Tech hits back after Leahy shelves patent bill

Lauren Schneiderman

The tech industry is accusing the Senate Judiciary Committee of bowing to “patent troll” lobbyists after Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) shelved his patent reform bill.

“Patent trolls and their special interest allies are the only winners today,” Matt Tanielian, executive director of the Coalition for Patent Fairness, said.

On Wednesday, Leahy announced that he would be pulling his patent reform bill from his committee’s agenda.

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After weeks of negotiations to find a compromise over some of the more contentious patent reform proposals, Leahy said he was unable to bring an updated bill to committee that would get the sweeping and bipartisan support he was looking for.

“Unfortunately, there has been no agreement on how to combat the scourge of patent trolls on our economy without burdening the companies and universities who rely on the patent system every day to protect their inventions,” Leahy said in a statement Wednesday.

Tech groups slammed Leahy and the committee for caving under pressure from patent trolls, the companies that profit by bringing and threatening meritless patent infringement lawsuits.

“Thousands of businesses in the crosshairs of patent trolls were relying on the Senate to provide them with the relief they urgently need,” Tanielian said in a statement.

“How all of these industries, companies and small business owners could be left without any answers is astounding.”

Many groups pledged to continue pushing for patent reform, pointing to the businesses that currently spend time and money defending themselves from patent trolls.

“The choice of special interests over small businesses was the wrong decision, but we aren’t giving up the fight,” Main Street Patent Coalition manager Michael Meehan, said in a statement. 

Meehan’s group includes the National Retail Federation, the Application Developers Alliance, the National Restaurant Association and others.

“Main street business needs patent reform, and we will continue to work toward that goal,” Meehan said.

Internet Association CEO Michael Beckerman called on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) — who some say played a role in derailing Leahy’s bill — to circumvent the Judiciary Committee.

“If it is not possible for the Senate Judiciary Committee to proceed with its own legislation,” Reid should “stand with innovators and bring the House-passed Innovation Act to the floor of the Senate for an up or down vote,” Beckerman said in a statement.

The Internet Association includes Google, Facebook, Amazon and Reddit. 

Meanwhile, groups and companies that have been warning the committee to proceed cautiously with patent reform commended Leahy for dropping his bill.

Brian Pomper, executive director of the Innovation Alliance, thanked Leahy and others “for their thoughtful recognition that an unbalanced policy will substantially weaken all patents ... shortchanging job creation and our overall future economic growth."

Pomper’s group includes Qualcomm and Dolby.

In a statement, Pomper said his group “has long supported efforts to address abusive behavior, provided it does not come at the expense of a patent system that supports inventors and entrepreneurs.” He said they will work with lawmakers “to find a more balanced pathway forward.”

Intellectual Ventures — considered by some to be one of the biggest patent trolls — called for more targeted provisions than those in Leahy’s bill.

“The proposed legislation would have had severe unintended consequences on legitimate patent holders,” the company’s chief policy counsel Russ Merbeth said in a statement.

“We hope that the Senate and the House can bring forward targeted legislation,” he said.

But some say Leahy’s move means that any kind of patent reform has a slim chance of happening this Congress.

“It looks like a solution will have to wait until the next session of Congress,” Matt Levy, patent counsel at the Computer and Communications Industry Association, said.

Levy’s group represents Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Yahoo.

“This fight certainly isn't over, because businesses all over the country ... are continuing to hand over billions of dollars a week to patent trolls,” he said, adding that he’s “stunned and disappointed” at Leahy’s decision to drop the bill.