Goodlatte drops controversial patent review provision

House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) is looking to drop one of the most contentious parts of his patent reform bill.

On Monday, Goodlatte introduced an amendment to his patent reform bill, the Innovation Act. Among other things, the amendment would do away with a provision that would have let companies being sued for infringing certain software patents challenge the validity of those patents at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

{mosads}Currently, companies being sued for patent infringement can ask the Patent Office to reexamine a patent only if it is related to a financial product.  

Some argue that additional review should be available for software patents so that companies being sued for infringement can more easily challenge broad, vague patents that should not have been issued in the first place.

Others argue that opening up software patents to additional scrutiny at the Patent Office will make it harder for patent holders to protect their intellectual property rights.

The Judiciary Committee is scheduled to markup the bill on Wednesday.

One patent reform advocate attributed Goodlatte’s amendment to a “very concerted lobbying effort” from certain parts of the tech industry.

Companies like Microsoft, IBM and Apple have been putting pressure on Goodlatte to remove the provision in his bill that would broaden the review to include software patents, according to the advocate, who has lobbied for and expansion of the review process.

Last week, IBM Vice President of Governmental Programs Christopher Padilla wrote a letter to Goodlatte, asking him to protect software patents.

IBM would not support Goodlatte’s bill if it opens up software patents to additional scrutiny at the Patent Office, Padilla warned.

In a letter on Monday, IBM Vice President of Technology Policy Governmental Programs Timothy Sheehy thanked Goodlatte for his amendment.

Goodlatte’s original bill “would have harmed software innovation and diminished U.S. competitiveness,” Sheehy wrote.

The remaining provisions in the Innovation Act, “such as heightened pleading, fee shifting and patent ownership transparency are designed to curb abusive practices and, as a result, have broad industry support,” he told Goodlatte.

BSA – The Software Alliance also commended Goodlatte for his amendment. The alliance represents IBM, Apple and Microsoft and is led by Victoria Espinel, former intellectual property adviser at the White House.

“With these changes, the bill will succeed in curbing abusive patent litigation while preserving critical incentives to innovate,” Espinel said in a letter to Goodlatte.

Even without the patent review process provision, “the Innovation Act is still a strong bill,” Matthew Levy, patent counsel at the Computer and Communications Industry Association, said. Levy’s group represents tech companies including Google, Facebook and Yahoo.

“We are disappointed that [with Goodlatte’s amendment,] it fails to address the problem of bad patents,” he said. 

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