Mel Watt Makes One Final Stand Against Patent Reform

Rep. Mel Watt (D-NC) sits with his grandson Nico while questioning US Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. during a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill May 15, 2013 in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Dustin Volz
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Dustin Volz
Dec. 5, 2013, 5:52 a.m.

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Rep. Mel Watt likely knew that House pas­sage Thursday of a bill de­signed to curb pat­ent trolling was in­ev­it­able, but that didn’t stop him from tak­ing one last stand against it dur­ing morn­ing de­bate.

The North Car­o­lina Demo­crat took to the House floor to emo­tion­ally and loudly voice his op­pos­i­tion to the In­nov­a­tion Act, sponsored by Ju­di­ciary Chair­man Bob Good­latte, R-Va.

“We haven’t done any­thing in this bill about the real prob­lem here, which is people who are writ­ing de­mands on little people out in the stream of com­merce and mak­ing de­mands on them be­fore they even get to lit­ig­a­tion,” said Watt, rais­ing his voice. “This bill says noth­ing about de­mand let­ters.”

Watt ad­ded: “We are im­pos­ing a bur­den on 100 per­cent of people in the pat­ent-lit­ig­a­tion sys­tem that is at most af­fect­ing 20 per­cent of the sys­tem.”¦ Every­one is go­ing to pay the price of this bill if it goes for­ward in its cur­rent form.”

Watt, the rank­ing mem­ber of the In­tel­lec­tu­al Prop­erty Sub­com­mit­tee, has been the lead­ing op­pon­ent of the In­nov­a­tion Act along­side Rep. John Con­yers, D-Mich. The bill passed the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee last month with a bi­par­tis­an 33-5 vote, though amend­ment votes dur­ing the markup fell more closely along party lines. It passed the House on Thursday by a vote of 325-91.

Watt may be feel­ing em­boldened in the House as he ap­pears to be on his way out. His nom­in­a­tion to lead the Fed­er­al Hous­ing Fin­ance Au­thor­ity was blocked by Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans in Oc­to­ber. But the Sen­ate’s in­voc­a­tion of the “nuc­le­ar op­tion” last month will al­low ex­ec­ut­ive nom­in­ees to be ap­proved with a simple ma­jor­ity vote.

Good­latte’s bill aims to curb pred­at­ory pat­ent-as­ser­tion lit­ig­a­tion by mak­ing cases for in­fringe­ment more pub­lic and clear, re­du­cing the cost of dis­cov­ery and help­ing pro­tect end users fa­cing suits from pat­ent trolls. The bill does not deal with ex­ist­ing bad pat­ents.

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