Dems oppose weak language in House patent reform bill

Key House Democrats late Wednesday night said they have serious reservations about a patent reform bill, adding to questions over whether it can pass over these objections and objections several Republicans have about the constitutionality of the bill.

Speaking on the House floor, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) said her major objection with the bill is that it does not guarantee that patent fees collected by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office are not diverted to other agencies. This is a critical issue, as many members see these fees as a way to expand USPTO's ability to examine patents more quickly and reduce approval times.

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"So that is a major reason why the bill is defective," she said.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) argued repeatedly that the bill, H.R. 1249, would require USPTO fees to stay within PTO. He said that these funds would still be subject to appropriation by Congress, and would ensure that these fees stay within USPTO even they exceed the appropriations.

Lofgren expressed skepticism, saying that even today, it is policy not to have so-called "fee diversion," even though fee diversion happens.

Lofgren said a second problem is that if the U.S. is about to move to a first-inventor-to-file system, more rights need to be secured for prior use, but she said these protections are not there.

Goodlatte said the bill would vastly improve the U.S. patent system by allowing people to submit evidence of prior art during patent consideration, which would ensure that patent examiners have the full record. He also said the bill would allow new post-grant objections to patents, which he said would help screen out bad patents.

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He also cited language in the bill that would limit patent litigation, let USPTO re-examine business method patents, limit false markings suits, and limit so-called "tax strategy" patents.

Shortly after 9 p.m., members began debating amendments to the bill, starting with a manager's amendment from House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas).

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), who opposes the bill, rose to oppose Smith's amendment in part because of doubts about USPTO fee diversion.

He also rejected the manager's amendment for what he said is a violation of House Republican "cut-go" rules. The House earlier in the day overrode those concerns and approved the rule. Smith again defended this decision late Wednesday, and said the language does not increase spending. He also implied that some want to reject the manager's amendment in order to send the bill back to the Judiciary Committee and rework some of the language with which they disagree.

Fourteen other amendments were made in order, and are expected to be debated and voted on Thursday. The House adjourned shortly after consideration of the manager's amendment.