Senate panel votes to end diversion of patent fees

Without a whisper of dissent, the Senate Judiciary Committee endorsed Thursday a House bill that raises fees for the Patent and Trademark Office and lets the agency keep its own money.

The bill (H.R. 1561), which passed the House on March 3 by a 379-28 vote, was sent on a voice vote by the Judiciary Committee to the Senate for expected approval as well.

The measure has the backing of a number of major companies, 102 of which signed a letter of support to the Senate leaders.

The legislation restructures rates of the Patent and Trademark Office, raising average fees an estimated 15 percent, according to one of the House backers, Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif.

The bill would generate about $200 million in patent fees and would allow the Patent and Trademark Office to retain the funds, instead of having the money go into Treasury's general fund.

During the last 12 years, according to the 21st Century Intellectual Property Coalition, some $650 million has been diverted from the patent office to unrelated programs. The coalition represents a wide range of companies, including software, chemical, agricultural, paper and pharmaceutical firms, and trade groups, such as the Biotechnology Industry Organization, Aerospace Industries Association and Semiconductor Industry Association.

"America's innovators are prepared to pay out of their own pockets to improve the situation at the PTO, provided the money will go to the agency," the coalition said in a statement.

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