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U.S. lawmakers offer bill to curb patent lawsuits

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two U.S. lawmakers introduced legislation on Monday to give companies another tool to fight lawsuits brought by companies that specialize in patent litigation.

Their bill would broaden the power of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to review patents and verify that they should have been granted.

Currently, the patent office can review business method patents related to financial services more aggressively than other patents.

The bill - proposed by California Representatives Darrell Issa, a Republican, and Judy Chu, a Democrat - would expand that authority to include all business method patents, many of which are software patents that are frequently used by firms, often derided as "patent trolls," to file infringement lawsuits.

The bill is similar to one introduced in May by Senator Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat. Action has not yet been taken on Schumer's bill.

Cisco Systems Inc, Apple Inc, Google Inc and other technology powerhouses have been pushing for legislation that would reduce the number of times each year that they are sued for infringement by a "non-practicing entity," a company that licenses patents as its 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 lawsuits by firms that make or sell nothing but specialize in suing others for patent infringement, and there are other proposals circulating on Capitol Hill.

Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, and Representative Bob Goodlatte, a Republican from Virginia, have released a discussion draft of a bill aimed at stopping frivolous patent litigation.

And Representative Peter DeFazio, an Oregon Democrat, has introduced legislation aimed at hurting so-called trolls by allowing judges to force such firms to pay the legal fees of companies they unsuccessfully sue.

(Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)

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