SAN JOSE, Calif. A U.S. Senate committee has struck a rough compromise on a controversial patent reform bill that has been stalled for several months while Congress has debated health care. A Senator leading the charge for reform suggested the compromise keeps the draft bill alive by balancing calls for lowering damages in patent infringement suits with calls for improving the quality of patents.
"Today we can report that we have reached a tentative agreement in principle that preserves the core of the compromise struck in committee last year," said Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, speaking at an executive business meeting.
Leahy was referring to a deal struck in March 2009 on the heated issue of apportionment, how damages are calculated in patent infringement suits.
"We have the principles of an agreement that will move this legislation closer to passage," he said, adding that the Senate committee has consulted with the new head of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office that been swamped by a growing backlog of patent applications.
It's still not clear when the draft patent reform bill will come to the Senate floor for debate or, if passed, how the bill would be reconciled with one in an earlier stage in the House.
"No one will think this a perfect bill, but we are close to a comprehensive patent reform bill that benefits all corners of the patent community," said Leahy. "I expect that we will be able to release details [of the latest compromise] as they are finalized in the coming days, after consultation with the House," he said.
It's not clear if the new compromise impacts provisions in the draft bill for expanding post-grant reviews of patents that have drawn controversy.
"We have advocated for significant changes to the post-grant review provisions of the legislation that would prevent repeat legal challenges to patents," said Brian Pomper executive director of the Innovation Alliance, one of several ad hoc groups of companies concerned about patent reform.
"Repeat challenges could stretch to the breaking point the ability of some companies to defend their patents against well-financed rivals, who would have every incentive to file repeat challenges against upstarts who could challenge their market dominance," he said in a press statement.
Pomper indicated the group has yet to see the new compromise.