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Congress

Senate Adopts Key Amendment To Patent Bill

March 1, 2011

In what lobbyists are calling a clever move, the Senate Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a manager's amendment to Sen. Patrick Leahy's patent overhaul bill.

The Vermont Democrat included a widely praised provision that would prohibit Congress from taking fee money from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and using it to fund other government programs.

"We should be doing all we can to help PTO Director [David] Kappos and the dedicated women and men of the PTO to modernize and reform," Leahy said. "It is crazy that it takes two years for an inventor to get an initial ruling on his or her patent application, and another year or more to receive a patent."

The managers' amendment also incorporated reductions in PTO fees for small businesses, and depending on available funds, three new satellite patent offices to help handle the increased workload. An amendment proposed by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., that would establish a pilot program to challenge business-method patents was also included.

At the suggestion of House Judiciary Committee members, Leahy dropped provisions that would have changed damages and venues for challenging patents. This move won him at least conditional approval from the Coalition for Patent Fairness, which includes companies such as Apple, Verizon and Intel.

The group, which supported previous patent bills but has been critical of Leahy's legislation, said Tuesday's changes moved the bill in a "promising direction." But the companies said they still want more changes.

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