House Approves Patent Reform

The legislation gets high praise from the technology sector, but sharp criticism from opponents.

The technology sector scored a significant legislative victory Friday afternoon as the House of Representatives approved the first significant overhaul of patent law in a half a century. The big win, however, may be short-lived as the legislation moves to the Senate.

Approved on a 225-175 vote that crossed party lines, the Patent Reform Act of 2007 (H.R. 1908) narrows the definition of willful infringement and limits infringement damage awards to the actual value of the technology involved instead of the overall value of the a completed product.

The bill also creates a "second window" to challenge patents issued by the Patent and Trademark Office. In addition, the legislation would create a first-inventor-to-file system to replace the current first-to-invent standard, moving the United States closer to international patent standards.

Even though the bill was approved by the House, supporters of the legislation promised opponents that further changes are likely to be made as the bill moves to the Senate, particularly the key provisions on damage awards and the chance at second reviews of issued patents.

If the bill wins approval in the Senate even more compromises are expected as the biotechnology, pharmaceutical and manufacturing industries weigh in with their strong opposition to major provisions in the bill. The White House has also indicated it is opposed to significant changes in the awarding of damages.

"We admit this bill isnt perfect," said bill co-sponsor Howard Berman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Courts, Internet and Intellectual Property Subcommittee. "This is really complicated stuff. We will continue working for compromise."


Read more here about about a May 2007 Supreme Court decision that may change the way software patents are enforced.

Berman noted that criticism of the rapid movement of the bill this year through House took place after six years of debate and more than 20 hearings. "This is not a rush to judgment, not a rush to legislate. We started down this path a long time ago."

Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, called the bill a work in progress. "We made changes to accommodate the minority side and it wont be final until we come out of conference [with the Senate]."

Opponents to the bill, led by Reps. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., and Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, contentiously argued that the legislation wasnt ready for prime time.

"This bill weakens the rights of American inventors and will facilitate the theft of American inventions by countries like China, Japan and India," Rohrabacher said, opposing a provision in the bill that would publish patent applications before they are actually issued. "I call this the Steal American Technologies Bill."

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