House panel mulls separate patent bill

With discussions with the Senate on patent overhaul legislation ongoing, House Judiciary Committee leaders indicated Wednesday they might introduce a stand-alone bill that would allow the Patent and Trademark Office to set its own fees and keep all the revenues it generates.

During a hearing on the PTO, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., said efforts to reach a deal with the Senate on a patent overhaul bill are not progressing as well as he would like. He said after the hearing he and other Judiciary leaders are considering crafting a stand-alone bill to give the PTO fee-setting authority and bar Congress from diverting PTO funds to other uses.

"It seems to be stalled somewhere between House and Senate," Conyers of the broader patent overhaul bill when he spoke at the hearing.

Conyers and other House Judiciary members have been working with their Senate counterparts to address concerns raised about a compromise patent bill unveiled last month by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and ranking member Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. Conyers said House Judiciary members are normally able to resolve their differences with the Senate, but on this issue, "it seems not to be happening."

Supporters of PTO say increased funding and an ability to set its fees would help it reduce the backlog of patent applications, which now number more than 700,000, and improve the quality of patents. The Senate compromise bill would give the PTO fee-setting authority and end the diversion of PTO fees.

House Judiciary Committee ranking member Lamar Smith, R-Texas, said after the hearing he is still hopeful about resolving the concerns with the Senate compromise patent bill, and noted staff discussions are continuing. But "changes need to be made on the Senate bill before we'll sign off on it," he said.

He added a stand-alone fee-setting bill could complement the Senate efforts, and that regardless of the talks on a patent overhaul bill, Congress needs to do something to address the huge backlog of patent applications and improve the quality of patents.

When pressed on the issue of a stand-alone fee-setting bill by Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., PTO Director David Kappos refused to say whether he would support such a move, insisting that he believes Congress can pass a broad patent overhaul bill.

"I believe we should press on and get comprehensive patent legislation that includes all the changes for the PTO and all the other important changes that will move the U.S. patent system back to the gold standard," Kappos said.

"Are you saying that if our diligent efforts to get a comprehensive bill fall short, then no thanks [to a stand-alone bill]?" Lofgren asked.

Kappos responded he would like to work with the committee to get a comprehensive patent bill.

Robert Budens, president of the Patent Office Professional Association, said his group is concerned about allowing the agency to create new fees and wants to ensure that if the agency is given fee-setting authority that Congress maintains oversight over the agency.

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