SAN JOSE, Calif. A group of university organizations sent a letter to White House officials expressing concerns in the ongoing debate over patent reform. The letter said the group believes S.515, the current Senate patent reform bill, is tied up in "negotiations underway within the Senate Judiciary Committee."
The judiciary committee struck a compromise between warring factions on patent reform, sending the so-called Patent Reform Act Of 2009 to the Senate floor in early April. Insiders said they expected the full Senate vote to come this fall, but nothing has been scheduled yet according to a spokeswoman for the judiciary committee who would provide no further details.
A companion patent reform bill H.R. 1260 has been introduced in the House of Representatives.
New procedures for challenging a patent after it has been granted are among the issues currently under debate, the university representatives said. For their part, the group called for a higher threshold before initiating a review of an existing patent.
"Under the current threshold of a significant new question of patentability, over 90 percent of reexamination requests are granted," the group wrote in a letter to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce. "As a law firm through its now-infamous Patent Assassins website brazenly testifies, there are entities which seek to protect their markets by stifling competition through abusive challenges to valid patents," it said, noting the additional problem of serial challenges.
The letter was signed by the heads of six university organizations including the Association of American Universities, the American Council on Education and the Association of University Technology Managers.
Universities have been increasingly active in winning, licensing and enforcing their own patent portfolios in recent years. Such activities have sometimes brought them into conflict with corporations who sponsor university research, charging universities should not be involved in commercial technologies.
Separately, the letter raised concerns about provisions in S.515 for moving from a first-to-invent to a first-to-file patent system. Such a move "potentially raises problems for universities, whose faculty inventors often publish in academic journals first and only later decide to file for a patent, and whose basic discoveries may take some time to evaluate for commercial applications."
The group called for a grace period "that continues to support broad dissemination of research results through publications in academic journals and conference presentations."