Doubts about patent bill surface on Senate panel

A handful of Senate Judiciary Committee members on Thursday expressed lingering doubts about legislation to fight so-called patent trolls.

While a proposal unveiled last week won bipartisan support, there is unease in some pockets of both parties about moving aggressively to limit frivolous patent infringement lawsuits.

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Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseOvernight Energy: Trump set to sign offshore drilling order Trump's FDA nominee clears key Senate committee Pruitt drops out of GOP fundraiser after ethics complaint MORE (D-R.I.), who is still in "undecided mode," said leadership has to assure him that if the Senate reaches a deal, it does not get scrapped when merged with the House version.

"I do think it's also going to be important that we have a clear understanding, Mr. Chairman, as we go forward, that if we reach an agreement that is very solid in the Senate, that we have some reassurance that we won't just get rolled in the conference process," he said, describing the House version as "unacceptable."

While seven of the 20 members of the committee have sponsored the legislation, a hearing Wednesday helped crystallize the opposition from other lawmakers.

Sen. David VitterDavid VitterFormer senator who crafted chemicals law to lobby for chemicals industry Former GOP rep joins K Street lobbying firm Capitol Counsel Lobbying World MORE (R-La.), ahead of the hearing, announced he was signing onto a pared back patent proposal sponsored by Judiciary members Sen. Chris CoonsChris CoonsA Vandenberg movement in Congress Senate approves Trump's Agriculture chief How Gorsuch's confirmation shapes the next Supreme Court battle MORE (D-Del.) and Senate Minority Whip Dick DurbinDick DurbinLawmakers reintroduce online sales tax bills Democrats exploring lawsuit against Trump Senators warn of 'dangerous' cuts to International Affairs Budget MORE (D-Ill.). Sen. Mazie HironoMazie HironoDem lawmaker to Sessions: 'You are a racist and a liar' March for Science rallies draw huge crowds around US Dems knock Trump on Earth Day MORE (D-Hawaii), who is not a member of the committee, is also a sponsor. 

Coons said the bill from the Judiciary Committee leaders is "less bad" than the House's version, but said he still would not support it. 

Other members like Whitehouse and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) expressed reservations about patent legislation as well. Sen. Richard BlumenthalRichard BlumenthalDemocrats exploring lawsuit against Trump Overnight Finance: Dems explore lawsuit against Trump | Full-court press for Trump tax plan | Clock ticks down to spending deadline FCC head unveils plan to roll back net neutrality MORE (R-Conn.) noted there is "room for improvement."

Durbin took a familiar role as attack dog, scolding committee leaders for stacking the witness list with "those who love the bill and those who really love the bill."

"There is another side to the story that has not been given a chance to speak this morning and I hope that during the course of considering this bill we can reflect on it," he said. 

Critics have pressed Judiciary leaders to hold more hearings on the patent troll issue, but sponsors of the bill say pushing it through quickly would give it the best chance of passage. 

A markup of the bill is expected before lawmakers break for the Memorial Day recess, though nothing has been scheduled. 

Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyComey to testify before Senate Judiciary Committee GOP to kill language exempting staff from new ObamaCare repeal bill House cyber chairman wants to bolster workforce MORE (R-Iowa) said Thursday he is "comfortable with where we are on the language" that was negotiated over the past year.  

Along with Grassley, the bill has support from ranking Democrat, Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick LeahyThe Hill's 12:30 Report Lawmakers talk climate for Earth Day, Science March Poll: Sanders most popular senator in the US MORE (Vt.). Sens. John CornynJohn CornynSenate's No. 2 Republican: Border tax 'probably dead' McConnell: Senate will pass short-term funding bill to avoid shutdown The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (R-Texas) and Charles SchumerCharles SchumerReagan's 'voodoo economics' are precisely what America needs When political opportunity knocked, Jason Chaffetz never failed to cash in Yes, blame Obama for the sorry state of the Democratic Party MORE (D-N.Y.) helped negotiate the deal. Sens. Orrin HatchOrrin HatchWhen political opportunity knocked, Jason Chaffetz never failed to cash in Ginsburg pines for more collegial court confirmations Senate's No. 2 Republican: Border tax 'probably dead' MORE (R-Utah), Mike LeeMike LeeWhy is the State Department refusing to disclose Soros' involvement in Macedonia? What to know about Trump's national monuments executive order ObamaCare must be fixed before it collapses MORE (R-Utah) and Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharDem labels infrastructure ‘top thing’ Trump can accomplish Wyden pushing to mandate 'basic cybersecurity' for Senate Senators press the FCC on rural broadband affordability MORE (D-Minn.) have also signed on. 

Despite the deal, Grassley and other supporters expressed on openness to addressing particular concerns from the pharmaceutical industry.

Outside groups like the 21C Coalition have called for changes to the U.S Patent Office's own review process, which was set up a few years ago to offer a quick alternative to challenging a patent in court. Critics argue the proceedings skew too far against patent holders.