As Capitol Hill braces for another round of patent-reform debates, Rep. Darrell Issa won’t rule out bringing back a contentious provision that was left on the cutting-room floor in the last Congress.
Issa, who now wields the gavel on the House Judiciary Committee’s Courts, intellectual Property, and Internet Subcommittee, is one of 19 original cosponsors signed on to the Innovation Act, a patent-reform bill that was introduced Thursday.
But while the California Republican said he fully backs the bill, he also said he would still look for areas to improve it — an effort that could include reviving language that would expand the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s ability to reject low-quality patents.
“One of the hearings that I’ve tentatively scheduled — and we’ll hold that before the markup — will be on the effectiveness of the current law,” Issa told National Journal, referring to a hearing he plans to hold next week. “I’m going to use the hearing process to further people’s understanding, and that’s when we’ll figure it out.”
Issa, himself a patent-holder, pushed to include language in the Innovation Act last Congress that would have broadened the “covered business method” review program to include software patents. Current law, enshrined in the 2011 America Invents Act, allows only non-technological financial-services patents to be eligible for the audit.
But a number of blue-chip tech companies, including IBM and Microsoft, waged a full-throated campaign against Issa’a proposal, which was also strongly backed by Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer. They warned that raising the bar too high for software patents would kill American innovation, and they vowed to drop support for the Innovation Act unless the “poison pill” was scrubbed.
The gambit worked, and the measure was dropped, clearing the way for the House’s passage of the Innovation Act on a 325-91 vote. The version reintroduced Thursday is the same as the one that cleared the chamber last time.
Some of the most ardent pro-reform stakeholders, including those representing the tech start-up scene, have said that expanding the review program to include software patents is the most important thing Congress can do to stem the tide of patent trolling — the act of stockpiling patents in order to use them to leach money from inventors by threatening infringement suits. The other reforms, they argue, won’t be as effective in curtailing predatory patent litigation.
The idea ultimately proved too toxic for House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, who shelved it during the markup process. Now, even some backers of the provision warn that it’s not worth the firestorm that would erupt if it’s brought up again.
“I’m almost reluctant for it to come back, because it just created such a big distraction,” one pro-reform advocate said. “To be honest, I don’t think it’s got the support in the Senate.”
Asked specifically about the prospects for bringing covered business method expansion back, Goodlatte on Thursday said he and his colleagues were open to discussing any ideas on how to tinker with the Innovation Act — but he quickly tempered that bonhomie.
“I wouldn’t declare anything dead,” Goodlatte said during a press conference reintroducing the Innovation Act. “On the other hand, we have a product that has been very carefully honed,” and any new change “has to add to the large coalition we have, not take away from it.”
After Goodlatte’s comments, Issa suggested he might not seek an expansion of the review program but instead propose narrower language that would merely extend the length of it. Current law will have the review program sunset in 2020.
“Extension is probably a good compromise between killing it and expanding it,” Issa said after the press conference.
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