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 WhitehouseDemocrats urge Supreme Court to save consumer agency from chopping block Citizens United decision weathers 10 years of controversy Sanders defends vote against USMCA: 'Not a single damn mention' of climate change 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 VitterThe biggest political upsets of the decade Red-state governor races put both parties on edge Louisiana Republicans score big legislative wins 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 CoonsGOP Foreign Affairs leaders join pushback against potential troop drawdown in Africa Foreign Relations Democrats 'deeply frustrated' after Iran briefing Democrats rally in support of bill to repeal Trump travel ban MORE (D-Del.) and Senate Minority Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinIllinois senators meet with Amtrak CEO over ,000 price tag for wheelchair users Durbin pushes back on Dershowitz claims: 'Give me a break professor' Senators ready for question time in impeachment trial MORE (D-Ill.). Sen. Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoDemocrats worry Trump team will cherry-pick withheld documents during defense Democrats urge Supreme Court to save consumer agency from chopping block Restlessness, light rule-breaking and milk spotted on Senate floor as impeachment trial rolls on 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 Energy: Democrats unveil draft climate bill | Plan aims for carbon neutrality by 2050 | GOP senators press IRS on electric vehicle tax credit GOP senator: John Bolton should go public with what he knows GOP senators press IRS on enforcement of electric vehicle tax credit 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 LeahyBiden leads 2020 pack in congressional endorsements Senators ask FDA to crack down on non-dairy milks, cheeses Lawmaker wants Chinese news outlet to register as foreign agent MORE (Vt.). Sens. John CornynJohn CornynHillicon Valley: UK allows Huawei to build 5G in blow to Trump | Lawmakers warn decision threatens intel sharing | Work on privacy bill inches forward | Facebook restricts travel to China amid virus Republicans signal renewed confidence they'll avoid witness fight Lawmakers warn US, UK intel sharing at risk after Huawei decision MORE (R-Texas) and Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerLawyer says Parnas can't attend Senate trial due to ankle bracelet Senate Democrats' super PAC raised million in 2019 As the mental health crisis grows, Puerto Ricans need long-term care MORE (D-N.Y.) helped negotiate the deal. Sens. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchKey Republicans say Biden can break Washington gridlock Trump awards Medal of Freedom to racing industry icon Roger Penske Trump holds more Medal of Freedom ceremonies than predecessors but awards fewer medals MORE (R-Utah), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeThe self-fulfilling Iran prophecy No patriotic poll bump for Trump, but Soleimani strike may still help him politically Senators are politicians, not jurors — they should act like it MORE (R-Utah) and Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharSanders opens up 15-point lead in New Hampshire: Poll Poll: 56 percent of Democrats say billionaire politicians more likely to cater to special interests Support for Biden, Sanders ticks up nationally: poll 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.