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Patent Reform Bill Introduced In Congress Today

Kim Hart

Talk of patent reform has filled the halls of technology companies and Capitol Hill for years, but reaching bipartisan agreements on key parts of this very thorny issue has proved difficult. As a result, patent legislation hasn't gotten far in Congress.

For example, the Patent Reform Act of 2007 promised to bring big change to the patent system, but it never reached the Senate floor after being passed by the House. In 2005, an earlier version of that bill didn't even reach committees.

But today, legislation was introduced in both chambers by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and former chair Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), as well as House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) and ranking minority member Lamar Smith (R-Texas).

The lobbying community, which has been actively talking up the finer points of patent reform for some time, quickly voiced their reactions. The biggest debate centers on provisions to limit the damages patent holders are eligible to receive in infringement cases to the value of the particular piece of technology, rather that the entire product that contains that technology.

The Coalition for Patent Fairness, which includes the Business Software Alliance, Intel, Apple, Symantec and Google, argues that the millions of dollars in damages collected in patent infringement cases discourages companies from innovating and creating new products. Fighting off patent lawsuits also consumes precious time and money that would be better spent developing new technology and creating jobs that can stimulate the economy.

HP is one of the world's largest patent holders, having received more than 30,000 patents. The company receives an average of four patents every day, said MIchael Holston, general counsel for HP.

"We are a constant target of patent lawsuits and more than half the lawsuits have been filed by non-operating entities," he said on a conference call this afternoon. "We spend significant resources to defend against these cases. We need to do more to encourage real innovation."

The Software and Information Industry Association said it supports the clarification of the "vague and uncertain" rules for calculating damages and awarding damages that correspond to the value of the infringed patent.
But the Coalition for 21st Century Patent Reform, which includes 3M, Procter & Gamble, Pfizer, and Texas Instruments, believes the debate over damages should be left up to the courts to decide.

The Manufacturers Alliance on Patent Policy, which has some of the same members, takes the position that limiting damages could actually decrease the value of patents.That could lead to the decrease value of U.S. public companies and a loss of jobs.

The Innovation Alliance, made up of Qualcomm and Dolby Laboratories, for example, says limiting damages would only invite more infringement cases and discourage research and development efforts.

Meanwhile, the Commerce Department still does not yet have a leader firmly in place, nor does the U.S. Patent Office.

We'll keep you posted on the bill as it moves through Congress.

By Kim Hart  |  March 3, 2009; 6:30 PM ET  | Category:  Kim Hart
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

Based on your article, the proposed bill does not really seem to be "reform". It appears to be a "clarification" of how damages may be assessed for alleged infringement.

The patent system is broken. Patents are being giving out indiscriminately. The granting of patents needs to be severely curtailed. Especially ridiculous is the granting of patents for software, business practices, and processes. True reform will mean that the granting of patents will be limited to real discoveries that are not obvious.

Posted by: SteveR1 | March 3, 2009 8:35 PM

please see for a different/opposing view on patent reform

Posted by: cluedin | March 6, 2009 9:46 AM

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