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National Restaurant Association - How you can help Congress pass a critical bill

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How you can help Congress pass a critical bill

The House may vote next week on a bill that would curb a persistent threat to innovation in restaurants. But they need your help to pass it.

At issue: The Innovation Act, which would curb frivolous legal actions by patent trolls. The bill has bipartisan support but hasn’t passed yet.  

“The number of letters we send to Capitol Hill will have a direct impact on whether a vote happens,” says Laura Chadwick, NRA director of commerce and entrepreneurship.

Tell your representative to vote for the Innovation Act.

Here’s why you should be concerned: Thousands of restaurants, hotels and retail establishments have been sued by patent trolls—companies that squeeze “licensing fees” and settlements from businesses that allegedly infringe on patents. Patent trolls have been targeting restaurants for their use of in-store WiFi, digital menu boards and other common technologies.

They often strike without warning. Culver’s, a 538-location casual-dining chain based in Prairie du Sac, Wis., was targeted for its use of an online calorie calculator and shortened web links in text-message marketing. Culver’s paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to settle the text-messaging claim, to avoid more than $1 million in litigation costs.

Steve Anderson, Culver’s vice president and general counsel, said the threat carries significant costs, felt by both operators and customers.

“The money we spend dealing with these demands has to come from somewhere,” Anderson said. “This is the same money that we would have otherwise reinvested in promoting our business and driving traffic to our franchisees to help them succeed. Due to the threat of six-figure settlement demands or seven-figure lawsuits, we and other restaurants simply can’t innovate the way we would like. And that won’t change unless Congress passes meaningful legislation like the Innovation Act.”

Demand letters from patent trolls are often vague, making it hard to assess their interest in the patent or what settlement they’re seeking, said Jamie Richardson, vice president, government and shareholder relations for White Castle. The 412-unit chain has been on the receiving end of a number of demands, Richardson said.

 “If restaurants aren’t concerned about patent trolls, they should be,” said Richardson. ”Patent trolls’ behavior harms everyone by driving up prices and limiting innovation. Even if you haven’t been sued, you’re still footing the bill. The Innovation Act is critical to curbing the abuses.”

How you can help: Urge Congress to support the Innovation Act, which:

  • Gives judges the power to force those who bring frivolous lawsuits to pay all legal fees.
  • Requires those making claims to be more specific regarding their ownership of and interest in the patent.
  • Reins in the high cost of investigating claims, which trolls use to force settlements.

Ask your representative to vote for the Innovation Act.

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