Patent trolls can claim a major victory today thanks to Sen. Patrick Leahy. The Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman has removed patent reform legislation from the agenda, citing a lack of "sufficient support behind any comprehensive deal." In a statement, Leahy said that despite working for nearly a year on legislation, there's been "no agreement on how to combat the scourge of patent trolls on our economy without burdening the companies and universities who rely on the patent system every day to protect their inventions." This stall in the Senate comes after the House passed a bipartisan bill designed to crack down on frivolous lawsuits with strong support on both sides of the aisle. The White House also stands behind reform.
But Leahy pointed to concerns that the House bill could extend "beyond the scope of addressing patent trolls" and pose significant risks for legitimate patent holders. The Electronic Frontier Foundation released its own statement blasting Leahy for his argument, claiming that the House's Innovation Act would have little impact on non-trolls. "Leahy effectively deferred a problem — a serious problem he readily admits exists — in order to please the pharmaceutical, biotech, and university lobbies that are hardly the victims of patent trolls anyway," the EFF said. Before today's developments, Leahy had repeatedly delayed marking up his companion bill for months.
A setback, but all hope may not be lost
Another issue that deadlocked the Senate is "fee shifting," which would permit a judge to hold a patent troll accountable for the winning party's legal fees in patent lawsuits. As Leahy hinted, universities and other patent owners took issue with that aspect and urged the Senate to leave out such a provision. A recent Supreme Court decision made it easier to stick plaintiffs of frivolous patent suits with legal costs.
Despite it coming off the agenda, Leahy said he remains open to putting patent reform on the fast track if lawmakers eventually reach a consensus. "If the stakeholders are able to reach a more targeted agreement that focuses on the problem of patent trolls, there will be a path for passage this year and I will bring it immediately to the Committee," he said.