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Volume 87 Issue 15 | p. 9 | News of The Week
Issue Date: April 13, 2009

Patent Reform Bill Advances

Diverse stakeholders endorse bid to overhaul U.S. patent law
Department: Government & Policy

THE SENATE Judiciary Committee passed a compromise patent reform bill after a trio of senators said they had resolved several contentious issues, including how to calculate damage awards in patent infringement lawsuits. Disagreement over these issues mainly pitted high-tech companies against drugmakers and manufacturers.

The legislation (S. 515), which the committee passed before Congress’ spring recess, will now be considered by the full Senate. It has been embraced by a variety of interest groups that have been fighting for more than six years over how to revise U.S. patent law, which has not been overhauled since 1952.

“Patent reform is urgently needed,” says Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), committee chairman and bill cosponsor. “The agreement this committee has reached to move forward with patent reform is the culmination of months of arduous negotiations and compromise. Working together, we can make the necessary, long-overdue improvements our patent reform system requires.”

The reform effort has been pushed by high-tech companies in the computer software and electronics hardware industries that want to reduce patent litigation and limit damages for infringement to deter frivolous lawsuits. But biotechnology, pharmaceutical, and manufacturing firms have expressed fear that such changes would reduce the value of their intellectual property and invite more infringement.

Leahy and Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) amended the bill to include a key compromise, agreeable to all sides, that will allow judges to act as “gatekeepers” and help juries determine appropriate damages.

“While no compromise is ever perfect, we believe the committee’s product breaks the logjam on the major issues that have held up patent reform for the past several Congresses and will clear the path for a bill to be completed without undue delay,” Biotechnology Industry Organization President James C. Greenwood said in a statement.

A broad coalition of nearly 50 global corporations, including Dow Chemical, DuPont, Eli Lilly & Co., and Novartis, called the compromise amendments “a major breakthrough” that should move the bill “toward consensus and, hopefully, ultimate enactment by the Congress.”

A group representing Silicon Valley giants such as Microsoft, Google, Apple, and Cisco has also endorsed the measure. Similar patent reform legislation (H.R. 1260) is awaiting action in the House.

 
Chemical & Engineering News
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