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 WhitehouseAnti-trade senators say chamber would be crazy to pass TPP Overnight Energy: SEC begins probing Exxon Senate Dems unveil new public option push for ObamaCare 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 VitterGOP pressures Kerry on Russia's use of Iranian airbase Louisiana needs Caroline Fayard as its new senator Louisiana Republicans: This isn’t like Sandy MORE (R-La.), ahead of the hearing, announced he was signing onto a pared back patent proposal sponsored by Judiciary members Sen. Chris CoonsChris CoonsElection-year politics: Senate Dems shun GOP vulnerables Overnight Healthcare: McConnell unveils new Zika package | Manchin defends daughter on EpiPens | Bill includes M for opioid crisis Dems to GOP: Help us fix ObamaCare MORE (D-Del.) and Senate Minority Whip Dick DurbinDick DurbinRetailers have jumped the shark Dems gain upper hand on budget McConnell: Senate could drop flood money from spending bill MORE (D-Ill.). Sen. Mazie HironoMazie HironoOvernight Finance: Lawmakers float criminal charges for Wells Fargo chief | Scrutiny on Trump's Cuba dealings | Ryan warns of recession if no tax reform Anti-trade senators say chamber would be crazy to pass TPP Overnight Finance: McConnell offers 'clean' funding bill | Dems pan proposal | Flint aid, internet measure not included | More heat for Wells Fargo | New concerns on investor visas 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 BlumenthalOvernight Tech: FCC chief downplays delay to TV box reforms | Lawsuit filed over internet transition | Waze rolls out ridehailing service Anti-trade senators say chamber would be crazy to pass TPP Leahy wants Judiciary hearing on Yahoo 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 GrassleyMcConnell blames dysfunction on Dems Four states sue to stop internet transition Senate passes bill to preserve sexual assault kits 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 LeahyOvernight Tech: TV box plan faces crucial vote | Trump transition team to meet tech groups | Growing scrutiny of Yahoo security Leahy wants Judiciary hearing on Yahoo Overnight Cybersecurity: FBI probes possible hack of Dems' phones | Trump's '400-pound hacker' | Pressure builds on Yahoo | Poll trolls run wild MORE (Vt.). Sens. John CornynJohn CornynHow the White House got rolled on the Saudi-9/11 bill GOP leaders express reservations a day after 9/11 veto override McConnell opens door to changing 9/11 bill MORE (R-Texas) and Charles SchumerCharles SchumerElection-year politics: Senate Dems shun GOP vulnerables Democrats press Wells Fargo CEO for more answers on scandal 78 lawmakers vote to sustain Obama veto MORE (D-N.Y.) helped negotiate the deal. Sens. Orrin HatchOrrin HatchHow the White House got rolled on the Saudi-9/11 bill Overnight Finance: Lawmakers float criminal charges for Wells Fargo chief | Scrutiny on Trump's Cuba dealings | Ryan warns of recession if no tax reform Overnight Healthcare: Watchdog says ObamaCare program made illegal payments MORE (R-Utah), Mike LeeMike LeeICANN is already under foreign government influence: the proof is in the pudding Senators express 'grave concerns' about ObamaCare 'bailout' Funding bill rejected as shutdown nears MORE (R-Utah) and Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharOvernight Defense: US attempted hostage rescue in Afghanistan | Defense hawks brace for spending fight | Trump slams 'lies' about Iraq war stance Senators want military separation policy to address trauma-related behavior Senate Dems reignite fight for hearing on SCOTUS nominee 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.