Industry coalition opposes PTO-fee bill

A coalition of big U.S. companies that rely on patents said on Monday it opposes House legislation that would allow the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to set fees to pay for its operations, arguing the measure would not bar Congress from diverting some of the fees for other purposes.

The House is expected to take up the bill on Tuesday. The provision is in a broader compromise patent-overhaul bill that is supported by the Coalition for 21st Century Patent Reform that is made up of such companies as DuPont, General Electric, Motorola, Merck and 3M. The broader patent reform bill is awaiting action by the full Senate.

But the coalition said in a statement on Monday that while it backs the idea of allowing the PTO to set fees to adequately fund its operations and improve the time it takes to review patents, it opposes the House bill on grounds it does not include a provision that would prohibit PTO funds from being diverted for other government programs.

"We need legislation that guarantees that the fees paid by the users of the patent system are adequate to hire and train needed examiners and to provide them with the modern information technology necessary to conduct thorough examinations and grant valid patents. Unfortunately, the [PTO measure] is not that bill. Although it authorizes the USPTO to set fees to recover its estimated costs, it contains no safeguards to prevent those fees from being diverted to support other totally unrelated government programs," it said in a statement.

At a recent hearing on the PTO, the bill's expected sponsor, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., and Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., pressed PTO Director David Kappos on whether he would support a stand-alone fee-setting bill. Kappos said only that the agency still believes a broader patent overhaul bill can make it through Congress.

But many lawmakers say something must be done to help the PTO address its funding needs regardless of what happens with the broader patent bill.

Conyers, Lofgren, House Judiciary Committee ranking member Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, and other key panel members oppose some of the provisions in the Senate compromise patent bill unveiled in March by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and ranking member Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. The House Judiciary members have been negotiating with their Senate counterparts to try to address their concerns, with the goal of producing a measure the House Judiciary panel could take up.

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