Prominent critic of patent system to join the White House

In a fresh sign that the Obama Administration may be getting serious about patent reform, the White House is bringing on professor Colleen Chien, whose research is shedding light on controversial practice of patent trolling, to advise its chief technology officer:

“In her new role, she will advise [Todd] Park on issues related to intellectual property and innovation, as well as privacy, open government, and civil liberties. She will help ensure that OSTP can fulfill its missions to coordinate science and technology policy across the executive branch and to provide advice to the president on science and technology policy matters,” according to a release from Santa Clara University, where Chien teaches.

Chien, a former patent lawyer, has published influential papers that question the economic justification for the current wave of patent trolling in which holding companies acquire old patents and threaten productive companies with expensive lawsuits unless they purchase a license.

One prominent troll, for instance, this week notched new victories in its campaign to demand money from companies that podcast.

Chien is a more measured critic than some, noting that trolls can help start-ups in some cases, but that venture capitalists and start-ups have an overall negative opinion of them.

News of Chien’s White House appointment coincides with numerous proposed bills and an FTC plan to curtail patent trolling, which can drain start-ups and innovate companies of capital for research and hiring. Perhaps sensing the pushback, the most famous patent troll, Intellectual Ventures, is increasing its lobbying spending as it seeks to raise another $3 billion to expand its trolling activities.