Patent Reform Is Falling Apart

from the because-of-course-it-is dept

Last year a decent, but not great, patent reform bill looked poised to pass… until it was killed off at the last minute, thanks mainly to trial lawyers afraid of fee shifting provisions. The common wisdom was that this year a similar reform bill would likely sail through Congress, since the Senate had shifted and the Democrats (who are more closely aligned with the trial lawyers) were no longer in power. The eventual bill was just so-so, but had a few good and useful provisions, taking people a step in the right direction.

After that, I had assumed that things would go along the usual course, and eventually this weak, but still marginally useful, patent reform bill would go through. However, a few weeks ago, someone involved in negotiations on the bill told me that the whole thing was potentially falling apart, as a concerted lobbying effort by those against patent reform — combined with less than active support from those in favor of patent reform — threatened to destroy the bill. And, now, it appears that’s exactly what’s happening. Judiciary Committee boss Rep. Bob Goodlatte has apparently caved on a few key issues, such that the bill has basically been watered down to nothing, and even those in favor of patent reform may just bail on it altogether.

The committee had been expected to approve the bill easily when it was introduced earlier this year by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), the House Judiciary chairman. But under pressure from House leadership and opponents of the bill, new language was added last week that guts key parts of the legislation, according to its proponents.

Advocates of aggressive legislation are threatening to walk away from the bill if the old language isn’t restored. For instance, one aspect of the bill would’ve made it harder for trolls to file suit in courts that have historically granted favorable decisions. Recent changes have weakened that provision too far, said one pro-reform advocate, who declined to be named because the talks are ongoing.

Even that’s misleading. The legislation that was on the table was hardly “aggressive,” but those who abuse the patent system, especially on the pharma side, are a powerful lobby, and apparently they’re now killing the best chance we had at real patent reform. Yes, in the last few years the courts have been useful in chipping away at some of the worst abuses of the patent system, but a real legislative change was necessary as well — and now that’s likely to disappear. Once again, it looks like Congress can’t get its act together to fix a major problem for the economy.

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