Senate panel ‘close’ to patent deal

The Senate Judiciary Committee is getting closer to a deal on legislation to stop patent “trolls,” lawmakers said on Thursday.

“I know we’re not at the finish line yet, but I think we’re close,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said at a committee meeting.

There has been “a lot of ink,” he added, “about divisions and the fact that we’re in an election year and nothing is going to get done.

“I think this could get done if we keep our nose to the grindstone.”

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For months, the Judiciary panel has been considering legislation from Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) to fight off the trolls, which critics claim gum up the works of innovation by filing meritless lawsuits claiming patent rights are being violated. The panel considered the bill, called the Patent Transparency and Improvements Act, on Thursday, but put off a markup until next week.

“We have to get a bill done,” said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). “It’s one of the building blocks for the future of a job-growing America.”

Staff members have been meeting to discuss legislation in recent weeks, and lawmakers hoped that a final deal would be reached soon.

Stumbling blocks for the panel so far have been over whether or not to include a “fee-shifting” provision to the bill that would force losing parties to pay for the winner’s legal fees, a measure critics worry could discourage legitimate patent holders and inventors from bringing worthwhile lawsuits, as well as an effort from Schumer to make it easier to challenge weak software patents.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) told the panel that she was “a bit between sixes and sevens” on the bill, because she had the responsibility of looking out for different types of patent rights holder.

“I agree we need to do something about this,” she said, “but at the same time there are conflicts that call out that we’ve got to look carefully and not kill the incentives to invest in the startup companies and the small companies that are so often the ones that take the risks.”

President Obama called for the Senate to take action on a patent bill in his State of the Union Address this year. The effort comes after the House overwhelmingly passed the Innovation Act, from Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), in December.