The Senate voted 93-5 on Tuesday evening to move ahead with final consideration of expansive patent-reform legislation that has already passed both chambers in Congress.
Ahead of the key vote, Senate leaders urged members to fall in line and quickly approve the America Invents Act (HR 1249), which has been trumpeted by supporters as a way to help businesses create more jobs.
The Senate is considering changes made to the bill by the House of Representatives. Tuesday’s vote invoked cloture on a motion to proceed and a final vote could come as early as Thursday.
Despite some vocal criticism by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., among others, Senate leaders on both sides of the aisle are urging their colleagues to send the legislation to President Obama without further amendments.
“Although this is important legislation, it has seen plenty of debate in Congress,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said in a floor speech on Tuesday. “It is time to move on to other job-creation measures.”
Reid praised the bipartisan support for the patent bill and he called it “a down payment on the aggressive jobs agenda” planned for this fall. “It is time our patent system became a tool to spark innovation instead of something that holds companies back from creating jobs,” Reid said.
The bill would change the U.S. patent system by altering the Patent and Trademark Office’s fee system and creating a “first-to-file” system, under which patents would be awarded to the first person to file an application.
If passed, the measure would be the first major change to the patent system in about 60 years. For the past decade, efforts to reform the overwhelmed system have bogged down and failed.
Under pressure from congressional appropriators, the House partially revoked a portion of the bill that would have given PTO full control of the fees it collects and prevented Congress from redirecting them to fund other programs.
Coburn, who pushed for a ban on such “fee-diversion” in the Senate version, has said he will fight to get the language back in the legislation. It is still unclear what other amendments, if any, are in store.
After the Senate vote, the Innovation Alliance, which represents a range of smaller tech companies, called the current bill a missed opportunity.
“We believe … that Congress risks missing this historic opportunity to end once and for all the diversion of fees that patent applicants pay to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office,” the group said in a statement. “Fee diversion is a tax on innovation that hinders both innovation and job creation, and ending fee diversion permanently is an issue that unites virtually all stakeholders on all sides of the patent debate.”
But Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who sponsored the Senate bill, is urging members to pass the America Invents Act without any more amendments.
“It is disappointing that we are being delayed from completing this important legislation,” Leahy said in a floor speech Tuesday. “Further delay does nothing for American inventors, the American economy, or the creation of American jobs.”
On Tuesday, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., joined Leahy and Reid in calling for the legislation to be approved as-is and sent to the president’s desk. He called the bill “long overdue” reform that will make the patent system clearer and fairer.
Large businesses seeking protections from frivolous patent lawsuits support the bill.
The Coalition for Patent Fairness, which represents companies such as Google, Apple, and Dell, wrote lawmakers on Tuesday to say six years of debate was plenty. “We believe that HR 1249 is an important step forward to advance and harmonize our patent system in such a manner to allow us to continue to compete in the international marketplace," the letter reads.
The White House has signaled support for both the Senate and House versions of the bill.