Patent reform more likely to pass in 2015 with GOP shift

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Nov 13, 2014

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - Congress, following last week’s midterm election and subsequent shift in power in favor of Republicans, looks poised to pass some form of patent reform legislation in the new year.


Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have continued to push for patent reform -- just ahead of the election and in the week after.


U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, introduced his own Patent Abuse Reduction Act last year. Cornyn said at a patent reform panel in Austin, Texas, last month that introducing new patent reform legislation is one of his top priorities when the new Congress convenes in 2015.

Cornyn, who won reelection last week and who will become the new majority whip, said the failure to pass a bill boiled down to politics.


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


Leahy blamed Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., for its failure -- and so did Cornyn.


The soon-to-be former Senate Majority Leader reportedly has strong ties to trial lawyers, and they were concerned about a fee-shifting provision of the bill that would require the loser to pay the winner’s legal fees.


“It’s disappointing the Majority Leader has allowed the demands of one special interest group to trump a bipartisan will in Congress and the overwhelming support of innovators and job creators,” Cornyn said in a statement after Leahy shelved the bill.


Last week, Leahy said he, too, will continue to push for patent reform.


“Small businesses should be able to focus on their work and on their customers -- not frivolous exploitation schemes,” he said, commending the Federal Trade Commission for its recent settlement with the so-called “scanner troll,” MPHJ Technology Investments LLC.


“I am committed to addressing the problem of patent trolls through legislation in the coming year, including a strong provision to address deceptive demand letters.”  


Others seem to agree that the conditions are right, now, for a bill to pass.


"Patent reform is one of the more likely opportunities for a new GOP-controlled Congress to start with a clean slate and demonstrate that it can solve big, complicated policy challenges that impact innovators across the country,” said Burak Guvensoylar, director of government relations at TechAmerica.


Another group, the Coalition for Patent Fairness, agreed.


“Patent reform is a bipartisan issue and many Republicans and Democrats have noted since last week’s election that patent reform seems to be the one policy initiative best positioned to pass into law next year,” the coalition said earlier this week.


The group said it supports legislation that makes the so-called “patent troll” business model unprofitable and unattractive.


“Some elements of such legislation might include fee shifting and discovery reform in truly frivolous cases, demand letter reform, and greater transparency to prevent patent trolls from hiding their identities behind a web of phony shell companies,” the coalition said.


Keith Grzelak, co-chair of the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ Intellectual Property Policy Committee, agreed that further patent reform will be seen as a result of the GOP’s gains.


But the question is, what type of reform? What will the legislation look like? Grzelak remains skeptical.


“(It’ll be) reform that is really an erosion of property interests for innovators -- ironically, something that used to be a conservative value,” he said.


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

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