Patent reform defectors emerge in House

The House Judiciary Committee’s lopsided approval of patent reform legislation last month would not have looked as overwhelming if every member showed up.

Six of the seven members of the committee who were absent told The Hill they are leaning toward opposing the measure in its current form. Five of those opponents supported a similar bill last Congress.

While the extra votes would not have affected ultimate passage (24-8), they would have shed light on growing opposition that has managed to delay a scheduled floor vote past the August recess.

“I got concerns frankly right now that you’re seeing folks that didn’t necessarily weigh in on this issue in previous Congresses when we’ve dealt with it now come forward and say there are real concerns there,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who voted for the bill last Congress.

Four Republicans and two Democrats on the committee who missed the vote said they are leaning against supporting it this time around. Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) is the only member who missed the vote who said he will likely vote for it in the full House.

Along with Jordan on the Republican side, Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner (Wis.), Raul Labrador (Idaho) and Ken Buck (Colo.) said they all had problems with the bill in its current form.

Earlier this month, Buck said he would “imagine the bill is going to get reworked” before hitting the floor. All but Buck, a freshman, supported the bill last time around.

On the Democratic side, Reps. Luis Gutierrez (Ill.) and Cedric Richmond (La.) said they are both leaning toward opposing the measure.

“I have major concerns with it,” Richmond said.

When reminded he supported a similar bill last Congress, he said: “It wasn’t substantially similar. This one had a lot more in it I didn’t like, so no I would not have supported it.”
The Innovation Act, which aims to reform some patent infringement litigation tactics abused by so-called trolls, passed the committee with eight opponents — only three more “no” votes than last Congress.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) had put it on the July schedule and it appeared to be heading toward quick approval after a similar bill passed the full House last Congress 325-91.

But after a series of meetings, which opponents say did not go well, the bill was taken off the July calendar. McCarthy said last week that “there is more work to be done on it.”

The Judiciary Committee has continued to tout support for the bill from nearly 300 groups, and it has organized a series of educational meetings for lawmakers and staff. One held Thursday featured U.S. Patent and Trademark Director Michelle Lee.

Advocates argue they never expected support to be as strong as last Congress.

Industry groups who use patents in different ways — from tech and retail firms to biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies — are attempting to pull the bill in different directions. While there appears to be a substantial cushion even with defectors in the House, the Senate is also working on a bill with key difference that has been more palatable to critics.

Opponents of the House bill say the dynamics surrounding patent reform are much different this time around and people are looking at it with a lot more scrutiny. Conservative groups like the Heritage Action recently called to keep the bill off the floor. And some Democrats, who have been more wary of the bill, have vocalized their opposition.

Two Democrats on the committee, who actually cast a ballot, switched their vote from last Congress and are now opposing the bill. Reps. Ted Deutch (Fla.) and Karen Bass (Calif.) sent out a dear colleague letter early this month urging others to defect. They cited a slew of Supreme Court cases on patents that have changed precedent as well as changes at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

“The patent landscape has changed dramatically in the past two years, and the changes are working to eliminate the need for the sweeping changes proposed in H.R. 9,” they wrote to their colleagues.

Tags Jim Sensenbrenner Karen Bass Luis Gutierrez Trey Gowdy
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