Quality Checking Patent Reform

U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) predicted before an early Wednesday morning crowd at the State of the Internet Conference that the tech industry’s interest in patent reform would be rewarded early in the 110th Congress.

Hours later, Boucher and Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) introduced the Patents Depend on Quality Act of 2006 (PDQ Act). Boucher said hearings would begin this month, and he hoped for a full floor vote by March or April.

The bill would clarify when a court can grant injunctive relief, require all patent applications be published within 18 months of filing, allow third parties to comment during the application process and establish administrative procedures for post grant reviews.

Boucher and Berman also said it is “essential” to end the diversion of funds from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to other federal programs.

The two longtime allies on the House Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property filed the same legislation last year without a result, but this time around Berman is serving as chairman of the panel with Boucher at his right hand.

Being in the majority, though, is no guarantee of success. Former Republican Chairman Lamar Smith of Texas was unable to steer his Patent Reform Act of 2005 out of his own panel.

“This vital reform measure will help to ensure that our patent laws promote innovation instead of litigation abuses,” Boucher said in a co-statement with Berman, noting that many lawsuits are based on what he called “low-quality patents.”

The tech industry has long contended the system is in need of fundamental reform. Companies like Microsoft, Amazon and eBay are continually engaged in costly patent infringement battles with what the industry characterizes as “patent trolls.”

The Silicon Valley claims these patent owners do not produce services or products from their patents but merely exist to negotiate large settlements for the intellectual property they hold. These individual patent owners or small companies that control patents contend they are only defending their rights against large, greedy corporations.

Whatever the interpretation, Berman said the system is suffering.

“It is clear that the problems with the patent system have been exacerbated by a decrease in patent quality and an increase in litigation abuses,” he said. “It is also clear that introduction and movement of legislation will focus and advance the discussion.”

Boucher said Wednesday morning the bill would focus on administrative reform at the USPTO, as well court reform.

“Examiners have more work than they can reasonably handle,” he said. “There are just not enough of them and there is a lot of pressure on them.”

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