Dem senator looking to slow 'patent troll' debate

Greg Nash

Sen. Chris CoonsChris CoonsAttorney general says she will defer to FBI on Clinton emails Lynch pressured to recuse herself after Clinton tarmac meeting Lynch meeting with Bill Clinton creates firestorm for email case MORE (D-Del.) is trying to end the rush to get a bill through Congress to rein in "patent trolls."

Judging by the speedy approval of the Innovation Act in the House last Congress, Coons said many members might not be in tune with the debate. 

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"The way that I think an ill-advised and poorly crafted bill to defeat patent trolls raced through the House last year, I think, woke many of us up to the possibility that there might just be some members of Congress who aren't deeply and fully informed about intellectual property policy and about the importance of patents," Coons said Wednesday during a speech at the Newseum. 

Coons remains skeptical of broad-scale reforms to patent litigation procedures and introduced a scaled-back proposal on Tuesday along with Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin (Ill.) and Mazie Hirono (Hawaii). 

There is broad bipartisan support for larger changes to the patent system to thwart abuse by “patent trolls” — or, firms that buy up patents in order to extract settlements by alleging infringement. 

Coons's bill runs up against broader reforms included in the Innovation Act that was reintroduced by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), which has 20 bipartisan House co-sponsors and the support of industries including software, technology and retail. Leaders on the Senate Judiciary Committee are working on similar legislation. 

When asked if he believed broad reform the like the Innovation Act could garner 60 votes in the Senate, Coons said "I hope not."

"I am hopeful that members of my caucus and the Senate more broadly will take the time to dig into the real issues of patent litigation reform and listen to representatives from the university, venture capital, bio, and pharma communities from their home districts and states," he said during a brief interview after the speech. 

He added, "I think it is important for members to understand the potentially far-reaching consequences of passing another round of patent reform, or patent litigation reform, so soon," noting a separate patent reform law was approved a few years back. 

Coons's proposed reforms to rein in abusive patent demand letters and make other changes at the U.S Patent and Trademark Office won support from the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries as well as universities, which remain concerned that broad reform could discourage legitimate patent litigation. But other technology and retail firms have called the legislation a "stalking horse" for patent trolls. 

"The legislation introduced by Senator Coons will not effectively eradicate abuses in the patent litigation system," said Matthew Shay, a member of United for Patent Reform, which includes large technology and retail companies pushing for larger changes. 

Coons said he has had conversations with some Republican counterparts about his legislation but would not reveal any specific names. 

"I'll name them when they become co-sponsors," he joked. "But I've had very encouraging conversations."

— Updated 4:10 p.m.