A bipartisan compromise meant to slay “patent trolls” quickly fell apart Wednesday in the Senate, and stakeholders wasted little time casting blame on Harry Reid.
The majority leader told Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy this morning that a patent-litigation reform bill would not get to the floor even if it passed through Leahy’s panel, according to multiple sources close to the negotiations on and off Capitol Hill.
The warning, those sources say, is due in large part to opposition from a diverse array of interests who were not fully supportive of the reform efforts: trial attorneys, the biotech industry, and pharmaceutical companies.
Bringing a vote to the floor, one patent lobbyist said, would likely have split the Democratic caucus, especially because many rely on trial lawyers for substantial campaign donations. That constituency has repeatedly expressed reservations about sweeping legislation aimed at patent trolls — Capitol Hill shorthand for companies that purchase cheap patents and use them for profit by filing questionable infringement lawsuits in hopes of settling.
Sen. John Cornyn — the leader of the Republican Party’s pro-patent-reform bloc — seized on the argument that Reid was at fault for killing the bill.
“Patent reform is something the White House wants, House Democrats supported, and an area where there’s bipartisan agreement in the Senate,” Cornyn said in a statement. “It’s disappointing the Majority Leader has allowed the demands of one special interest group to trump a bipartisan will in Congress and the overwhelming support of innovators and job creators.”
Reid’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
Under pressure from Reid, Leahy issued a statement that his panel was taking patent reform off its agenda indefinitely, just a day before it was scheduled to vote on a compromise that stakeholders believed was at or extremely near the finish line.
The announcement caught several reform advocates off guard. Many believed the committee, which has delayed consideration several times, was finally ready to hold a vote on language Cornyn and Sen. Chuck Schumer had been working on for weeks.
But just when optimism had reached new heights, everything collapsed.
“At 9 o’clock we were on track. By 11 we were off track.” said a leader of one patent-reform coalition.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Judiciary Committee’s top Republican, also alluded to Reid’s involvement.
“I am surprised and disappointed that the Senate Democrat leadership is not willing to move forward on a bill that we’ve worked on so hard and were ready and expecting to mark up tomorrow,” Grassley said in a statement. “We put in a good faith effort to get to this point, and it’s too bad that the bill is being pulled from the agenda.”
Another lobbyist, while noting that Reid played a major role in ending negotiations, also cautioned that a full agreement had not yet emerged.
“Ultimately, Leahy was not able to find the consensus,” the lobbyist said. “He had hoped that the desire to get a bill would trump the stakeholders’ desire to get more precisely what they wanted, but both sides decided that no bill at this time was better than what they considered a ‘bad’ bill.”
Whatever the case, this much is clear: Patent reform is all but dead in Congress this year.