Warner says Senate should’ve taken up, passed House bill on patent reform

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Sep 12, 2014

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - The Senate was wrong for not passing the House’s patent reform bill, one U.S. Senate Democrat said.

Virginia’s Mark Warner made the comments while campaigning earlier this week.

“I actually think the House bill was pretty good,” he said. “I wish the Senate would’ve taken it up.”

The bill, otherwise known as the Innovation Act, was introduced by U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte and was approved by the House in an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 325-91 in December.

In May, U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., removed his bill, the Patent Transparency and Improvements Act, from the Senate Judiciary Committee’s calendar.

Leahy pinned much of the blame for the bill’s failure on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who reportedly has strong ties to trial lawyers. The group was concerned about a fee-shifting provision of the bill that would require the loser to pay the winner’s legal fees.

Warner told reporters Monday he is disappointed in the Senate for failing to move through a bill, and that not doing so is hurting the U.S. economy.

As founder and managing director of Columbia Capital, a venture capital firm, Warner helped found or was an early investor in a number of technology companies.

He said the threat of so-called “patent trolls” is very real.

Generally speaking, patent trolls are patent assertion entities or non-practicing entities that purchase groups of patents without an intent to market or develop a product and then target other businesses with lawsuits.

“This is just adding marginal cost on American industry that we can’t afford,” the senator said.

Last month, Warner was one of five U.S. senators to call for improved patent quality and oversight at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Warner, along with Sens. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Mark Begich of Alaska and New Mexico’s Martin Heinrich and Tom Udal, all Democrats, sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker.

The senators, pointing to recent court decisions, made specific recommendations to address legal actions while continuing to encourage innovation.

“While it is important that our legal system uphold the rights of intellectual property owners to enforce those rights in court, abusive litigation raises questions about whether too many illegitimate patents are being issued, whether vague patents are being stretched to cover ideas never envisioned by the patent holder, and whether more can be done to protect our intellectual property regime from being misused,” the senators wrote to Pritzky.

“From home builders to small businesses, far too many Americans that have little if anything to do with the innovation process have been negatively affected by abusive patent trolling.”

The letter urged the PTO to focus its resources on the following five measures: improving examiner incentives; strengthening examiner guidelines and documentation practices; ensuring all patents, including “functional claims,” are clear; expanding crowdsourcing to identify problematic types of provisions; and increasing public access to patents and patent history online.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at patents@legalnewsline.com.

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