IP Watchdog is reporting that Senate passage of the patent reform bill, S. 515, may be near.
He reported yesterday that an agreement has been reached between the chair and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL), on changes to the patent reform bill. These changes have won the support of Sen. Sessions. The details of these changes are not yet available.
In a disturbing development on patent reform (albeit par for the course in the current Congress), Sen. Leahy seems to be unable to secure floor time before the entire Senate to debate the bill. That doesn’t seem to be an impediment to its passage, however. IP Watchdog reports that Sen. Leahy plans to “hotline” the bill. I was not familiar with that term. Apparently it means that the bill’s sponsor will ask for unanimous consent from the entire Senate to simply deem the bill as passed. Not only will there be no debate on the bill in the Senate, but there will be no record of votes on the bill.
It gets worse. This isn’t like a voice vote where the chair calls the vote and those in favor say “aye”. Instead, anyone dissenting from the procedure must call the leader’s office and state that they object to the procedure. As IP Watchdog characterizes it: “instead of requiring explicit unanimous consent to pass a bill, the hotline process really only requires a lack of dissent.”
Whether or not you agree with the merits of the patent reform bill, this is simply politics at its worst. We need some kind of patent reform, but we need it to be done in the open. We need open debate and open on-the-record votes. Government that operates in secret is not accountable to the people that elect the leaders. Although I do not object to the merits as strongly as Mr. Boundy, I concur with his call to voice your displeasure with this situation to your congressional representatives. This piece of reform legislation is too comprehensive for passage based on back room deals.
The only good news on this front is that we don’t yet know what will happen in the House. But, I am not overly optimistic that this sort of political gamesmanship won’t happen there as well. And the House passed a patent reform bill in the last Congress that died in the Senate.