Dispute between industries stalls patent reform [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel]
(Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (WI) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Aug. 16--Recent efforts to reform the U.S. patent system have stalled largely because patent reform issues split American commerce down the middle.
On one side are the electronics and information technology companies that seek quick patent decisions in a marketplace where ideas can become obsolete in a matter of months. On the other are pharmaceutical and life science companies that are willing to endure longer reviews to ensure more durable patents.
"I see it as a cold war between pharmaceuticals and the IT industry," said Josh Lerner, a professor at the Harvard Business School.
A current reform proposal, the Patent Reform Act of 2009, focuses largely on issues of patent litigation, such as provisions to limit infringement damages. The bill would move to a "first to file" system that credits an invention based on the filing date of the patent application instead of the date of the actual innovation, which would bring the U.S. in line with the rest of the world.
Hank Nothhaft, chief executive of chipmaker Tessera Technologies in San Jose, says the bill fails to address the core issues: how to better fund the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, improve the quality of patents and shorten the amount of time it takes to get one.
"It's like fiddling while Rome is burning," said Nothhaft, a prominent advocate for reform.
Hans Sauer, associate general counsel at the Biotechnology Industry Organization, a trade group for pharmaceutical and environmental companies, shares the sentiment.
"Patent reform is curiously unconcerned with fixing the Patent Office and making sure it can issue quality patents in the shortest amount of time," Sauer said.
If the current legislation stalls, it would be the third failed reform effort since 2005.
Since recent reform efforts began, big money has flowed to protect the competing interests of two main camps.
From 2003 to 2008, the number of companies and trade organizations that spent money to lobby lawmakers on copyright, patent and trademark issues more than doubled, increasing from 206 to 438, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
The Coalition for Patent Fairness, a trade group that represents Silicon Valley tech companies such as Google, Intel and Apple, has spent more than $5.5 million to lobby legislators directly on the issue of patent reform since 2006, a Journal Sentinel analysis of the federal lobbying data shows.
The Biotechnology Industry Organization has spent at least $857,500 since 2005 to lobby on patent, trademark and copyright issues. However, that figure is likely much higher because lobbying disclosure reports do not provide detailed accounting when a company lobbies on more than one issue.
While big business battles over reform legislation, start-ups and garage entrepreneurs lack a voice, said Paul Michel, the chief justice at the federal branch that handles patent litigation. In a speech at Harvard Law School last year, Michel said: "The patent reform debate, so far, has been dominated it seems to me, by only a dozen very large companies, mostly in Silicon Valley and on Wall Street." To see more of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.jsonline.com.
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