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Congress takes up major change in patent law

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One reason supporters are optimistic about the bill's prospects this year is that courts have dealt with some of the more contentious issues involving lawsuits and damage awards.

"When we started these efforts many years ago, we faced a grim landscape where patent lawsuits threatened to stifle the pace of innovation and shut down our factories," David Simon, associate general counsel for Intel Corp., told the House Judiciary Committee. "Today, the scenario has changed drastically."

Testifying in February on behalf of the Coalition for Patent Fairness, a group of high-tech companies, Simon credited the change to Supreme Court and other federal court rulings dealing with such practices as venue shopping where litigants sued in courts known for handing out large damage awards.

Simon's coalition, however, has not endorsed the Senate bill. In a statement, it said the bill still needs to do more "to lessen the growing burden of abusive and unjustified patent infringement claims."

A group of nine organizations representing small businesses, start-ups and independent inventors was more forthright in its opposition, saying in a letter to senators that the first-to-file system would have "unique adverse effects" on its constituents.

"The bill favors multinational and foreign firms over start-up firms seeking an initial foothold in U.S. domestic markets, and favors market incumbents over new entrants with disruptive new technologies," said the letter signed by groups such as American Innovators for Patent Reform and the U.S. Business and Industry Council.

Louis J. Foreman, publisher of Inventors Digest and chief executive of Enventys, a Charlotte, N.C., product design and engineering firm that has helped develop and file some 400 patents, said the Senate bill will help give independent inventors the two things they need most in applying for a patent: speed and certainty.

Foreman discounted the argument that first-to-file puts the small-scale investor at a disadvantage to the big corporation. "An independent inventor is so much more spontaneous," he said, "I'll outrun a big company any day of the week."

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Online:

U.S. Patent and Trademark Office:http://www.uspto.gov

Patent Reform Act:http://tinyurl.com/47kf23y

Coalition for 21st Century Patent Reform:http://www.patentsmatter.com/

Coalition for Patent Fairness:http://patentfairness.org

American Innovators for Patent Reform:http://www.aminn.org/


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