It wasn't all tears for PK on Friday. That same day, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1908, the Patent Reform Act of 2007. This is a bill that PK has supported because it addresses a number of the major problems with our current patent system, including the poor quality of many patents; the lack of opportunity for third parties to submit evidence that proposed patents lack originality; and damage awards that are way out of proportion to value of the infringed patent. At the end of August, we sent a letter on behalf of ourselves, Consumers Union, Consumer Federation of America, EFF, Knowledge Ecology International and U.S. PIRG supporting the bill.
PK's support is not without controversy, as some small inventors and universities have opposed it, claiming, among other things, that the sections of the bill requiring applicants to submit evidence of prior art and explain why their invention should be patented over that prior art will be costly. But shouldn't it be incumbent on applicants, rather than the government, to demonstrate that a patent that may be worth millions or billions of dollars is warranted? Big Pharma and big Bio Tech oppose the bill, largely because the current patent system works pretty well for those industries. But the current system is a disaster for the high technology sector – abuses and litigation are rampant, leading to costs in innovation and consumer choice. The White House also weighed in last week, announcing its opposition to some portions of the bill – including those that limit damage awards in patent cases.
The battle now moves to the Senate, and last week our groups sent a letter supporting the Senate patent reform bill. The process will take a bit longer than in the House, although the hope is that there will be a vote sometime this fall. While we recognize that chances are slim that the legislation won't be weakened in some way, we'll be working hard to ensure that most of it, and particularly the sections that ensure patent quality, stay intact.