House Judiciary Committee Approves Patent Reform Bill; Full House May Consider it Soon

By David Bruggeman
June 22, 2011

Patent reform is one of many issues that has been stalled in the halls of Congress over the last several years. However, this particular effort may get somewhere soon. H.R. 1249, the America Invents Act, was approved by the House Judiciary Committee and reported to the full House for consideration and a vote. The White House has weighed in with its support, and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Leahy welcomed the progress.

However, a compromise that brought the bill to the House floor may jeopardize the chances of its passage. The specific issue that brought the compromise concerns fee recovery. At the moment, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) cannot retain all of the money it receives through application and other fees. The America Invents Act initially proposed allowing USPTO to retain all of this money. However, House appropriators objected to that proposal, and agreed to consider the bill only if so-called excess funds where set aside for USPTO, subject to House appropriations. The Patent office is chronically understaffed, so the additional money could be put to good use. However, with the current budget climate, requiring excess funds to be routed back to the office via appropriations runs the risk of that money never getting to USPTO.

This compromise has prompted some additional resistance to the bill, which has never enjoyed universal support from either party. Several members of Congress object to other parts of the bill, particularly the change in who obtains a patent. The U.S. has historically awarded patents to those who are first to invent the subject of the patent. Most of the world now awards patents to those who are first to file. Some who object to the change consider it harmful to smaller, independent inventors. There is also opposition to language in the bill that would allow for a new means for reviewing so-called ‘business method’ patents.

Votes on the bill are currently scheduled for Friday