Communications Industry Association. "The discovery process has definitely been abused."
Goodlatte's draft also requires infringement complaints to specify what portion of a patent is infringed and what the infringing product is. It also requires transparency about who owns the patent.
Additionally, it broadens a company's ability to ask the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to review a patent to ensure it is valid.
The Software and Information Industry Association, a trade group for software and related companies praised the draft as "a crucial legislative step toward achieving strong and effective patent litigation reform."
(Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Ros Krasny and Tim Dobbyn)