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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 WhitehouseSenior Democrat says Hawley, Cruz should step down from Judiciary Hawley, Cruz face rising anger, possible censure This week: Democrats barrel toward Trump impeachment after Capitol attack 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 VitterBiden inaugural committee to refund former senator's donation due to foreign agent status Bottom line Lysol, Charmin keep new consumer brand group lobbyist busy during pandemic MORE (R-La.), ahead of the hearing, announced he was signing onto a pared back patent proposal sponsored by Judiciary members Sen. Chris CoonsChris Andrew CoonsSecurity concerns mount ahead of Biden inauguration Trump impeachment collides with Biden's agenda Sanders to wield gavel as gatekeeper for key Biden proposals MORE (D-Del.) and Senate Minority Whip Dick DurbinDick DurbinSchumer says Democrats will probe extremist groups after Capitol attack Trump's legacy is discord and division Schumer calls for 25th Amendment to be invoked after Capitol riots MORE (D-Ill.). Sen. Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoDemocratic senator raises concerns about inauguration security Senate Democrats urge Google to improve ad policies to combat election disinformation Senate gears up for battle over Barr's new special counsel 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 GrassleyChuck GrassleyMcConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time Overnight Health Care: Biden unveils COVID-19 relief plan | Post-holiday surge hits new deadly records | Senate report faults 'broken' system for insulin price hikes Report faults 'broken' system for insulin price spikes 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 LeahyPompeo's flurry of foreign policy moves hampers Biden start Senior Democrat says Hawley, Cruz should step down from Judiciary Congress unveils .3 trillion government spending and virus relief package MORE (Vt.). Sens. John CornynJohn CornynMcConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time Rick Scott will 'likely' join challenge to election results Former NY GOP gov calls election challenges 'grave threat to our freedom' MORE (R-Texas) and Charles SchumerChuck SchumerNikki Haley unveils PAC ahead of possible 2024 White House bid Trump calls for 'NO violence' amid concerns of threats around inauguration Amazon cites death threats in push to keep Parler offline MORE (D-N.Y.) helped negotiate the deal. Sens. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchMellman: What happened after Ginsburg? Bottom line Bottom line MORE (R-Utah), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeRepublicans wrestle over removing Trump Lawmakers, leaders offer condolences following the death of Capitol Police officer GOP senators urging Trump officials to not resign after Capitol chaos MORE (R-Utah) and Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharGoogle completes Fitbit acquisition Hillicon Valley: Fringe social networks boosted after Capitol attack | Planned protests spark fears of violence in Trump's final days | Election security efforts likely to gain ground in Democrat-controlled Congress US Chamber of Commerce to stop supporting some lawmakers following the Capitol riots 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.