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.

ADVERTISEMENT
Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseHouse easily passes prison reform bill backed by Trump Senate panel unanimously approves water infrastructure bill Dems expand 2018 message to ‘draining the swamp’ 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 Bruce VitterPlanned Parenthood targets judicial nominee over abortion comments Trump nominates wife of ex-Louisiana senator to be federal judge Where is due process in all the sexual harassment allegations? MORE (R-La.), ahead of the hearing, announced he was signing onto a pared back patent proposal sponsored by Judiciary members Sen. Chris CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsOvernight Finance: House sends Dodd-Frank rollbacks to Trump | What's in the bill | Trump says there is 'no deal' to help ZTE | Panel approves bill to toughen foreign investment reviews Congress, Trump eye new agency to invest in projects overseas On World Press Freedom Day, elected officials must commit to keeping press freedom nonpartisan MORE (D-Del.) and Senate Minority Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinHouse easily passes prison reform bill backed by Trump This week: House GOP regroups after farm bill failure Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by PCMA — Trump hits federally funded clinics with new abortion restrictions MORE (D-Ill.). Sen. Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoConservative justices signal willingness to uphold travel ban Former Sen. Daniel Akaka of Hawaii dies at 93 Dems to top DOJ officials: Publicly promise not to interfere in Mueller's probe 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 Blumenthal (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 GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyOvernight Health Care — Sponsored by PCMA — House passes 'right to try' drug bill | Trump moves to restrict abortion referrals House easily passes prison reform bill backed by Trump The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by PhRMA — How long can a Trump-DOJ accord survive? 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 Joseph LeahyDem senator mocks Pruitt over alleged security threats: 'Nobody even knows who you are' Pruitt tells senators: ‘I share your concerns about some of these decisions’ Protesters hold up 'fire him' signs behind Pruitt during hearing MORE (Vt.). Sens. John CornynJohn CornynHouse easily passes prison reform bill backed by Trump Senate panel clears bill to bolster probes of foreign investment deals McConnell tells senators he might scrap August recess MORE (R-Texas) and Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSchumer: Trump should take Kim Jong Un off 'trip coin' Overnight Finance: Trump signs repeal of auto-loan policy | Justices uphold contracts that bar employee class-action suits | US, China trade war 'on hold' Free traders applaud Trump as China tariff threat recedes MORE (D-N.Y.) helped negotiate the deal. Sens. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchRepublicans think Trump is losing trade war McConnell tells senators he might scrap August recess Longtime tax aide leaving Senate Finance Committee MORE (R-Utah), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeGOP Senate primary heats up in Montana Senate GOP urges Trump administration to work closely with Congress on NAFTA Senate panel advances Trump's CIA nominee MORE (R-Utah) and Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharSenate reaches deal on new sexual harassment policy Washington governor to make Iowa debut Senators near deal on sexual harassment policy change 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.