The reality of Patent Reform took one huge step forward yesterday when the U.S. Senate passed S. 23 by a vote of 95-5. Only the senators who have been trying to stop the bill voted against it: Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Mike Crapo (R-ID), John Ensign (R-NV), and James Risch (R-ID).
As expected, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) (what’s he going to do now, retire?), who takes personal ownership of the bill and the patent reform initiative, praised the passage. He noted that similar bills have been pending for the last three congresses and that there had been eight hearings, hundreds of meetings, and dozens of briefings. Likewise, the White House praised the passage and urged the House to pass the bill so that it can become law. AIPLA also issued a statement commending the Senate for passing S. 23.
House of Representatives
The drama now shifts to the U.S. House of Representatives. Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) has indicated that he will introduce a bill later this month. There are already hearings planned to review the matter. For example, tomorrow the Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Competition, and the Internet will hold a hearing on “Review of Recent Judicial Decisions on Patent Law.” Professor Dennis Crouch of Patently-O has indicated that he will present testimony.
Barring a huge crisis, like a financial collapse or the like, or a huge political controversy like health care reform, it seems that patent reform is more likely in 2011 that at any time since it has been introduced. The biggest criticism, and I’m not sure that it’s warranted, that continues to be raised regarding S. 23 is that it hurts little guy and favors big corporations. The argument goes that big corporations can afford to file massive numbers of patent applications on new ideas (although ideas are not patentable), while the little guy needs to raise capital and make sure he has a solid invention before he can afford to file. A similar argument is made regarding start-ups and venture capitalists. This was the impetus behind Sen. Feinstein’s proposed amendment last week.
One unknown in the debate yet is the role that the Tea Party will play. After the 2010 election, there are vastly more Tea Party members in the House than in the Senate. The Tea Party is supposed to be attuned to the little guy, to Main Street as opposed to Pennsylvania Avenue or even Wall Street. It is yet unknown what roll the Tea Party will play. This question was also raised here.
The bottom line is that it is definitely time for all interested parties, whether you favor or oppose the bill, to contact your representative and tell them how they should vote on Patent Reform.