A long-negotiated patent overhaul bill was voted out of the Senate Judiciary Committee today and sent to the full Senate, the third time such legislation traveled this route since 2008. The story began when high-tech companies sought to cut the number of patent infringement lawsuits and the amount of damages paid, while pharma often fought some of the provisions that ensued (look here).
For the record, the Patent Reform Act of 2011 would change the US patent system from a first-to-invent to a first-to file system in order to achieve international harmonization. The first-to-file system would award patents to the earliest-filed application and provide a one-year grace period to file an application after public disclosure of a claimed invention by the inventors.
Other provisions include language that would, presumably, add more certainty to the way damages are calculated by ensuring the courts administer damages more consistently, uniformly and fairly. There are also proposed changes to review procedures so that most review times would be shortened to 12 months, the creation of a supplemental examination mechanism for examining inequitable conduct, and the US Patent & Trademark Office was given certain authority for setting fees.
The bill had the backing of BIO (read the statement) and PhRMA issued a statement applauding the committee vote (see here). There is also this statement from US Senator Pat Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who chairs the committee and co-authored the bill.
However, there was opposition from such quarters as the US Business and Industry Council, which argues the bill will make it easier to infringe patents, challenge patent rights in administrative hearings at the USPTO and diminish inventor rights in the courts. The group articulated its position in this editorial in The Hill earlier this week.