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Time to step back in the ring over patent reform

You knew it was coming. It was never a question of *if*; it was only a matter of *when*.

Tomorrow, the always-contentious issue of patent reform will once again take center stage in the world of tech-policy, with a bipartisan gaggle of lawmakers from both chambers planning to announce companion bills to overhaul the way the nation doles out intellectual property rights.

The press conference will see a familiar cast of characters spoiling for a whale of a fight that they very nearly won last session: Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Reps. John Conyers, D-Mich, and Lamar Smith, R-Texas.

Each of the four was a sponsor or cosponsor of last session's attempt, which graduated from the House but ran aground in the Senate Judiciary Committee, with the chief stumbling block emerging in the mechanisms for seeking redress from infringers.

Curiously absent from tomorrow's lineup is Howard Berman, D-Calif., who introduced the bill in the House last go around.

Patent reform is one of those great policy debates that takes a drab, bone-dry issue and plumps it up with such turgid rhetoric that by the end of the day both sides are hoarse from screeching about threats to American innovation.

The two sides drawn broadly cast large and small businesses at odds, but the debate ropes in a host of other groups, ranging from the IEEE to the ACLU.

Bigger firms like Hewlett-Packard and Cisco have championed patent reform as a way to help them shoo away patent trolls.

More like crowd out the little guy, says one outspoken advocate of individual and small-time inventors, who's taken to calling it "patent deform."

Whether they'll be able to meet in the middle this time around on things like damages and application entry barriers is anyone's guess. They all agree updating the patent system is important, only so far, they've been pulling in opposite directions. Time to lace up the gloves again.

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