House approves rule for patent, drilling bills

Much of the Democratic opposition to the rule was related to the waiver of the "cut-go" rule. The Rules Committee put forward a manager's amendment meant to correct a drafting error of the Judiciary Committee, which improperly appropriated money on an authorization bill to a mandatory spending account. Republicans said fixing that problem needed a waiver because moving the money back to discretionary spending is scored as a spending increase, even though the bill does not actually increase spending.

Democrats ignored this explanation and tried to cast the maneuver as proof that Republicans have violated their pledge to match new spending proposals with new spending cuts. House Judiciary Committee ranking member John Conyers (D-Mich.) argued several times that the Congressional Budget Office claims a spending increase under the bill.

Republicans rejected that and said Democrats were trying to portray a technical fix as a way to spend more without offsetting that spending, which is incorrect.

"Had the committee reported this bill out the way we're bringing this bill to the floor, there would have been no cut-go violation whatsoever," said Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Ga.). "And yet we're raising this issue on the floor of the House as if there's some big backroom deal going on. And that's frustrating to me as a freshman member, Mr. Speaker, because there is no backroom deal."

One Republican, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), seemed to accept Democratic arguments that the bill would result in increased spending. "This bill will lay the foundation not only for weaker patent protection for American inventors, but it will also knock the legs out from under us finally being responsible in our spending patterns," he said.

Rohrabacher claimed that the bill would lead to weaker patent protection because it would change the U.S. system from a first-to-invent system to a first-inventor-to-file system, which he said is an attempt to harmonize U.S. rules with those in the rest of the world.

"It is about harmonizing American patent law with those of Europe, and in Europe and in Asia they do not have strong patent protection for their people," he said. "What that means is weaker patent protection for Americans."

Republicans also beat back arguments that the manager's amendment would allow fees collected by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to be used for purposes outside USPTO. Republicans said that is a mischaracterization of the bill, which precludes the use of these fees outside the agency.

In addition to these issues, significant debate is expected on an amendment that would strike language in the bill that some say would allow banks to avoid compliance with certain patents.

Other members have questions about the constitutionality of a change to a first-inventor-to-file system. To address this, the rule sets aside 20 minutes of initial debate on the constitutionality of the bill.