Senate Judiciary to hold patent briefings

The Senate Judiciary Committee is moving ahead with its plans to reform patent law.

Last month, the committee held a hearing on the Patent Transparency and Improvements Act, authored by Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). According to a committee aide, the next steps will involve bringing in stakeholders to brief committee staff later this month.

The Senate action comes after the House passed the Innovation Act — authored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) — last year. Goodlatte’s bill takes aim at “patent troll” lawsuits, or frivolous lawsuits filed in the hopes of getting the defendant to settle rather than go to court. The Innovation Act increases the costs of bringing frivolous suits and lessens the burdens on the companies and individuals being sued.

Leahy’s bill is also aimed “patent troll” behavior but focuses more on transparency of patent ownership and deceptive legal threats. 

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Controversial provisions — including allowing additional scrutiny for software patents and requiring the courts to force the loser of a frivolous lawsuit to pay the winner’s legal fees — are expected to come up as Senate Judiciary Committee members, including Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas), attempt to have their provisions included in Leahy’s bill.

“Supporting American innovators and protecting those who are being targeted by patent trolls is a bipartisan priority of the Senate Judiciary Committee and among Chairman Leahy’s top legislative priorities this year,” the Judiciary aide said.

“To support these bipartisan efforts to pass meaningful legislation, Chairman Leahy is scheduling a series of staff briefings with representatives from the university community, innovators, small businesses and other stakeholders to consider the legislative proposals before the Committee.”

According to people familiar with the committee’s plans, the briefings will include presentations from various stakeholders, including universities — which have expressed concerns that patent reform could endanger the ability to protect their patents — and representatives from the retail industry — which has warned Congress about the dangers of patent troll lawsuits in the past.

During the December hearing on Leahy’s patent bill, some committee members urged the chairman to proceed cautiously with the bill and take the time to gather input from all stakeholders. Many Democrats on the committee called for a second hearing.

Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) repeated her calls for a second hearing on Thursday.

“Senator Hirono appreciates additional staff briefings but would also like to have a second hearing. Innovation is a core pillar of our economy, and it’s important that the public and senators themselves hear from many sources, including universities and innovative small businesses,” an aide to the senator said.