Senate Committee Examines Patent Litigation Reform

December 18, 2013

pic-patent-licenseThe Senate Judiciary Committee met this week for a hearing on patent litigation reform. At the hearing, the Committee heard from a range of witnesses discussing both the problem of patent litigation abuse, as well as the threats that are posed to innovation by restricting the rights of patent holders. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Judiciary Committee Chairman, indicated his intention to move forward with Senate legislation early in 2014.

Senate attention to this issue follows recent action by the U.S. House of Representatives.  On Dec. 5, the House passed the NSBA-opposed Innovation Act (H.R. 3309). The vote was 325-91, a disturbingly high margin for a bill that could undercut U.S. innovation and the real impact of which is not widely understood on Capitol Hill.

Earlier this year, NSBA signed on to a letter urging Members of Congress to exercise extreme caution in proceeding with any legislation that has the potential to further weaken our patent system and requesting targeted hearings on the relevant issues with testimony from a number of key stakeholders including small businesses. Unfortunately, the House Judiciary Committee held only one hearing, at which no small businesses or individual inventors testified.

The Senate seems likely to pursue a somewhat more limited approach that the House. Speaking of his own approach at Tuesday’s hearing, Chairman Leahy said his approach will “take significant steps to address the problem of patent trolls and . . . preserve the rights of legitimate patent holders whose inventions help drive our economy. As we discuss proposals to address the problem of patent trolls, I urge this Committee to stay focused on that balance, so that we achieve meaningful but targeted reform.”

While supportive of reasonable efforts and reforms to ensure that small businesses are not unnecessarily burdened by undue or unwarranted patent infringement actions, NSBA believes that any legislation that is designed to reform our patent system or the patent litigation process must adequately consider and address the concerns of the small-business community, including the potential negative impact that this legislation may have on individual inventors, technology startups and small innovative companies.