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The Senate Judiciary Committee voted this morning to report legislation that would overhaul U.S. patent laws to the full Senate. The new version of the bill includes amendments that will not go so far in limiting damages in patent infringement suits as previous versions.
Most in San Diego’s technology community have opposed the bill, mainly because of the proposed new rules regarding damages. The new version, which Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Ca., played a big role in hammering out, “seems to be an improvement,” said local advocate for opponents Ron Katznelson. “The compromise seems to address a lot of our concerns.”
I wrote last week about the battle over the legislation, introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and the fears that it would disproportionately hurt the San Diego technology industry because so many businesses here rely heavily on their patents.
Previous versions of the bill would have changed the law to allow courts to calculate damages based on the specific contribution of the invention to the overall product. So if the inventor of the antenna on the phone sued for patent infringement, he or she could only seek damages equal to the value associated with the antenna, not the entire phone.
Opponents said this would have significantly reduced the damages a patent holder could receive in a lawsuit. The new version still provides additional guidance to courts in assessing damages, but not so many limits, Katznelson said.
Left unchanged in the new version, however, is a provision that would change the law to make it so a patent would go to the first person or organization to file with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, not the first who can prove they made the invention, as the law is written now. Opponents say this change would be bad for the little guy.
“To small entities this is a major concern,” Katznelson said. “It makes it hard for first inventors to protect their invention from misappropriation by others they might be in touch with or collaborating with.”
After the 15-4 Judiciary Committee vote, Leahy praised Feinstein and Arlen Spector, R-Pa., saying the two senators “worked tirelessly with me on this legislation.”