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US senate begins debate on patent reform

Grant Gross | March 1, 2011
Some tech groups have opposed a patent reform bill being debated in the U.S. Senate.

FRAMINGHAM, 1 MARCH 2011 - The U.S. Senate is debating an overhaul of the nation's patent system this week, but several technology groups have opposed the bill, saying it would hurt innovation and overload the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Supporters of the Patent Reform Act, due for a Senate vote this week, say it would improve the quality of patents issued by the USPTO and would reduce huge infringement awards in patent lawsuits.

"This bill, if we do it right, will create millions of new jobs," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said Tuesday on the Senate floor.

Others disagreed. Even though the tech industry has long called for patent reform, the bill would be worse than the "status quo," said Ed Black, president and CEO of the Computer and Communications Industry Association. "On the whole, it will inhibit the technology sector and impede future reform," Black said in a statement.

The bill is similar in many ways to controversial patent reform legislation that has stalled in Congress in recent years. It would direct the USPTO to award patents to the first inventor to file for a patent, instead of determining the first person to create a new invention, putting the U.S. in step with most of the rest of the world.

"The first-to-file provision will be a gold mine for attorneys and the largest portfolio holders, but the result will burden rather than promote innovation," Black added.

Several large technology vendors, including Intel (INTC), Microsoft (MSFT) and Apple (AAPL), have been pushing for patent reform for years, spurred by several multimillion-dollar patent infringement awards from U.S. courts in recent years.

The bill, sponsored by Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, would allow outside parties to file information related to patent applications, potentially allowing outsiders to challenge patent applications, and it would create new ways to challenge patents after the USPTO has awarded them. It would narrow the ability of patent holders to collect multimillion-dollar damage awards, and it would allow the USPTO to set its own fees for patents.

The bill enjoys bipartisan support in the Senate and from President Barack Obama's administration. The bill "represents a fair, balanced, and necessary effort" to improve patent quality, improve the USPTO and "offer productive alternatives to costly and complex litigation," the White House Office of Management and Budget said in a statement released Monday.

 

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