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House Passes Overhaul of Patent Law      Send a link to a friend

[September 08, 2007]  WASHINGTON  (AP) -- The House on Friday endorsed the most significant changes in patent law in more than 50 years, sending to the Senate legislation that has divided the nation's business and innovation communities.

The House bill, approved 220-175, would harmonize the U.S. patent system with those of other countries, making it easier for American inventors to secure patents overseas, weed out poor-quality patents and limit damages that can be levied in patent lawsuits.

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"The moment is ripe to move the patent system forward to meet the challenges of the 21st century," said Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., a lead sponsor. "Serious flaws have to be fixed for our system to remain robust now and long into the future."

But with the legislation continuing to engender opposition from the White House and many industry groups, including pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, Berman acknowledged that further adjustments will be needed before it goes to the president. The Senate Judiciary Committee has approved a similar bill offered by that panel's chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Senate leaders are committed to bringing it to the floor this fall.

House GOP leaders balked at the vote, urging further negotiations. "While our patent system is in need of reform, we are very concerned that the bill in its present form picks winners and losers among industries with different business models in a way that has never before been attempted in patent law or practice," wrote Republican leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, and GOP Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo.

Among supporters are consumer groups, major high-tech companies, financial associations and farm groups.

Late tweaking of the measure's language did persuade several former opponents to shift their positions.

William Samuel, the AFL-CIO's legislative director, said the bill had been improved in key areas, although "we reserve judgment at this point on final enactment."

The Association of American Universities said in a letter Thursday that it supported bringing the bill to a vote, although it still had concerns that "need to be addressed."

Both the union and the universities were looking at provisions that would tighten the awarding of damages in infringement cases, based in some cases on a patent's overall value to the product, while limiting windfall damage awards.

Bill supporters cited a $1.5 billion jury verdict against Microsoft Corp., later overturned, as an example of the current system's excesses.

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The White House, in a statement, said it would oppose the bill unless it is revised to change limits on the discretion of a court to determine damages adequate for an infringement. The administration said it supported other aspects of the bill, including steps to bring the U.S. system in line with patent systems in Europe and Japan.

The United States, which carried out its last major patent overhaul in 1952, is the only major industrialized country with a first-to-invent system that awards patents to the first inventor. Under the bill, the nation would switch to a first-to-file system used by other countries.

Supporters said measures had been added to ensure that the change would not result in thefts of inventions by unscrupulous parties who file a patent application before the real inventor has an opportunity to do so.

That didn't satisfy Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., who said the bill would "dramatically weaken the patent rights of ordinary Americans and make us even more vulnerable to the outright theft of American-created technology and innovation."

The legislation also sets up a process of post-grant review that establishes a single opportunity for challenging a patent that must be initiated within 12 months of it being granted.

Some opponents of the bill have argued that it will reduce patent protection by reducing the penalties for infringement and subjecting patents to additional challenges.


The bill is H.R. 1908.

On the Net:

Congress: http://thomas.loc.gov/

[Associated Press; By JIM ABRAMS]

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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