The Senate Judiciary Committee endorsed patent-reform legislation without opposition on Thursday, sending the measure to the full Senate for possible action on the first significant changes in the patent system in 60 years.
The Patent Reform Act addresses funding for the Patent and Trademark Office, aimed at improving patent quality and provides more certainty in damages.
The patent system would also transition to a first-inventor-to-file system, meaning the inventor who files an application first would get the patent. Under the current system, the first to invent would get the patent.
“A balanced and efficient intellectual property system that rewards invention and promotes innovation through high quality patents is crucial to our nation’s economic prosperity and job growth,” said Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) in a prepared statement. Two senior Republicans on the panel, Orrin Hatch of Utah and Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, were listed as co-authors with Leahy.
The Patent Reform Act of 2011 will resemble legislation the panel worked on in the last Congress — which was based on a patent reform bill introduced by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) in 2006. As Main Justice reported earlier, passage of the legislation is far from certain, since there is opposition in some quarters.
The House Judiciary Committee has not yet begun work on a companion bill.
The committee also discussed, but did not vote on, a business-methods and a fee-diversion amendment.
Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a business-method patent under the precedent that abstract ideas are not considered patentable. In response, Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) presented a business-methods amendment.
This would introduce a new program that would, “apply not to novel products or services, but to abstract and often common concepts of how to do business,” said Schumer.
A well-known example of a business method patent is one-click purchasing option at the online retailer, Amazon.com.
Leahy said he is not in favor of dubious patents on business practices, but he worries that the amendment is too broad.
Kyl said it was a major disappointment that a conclusion was not reached during the committee hearing.
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) proposed the fee-diversion amendment, saying fees ought to be utilized for a relevant purpose, not to help other federal government finances. He suggested increased oversight by the committee, but Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said that responsibility should remain within the Senate Appropriations committee.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) echoed Coburn’s argument calling fee diversions “a pathology of the way we do business” in government.
While the vote was 15-0, Cornyn and Coburn abstained from voting.