House panel rejects Democrats' alternative 'patent troll' bill

An attempt from House Judiciary democrats to redirect patent reform was defeated by the committee on Wednesday.

The House Judiciary Committee rejected the Democratic patent reform amendment during a markup of the Innovation Act, authored by Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.).

Goodlatte’s bill seeks to cut down on abusive patent lawsuits by, among other things, requiring companies bringing lawsuits to be more transparent about their financial backing and limiting the kinds of burdens they can impose on the companies and people being sued.

Originally, Goodlatte’s bill would have also allowed companies being sued for infringing certain kinds of software patents to ask the Patent Office to reexamine the validity of those patents. He offered a manager’s amendment to strip that provision.

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The amendment from ranking member John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.), ranking member of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, would require more transparency from the companies bringing infringement suits and ensure that the Patent Office gets to keep the fees it collects.

The vote fell along party lines except for Democratic Reps. Zoe Lofgren (Calif.), Suzan DelBene (Wash.) and Pedro Pierluisi (P.R.).  Lofgren is a cosponsor of Goodlatte’s bill, and DelBene had announced her support for Goodlatte’s amendment.

Judiciary said he was introducing the amendment because Goodlatte’s bill would hurt the ability of judges to handle patent cases as they see fit.

The bill, even when changed by Goodlatte’s amendment, contains “highly problematic proposals” that “would make sweeping and unnecessary changes to patent litigation and encroach upon the independence of the federal judiciary,” Conyers said.

Watt criticized Goodlatte for ignoring the concerns of the judicial community.

Goodlatte “crafted legislation without consideration of how the courtroom operates,” Watt said. He joked that Goodlatte is a “Non Practicing Lawmaker,” a play on the term Non Practicing Entities, or companies that enforce patents without creating technologies based on those patents.

Goodlatte objected to the Democratic amendment, saying it raised practical and jurisdictional problems.

Because the Appropriations Committee, not the Judiciary Committee, has to handle bills that tackle funding of federal agencies, the bill would be a nonstarter on the House floor if it incorporates the amendment from Conyers and Watt, Goodlate said.

Additionally, Goodlatte objected to the amendment’s transparency requirements. Under the amendment, anyone with a financial interest in a patent would have to be disclosed when a company sues for infringement of that patent.

Companies bringing infringement lawsuits would have to name anyone with “a single stock” in the company, he said, calling that provision “absurd requirement.”

“Clearly the substitute needs more work,” he said.

Watt attributed the problems in the amendment to an unnecessarily rushed timeline. Everything in front of the committee — the Innovation Act, Goodlatte’s amendment and the amendment being Conyers and Watt — is being rushed to meet arbitrary deadlines, he said.

“I don’t know why we’re in such a hurry,” he said.

“I’m kind of hoping that we don’t pass any of this stuff and go back to the drawing board.”