Senate Panel Inches Toward Patent Reform

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday edged closer to approving a bill designed to revamp the nation's patent system. However, the panel was unable to reach consensus on the measure, which includes language defining a special class of very small inventors.

Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said at the bill markup that he is urging the panel to approve the bill before Congress goes on its annual August recess and that debate on the bill, S.1145, likely will continue next week.

While the language creating a new class of "micro entities" that would receive special breaks on fees and other patent issues remains intact, lawmakers must smooth out differences on other issues like the distribution of damages in patent infringement cases.

Panel member Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, said the biotechnology industry was generally happy with the bill, but universities continued to express some concerns. Some schools don't like, among other things, the "first to file" provision, which would award patents to the first to file an application rather than the current system of awarding the patent to the first inventor.

Although the Patent and Trademark Office has concerns about some aspects of the legislation, Jefferson Taylor, director of congressional relations at the PTO, said Thursday that "on balance ... we are pleased with the progress of the bill."

Background:

* Patent Bill Would Aid "Micro" Firms

* How Do I ... Get a Patent

By Sharon McLoone |  July 13, 2007; 10:06 AM ET Intellectual Property
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I don't recall Senator Feinstein saying that the biotech industry is generally happy with the current version of the Patent Reform Act. To the contrary, Senator Feinstein - a long-time friend of biotech - well knows that our industry is NOT happy with the Patent Reform Act, in its current form.

As Senator Feinstein herself noted during the mark-up, several sections - including the apportionment of damages provision and the post grant proposal - need further refinement. Senators from both sides of the aisle noted throughout the meeting that the legislation needs further improvements.

The patent reform debate is critical to the future of biotechnology innovation. With good ideas and strong intellectual property, investors will fund research and development into exciting new biotechnology applications, such as healthcare, agriculture, and cellulosic ethanol. Unfortunately, the Patent Reform Act, while well intentioned, currently contains several provisions that, by devaluing patent rights, could undermine the very foundation upon which biotechnology innovation is built.

Posted by: Jeff Joseph, VP, Biotechnology Industry Organization | July 13, 2007 4:59 PM

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