After the Senate bipartisan Patent Reform bill was introduced in August 2006 (see my earlier post), patent reform appeared to have taken a back seat in the new Congress in light of other pressing concerns such as the budget and the war in Iraq, but not for very long.
Members of the House Internet and Intellectual Property Subcommittee in the 110th Congress told Technology Daily that updating the patent laws will be their chief priority. California Democrat Howard Berman, the panel's chairman noted that too much time was being taken to get patents issued and "things being patented that shouldn't have been patented."
Poor-quality patents have a serious impact on the economy and innovation, and can lead to frivolous litigation, Berman said. Berman noted that he anticipates that his first formal subcommittee gathering will focus on patent quality, backlogs at the PTO, and whether the delays carry negative consequences for the economy and innovators.
Virginia Democrat Rick Boucher said "the dynamic is very different" in the 110th Congress thanks to a change in congressional leadership and the Supreme Court's acknowledgement that change is needed in the patent system. Boucher said he wants to ensure that there is consideration of a post-grant opposition system. (I've written elsewhere about patent oppositions including some empirical data on Patent Office oppositions and court invalidations from Japan.) The bill would also change the standard for willful infringement, Boucher said.
So, how soon? "[M]y prediction is, the patent reform measure will be on the House floor in the early months, perhaps as early as March or April this year," Boucher said.
Once again, it is quite likely that the lobbying associations for the information technology industry and the pharmaceutical industry will find themselves on opposite sides of any reform proposal. Perhaps the different stakeholders’ powers to persuade have changed in the new Congress or else we might see a stalemate and inaction, once again.