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 user 2007-07-30 at 11:34:00 am Views: 66
  • #18479

    Congress Moves to Rewrite Patent Laws
    2007-WASHINGTON – Crustless peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, a way
    to move sideways on a swing, a technique for exercising cats using a
    laser pointer – these are among the inventions patented in the United
    States over the years. Now Congress is trying to cut down on
    poor-quality or downright ridiculous patents, and at the same time
    adapt the patent system to a high-tech era in which computers and other
    electronic devices may contain thousands of patentable parts.

    than the patent system being the incentive for “so much of our
    innovation, it has become a constraint on innovation,” said Rep. Howard
    Berman, D-Calif., author of a sweeping patent reform bill that passed
    the House Judiciary Committee on July 18.The Senate Judiciary Committee
    passed similar legislation the following day. The full House could take
    up the issue before leaving for summer recess Friday, though it’s more
    likely to be considered in the fall.Disputes between the high-tech
    industry, drug companies and other interest groups have stalled patent
    reform attempts in the past, and legislation introduced during the last
    session of Congress never made it out of committee.Patents give holders
    ownership rights to their inventions for 20 years. That can mean
    hundreds of millions of dollars to companies, research universities and
    individual inventors.

    Although not everyone believes the patent
    system needs to be changed, critics cite various problems.There’s a
    backlog of 750,000 patent applications at the U.S. Patent and Trademark
    Office, which is recovering from years of underfunding and hopes to
    nearly double the number of patent examiners on staff, currently about

    Patent applications have shot up in recent decades with
    the boom in the high-tech industry, and they have gotten more complex.
    There’s been a corresponding increase in patent infringement lawsuits,
    which the tech industry blames on so-called “patent trolls” who get
    patents for products they never plan to make, just so they can sue for
    infringement if a company does turn out something similar.That was the
    issue in a May Supreme Court ruling in favor of eBay Inc. in a lawsuit
    by a small Virginia patent-holding company, MercExchange. The ruling
    established that judges have flexibility in deciding whether to issue
    court orders barring continued use of a technology after juries find a
    patent violation.

    Tech companies still complain that under
    current law, damages in patent infringement lawsuits can be wildly
    excessive because they can be based on the value of an entire product,
    not just whatever small component of that product is in dispute.Often
    cited is a $1.53 billion jury verdict earlier this year in favor of
    Alcatel-Lucent SA in a dispute against Microsoft Corp. over two patents
    for MP3 encoding and decoding tools.”The current patent litigation
    system is unbalanced in a way that it forces our companies to spend
    more time in the courtroom and less time innovating,” said Josh Ackil,
    vice president of government relations for the Information Technology
    Industry Council.

    The most controversial provision in the bills
    before Congress would make it easier for courts to focus damage
    calculations more narrowly, probably resulting in smaller damage
    awards. The measure is applauded by high-tech companies but strenuously
    opposed by universities, small inventors and pharmaceutical and
    manufacturing companies, which typically produce products with fewer
    patents and rely in part on the prospect of heavy damages to protect
    their intellectual property.”If this stuff passes as it is it will
    lower the value of patents by two to three orders of magnitude,” said
    Ronald J. Riley, president of the Professional Inventors Alliance. He
    predicted small-time inventors would be forced out of the field because
    it would no longer be worth their while to sue to protect their

    Because of the controversy, prospects for the
    legislation advancing are uncertain, especially in the Senate, where
    opposition from just a few lawmakers can kill a bill.
    negotiations are ongoing, and there’s wider support for other
    provisions in the bills, which would represent the first major changes
    to patent law since 1999. These include:Awarding a patent to the first
    person to file for it, rather than the first to invent it. This would
    put the U.S. in line with international standards and eliminate some
    time-consuming disputes between inventors.Allowing third parties
    greater ability to challenge patents once they’ve been issued. This is
    meant to produce stronger patents and allow patent challenges to be
    dealt with by patent officials rather than in court, though some say
    the Senate language in particular could allow patents to be endlessly
    contested.In a change sought by the patent office, requiring inventors
    to provide more information in their applications about how their
    inventions differ from existing products or ideas.