WASHINGTON – Federal lawmakers remain mum on the details of a new patent reform bill, but agree they are committed to bringing legislation to the table early this year.
A House Judiciary aide for U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said last month, “Patent reform remains one of Chairman Goodlatte’s top priorities and we look forward to working with the new Senate to get patent reform enacted as quickly as possible next year.”
Goodlatte heads the House Judiciary Committee, and will continue to when the 114th Congress convenes this month. His own measure, the Innovation Act, was overwhelmingly approved across party lines in December 2013, but came to a halt in the U.S. Senate last spring.
The Congressman declined to give any details as to what a bill might include — as did U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
Leahy, the former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced his own reform bill, the Patent Transparency and Improvements Act, last year. It, too, failed to move.
At a committee hearing late last year for Michelle K. Lee, who was nominated by President Barack Obama in October to head the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Leahy said Congress needs to do more work to strengthen the country’s patent system.
“This committee has worked for the past 18 months to address misconduct by bad actors who are abusing the patent system,” he said in a prepared statement. “When these so-called patent trolls send threatening letters to small businesses in Vermont and tie up companies across the country in bad-faith lawsuits, they hamper innovation and harm our economy.
“We dedicated months of committee time to this issue and we made significant bipartisan progress. I look forward to continuing that work in the new year.”
New Republican U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, who was elected in November to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said with the GOP majority in both chambers she is hopeful a patent reform bill will make it to the President’s desk this year.
Capito has a unique perspective, in that she represented West Virginia in the House from 2001 up until December.
She was one of the 325 who voted in favor of Goodlatte’s Innovation Act in 2013, and believes it could be a good starting point.
“The Innovation Act would provide the type of balance in patent reform that businesses and innovators want and need,” Capito said in a statement. “The bill would change the litigation process to make it harder to engage in meritless suits, but it is balanced enough to protect the rights of legitimate patent holders.
“A balanced process that provides fairness to both the legitimate holders of patents and companies is crucial to allowing for American innovation.”
She continued, “With the change in Senate leadership in January, the future for this and many other stalled pieces of legislation may be different.”
However, she declined to elaborate on what exactly the legislation might include.
The PTO also seems on board with patent reform.
Lee, the deputy director of the office, said during her recent Senate hearing that “absolutely” there continues to be a problem with abusive patent litigation.
She told lawmakers she “very much” looks forward to working with stakeholders, but noted that the current landscape is “extremely dynamic” and any bill must “strike the right balance.”
Lee currently is the deputy under secretary and deputy director of the PTO. The office has been without a permanent director since February 2013, when David Kappos resigned.
Lawmakers have said she most likely won’t be confirmed until the spring so new members can participate in the hearing.
Being that she has not been confirmed, Lee did not provide much insight into what a new patent reform bill would look like, or her hopes for a bill.
“I’m open to evaluating everything,” she told lawmakers, including legislation on patent eligibility.
“It’s really the totality of all of these issues that will make a difference, I think.”
But like others, she advised lawmakers to proceed with some level of caution.
“I couldn’t agree more,” she said in response to U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.
Durbin questioned whether Congress should slow down and if additional reform is needed so soon after the America Invents Act was signed into law.
“All of this needs to be taken into account as we carefully and cautiously determine what changes need to be made,” Lee said. “We need balanced, meaningful reform.”
As to the PTO’s role in helping to shape legislation, Lee said the office serves as a fact-gatherer.
“We work with our stakeholders, we get their input and, at your request, we facilitate and help you in your efforts,” she explained to lawmakers.