Patent-reform amendment backed by California senators defeated

The Senate has defeated a key amendment to patent-reform legislation, paving the way for passage of a measure that would change the way the United States recognizes patent claims.

In a 87-13 vote, the Senate tabled the measure offered by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), which would have stripped language switching the nation’s patent system from a “first-to-invent” system to a “first-to-file” system.

The United States differs from the norm in having a system that protects patents by the first person to invent the thing being patented. Most of the world uses a system that recognizes the first inventor to file for patent protection.

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was among the senators who voted with Feinstein.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) said Feinstein’s amendment would have gutted his legislation.

“With all due respect it would destroy all the work we tried to do in this bill,” said Leahy.

Feinstein and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) backed a number of California companies in supporting the amendment. They have argued that changing the system to first-to-file would give an advantage to corporations with deep pockets that can afford to apply for multiple patents.

It is expensive to file an application for patents, and the California senators argue that smaller and start-up companies would not have the initial resources to protect their ideas if the United States moves to a first-to-file system.

Leahy, however, argued that the amendment was due to “some well-financed special interests that do not support [the Patent Reform Act]” that were “trying to kill it by a last minute campaign to strike these vital provisions.”

He said the provision would not give an advantage to big companies. "A vote in support of this amendment is an effectively a vote to kill the act,” he said.

Besides Reid, Feinstein and Boxer, senators voting in favor of Feinstein's amendment included Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), John Ensign (R-Nev.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) John Tester (D-Mont.), Bill Nelson (R-Fla.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), James Risch (R-Idaho), Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), Dan Inouye (D-Hawaii.).