Saturday, September 08, 2007

Press coverage of vote on patent reform, H.R. 1908

The New York Times (Bloomberg) reported the vote on H.R. 1908 as 220-175:

The legislation, approved 220 to 175, would make patents harder to obtain and easier to challenge and is intended to curtail litigation by limiting where patent owners can file suit and how much they can collect in damages. The Times did not break the vote down in terms of Democrats and Republicans.

As to the content of H.R. 1908, the Times said:

The measure passed by the House would change the rules at the Patent and Trademark Office so patents would go to the first person to file an application, not necessarily the first inventor. That would limit years-long disputes over who was the first to invent new technology and would bring the United States in line with other countries’ patent rules. It would also allow third parties to introduce evidence against applications and would create a system, called post-grant opposition, to challenge new patents. Thus, one would get the idea that post-grant review is about the opportunity to "introduce evidence."

The Washington Post put the vote at 225 to 175 with strong bipartisan support. The Post also noted: Some of the bill's opponents said they see room for compromise as the bill moves forward in the Senate. Labor unions and universities had agreed not to oppose yesterday's vote in exchange for further consideration of their concerns before the Senate vote. AND Representatives from drug manufacturers and the Professional Inventors Alliance, an association of small inventors, have also met with Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Calif.), a co-sponsor of the House bill who has agreed to address their concerns when the bill is reconciled with the Senate version. Finally, the Post noted that labor groups were concerned about the working conditions of the patent examiners: Labor groups say that Congress should address workplace issues before revamping the patent system. Currently, patent examiners spend about 20 hours reviewing an application, according to the patent office. Applicants don't generally receive a patent or denial until about 31 months after filing because of a backlog of 750,000 applications.

Frank Davies of the San Jose Mercury-News had a different spin on the labor union/university position: Academic institutions, some small inventors and labor unions had opposed the bill. But major universities and some unions backed off their opposition after Rep. Howard Berman, the Van Nuys Democrat and chief sponsor, made changes to the damages provision. Davies included a head count on Republicans voting "for" H.R. 1908: Sixty Republicans also supported the measure, including GOP members from areas of California, Texas and Virginia where high-tech companies are concentrated. Davies put the vote at 220-175: The 220-175 vote in the House resulted from a strong push by Democratic leaders IPBiz notes with interest the following text from the Davies article: Several Republicans grumbled Friday [Sept. 7] that Democratic leaders rushed the bill through on short notice, but Berman, Lofgren and other Democrats said the House had held 10 hearings on the subject over three years. At Spring Seminar 2007 (Laguna Niguel, CA), LBE had written:

On February 15, 2007, Congressman Berman opened a hearing on patent reform with the statement that there needs to be “an effort to improve patent quality, deter abusive practices by unscrupulous patent holders, and provide meaningful, low-cost alternatives to litigation for challenging patent validity.” Those testifying that day included Adam Jaffe, a co-author of the book Innovation and Its Discontents, and Mark Myers, Co-Chair of the National Academy of Sciences' study on intellectual property (The Patent System for the 21st Century). In a hearing that was supposed to develop the case for the need for patent reform, the testimony amounted to re-presentation of old, and questionable, arguments, but no one was speaking on February 15, 2007 to present alternative analyses. This paper is directed to such, to address the above-noted line: "But I'd like to see if other people agree."

So to Frank Davies [ ]on the statement of Berman et al.: that was a joke, son. Further, in one revelation SINCE Spring Seminar 2007 (but probably not considered by Congress), note that the contention about the high patent grant rate has now been empirically refuted. If one had read the NAS/STEP report carefully, one would not be surprised: Careful reading of the National Academy of Sciences/STEP report reveals a lack of firmness in the "patent quality" conclusion. At page 3, one reads: "The claim that quality has deteriorated in a broad and systematic way could be, but has not been, empirically tested. Therefore, conclusions must remain tentative." At page 48, one has the statement: "Nevertheless, the claim that quality has deteriorated in a broad and systematic way has not been empirically tested."

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