Patent News

Dec. 5, 2013

POLITICO: Patent reform draws bipartisan support, opposition, by Alex Byers and Erin Mershon

This post originally appeared in POLITICO on December 5, 2013.

If you’re trying to handicap Thursday’s expected House vote on a sweeping patent reform bill, leave the party affiliations at the door.

The measure’s chief steward is House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), and the committee’s top Democrat, Michigan Rep. John Conyers, is its loudest detractor. But several Democrats have pledged support — including House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer — while a handful of Republicans still have concerns. And that’s not making things easy on lawmakers who are still figuring out where they stand.

The bill’s chances for passage remain pretty strong, and it cleared committee on an easy 33-5 vote with no Republicans dissenting. But intellectual property issues often stray from party lines, and that dynamic has resurfaced with the six-week-old bill slated for a vote likely Thursday.

The White House endorsed the measure from a Republican on Tuesday, one day after several major conservative groups like the Club for Growth wrote to congressional leadership opposing it. Some rank-and-file Republicans say leadership is moving too fast — but the New Democrat Coalition says it is on board.

“I’m intrigued by the odd bedfellows on each side of this debate,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said at Tuesday’s Rules Committee hearing on the bill. “There are a lot of people that I respect on each side that aren’t normally on the same side.”

Hill lawmakers and aides say it all adds up to a scenario with less certainty when it comes time to vote.

The problem, according to most of the measure’s opponents, is that such a complex bill is being rushed through the legislative process. The measure aims to slow down so-called patent trolls by making it easier for judges to ensure losing patent litigants pay the winners’ attorneys fees, among other provisions. Detractors fear changes in the judicial system; other members are not very familiar with the complicated issues.

Even lawmakers who back the bill say many colleagues are still getting up to speed — although they add that Goodlatte has been working on the issue for several months.

“It is quite complex, and it’s not that there is a large number of people opposed to it; it’s they do not know enough about it,” said Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.), vice chairman of the House’s intellectual property subcommittee. “In fact, I’ve been approached by several members, I’ve approached several members and explained things to them, and they say, ‘Oh, I didn’t realize that,’ and they’re on board.”

Some Democrats, too, are still finding their stance. Conyers and intellectual property subcommittee ranking member Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.) are vocally opposed — while Hoyer tweeted Tuesday evening that he supports the bill “despite concerns.” Conyers’s office didn’t comment for this story.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi hasn’t stated publicly how she’ll vote, and Democratic leadership isn’t whipping the vote in either direction.

“The dynamic is very complicated,” said a House Democratic aide familiar with the bill. “There’s not a lot of clarity in terms of where the rank and file stand on this.”

But some Republicans aren’t happy with things. Reps. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) helped spearhead a push urging leadership to delay the vote. GOP Reps. Walter Jones of North Carolina, Mo Brooks of Alabama and Paul Broun of Georgia also signed the “Dear Colleague” letter, and the leaders of the Club for Growth and American Conservative Union wrote to leadership this week concurring that things have moved too fast.

“I’m talking to many offices that just don’t understand the issue,” said Andy Roth, Club for Growth’s vice president for government affairs, “so rather than rush it through the House, leadership needs to delay it until next year so members can get educated.”

The House is expected to begin consideration of the bill Thursday with an hour of debate. According to ground rules set Wednesday, the chamber will discuss the bill and seven amendments from an array of lawmakers, including several of those who want to slow the process, like Massie and Rohrabacher. Conyers and Watt floated a substitute amendment — though even that isn’t perfect, Watt said.

“Our substitute needs more work, too,” he said. “That’s the problem with this process — we’ve rushed into it.”