Patent overhaul spurred by the technology industry is in jeopardy
of dying, after facing stiff competition from the pharmaceutical industry.
Backed heavily by the technology industry and financial
services companies, the Patent Reform Act of 2007 sought to reduce excessive
damages in patent infringement cases and change awards payouts to reflect the
innovation of the patent infringed. Companies in the pharmaceuticals industry
and others oppose the bill because they feel a reduction in damages would
reduce patents’ effectiveness, making infringement less expensive for firms
that get caught.
The technology industry, which relies a large number of
patents, says it wants to change the law to deter “patent trolls,” or firms
that hoard patents with the sole intent of enforcing them against infringers –
regardless of whether or not the firm has any R&D resources or even a
product utilizing the patent.
Formally known as S.1145, the Patent Reform Act opened a rift
in the business world: biotech companies, labor unions, inventors, and capital
firms squared off against the high tech and financial services industry, with
companies like Cisco, Microsoft, Intel, and Bank of America fighting for the
The House of Representatives passed the patent reform bill last
Republican senator Arlen Specter, one of the bill’s head
negotiators, said lawmakers are continuing their attempts at reviving the bill,
but note that it is very close to death. “The patent bill is, as you know,
extraordinarily complicated. And its consequences are very, very far-reaching,”
“Mistakes can be very, very costly. And that's why we're
determined to get it right … time is not running out. It's April 16th. There's
a lot of time left.”
Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, the bill’s sponsor, said
that negotiations stalled over “just a handful of words,” with Congress
choosing to put
it on hold indefinitely. An unnamed democratic aide told Reuters that the issue bill may be back
on the table next year, once the senate has “more democrats.”
Mark Isakowitz, legislative strategist for the high tech
industry, says the patent bill was “literally one sentence away from being done,”
and settling on a rate for damages was the last remaining issue on the table.
“There are stakeholders on this bill that are completely
intransigent and play by a set of rules where you don't budge,” he said.
A second aid told Reuters that he doesn’t think the bill is “dead,”but
rather “on ice.”
“People are still talking to each other,” said another aide.
“When they completely stop talking, then it is dead.”