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Patent Reform This Year?

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Two key lawmakers say federal patent reform legislation sought by NRF could become law by the end of the year.

“When you’ve got the president of the United States calling out for action and you’ve got the Republican-controlled House putting out legislation as it did recently and you’ve got the Senate under the control of the president’s party, I think it’s a pretty good bet you could see something on this this year,” Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said. “I certainly hope to see it happen.”

Lee, a co-sponsor of legislation introduced by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), expects the committee to vote by the end of spring and approval by the full Senate in the following months.

“Rather than focus on ‘Will we get something to the president?’ I think it’s very important to make sure that it’s a substantial bill that actually deals with the problems,” said Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), one of 130 Democrats who voted for patent reform legislation that passed the House 325-91 in December. “I’m hopeful that not only will a bill pass but that it will be a substantial bill.”

Lee and Polis took part in a roundtable discussion in Washington last month where they heard from retailers and others about how frivolous lawsuits brought or threatened by “patent trolls” are costing legitimate businesses billions of dollars a year. Many of the infringement claims involve off-the-shelf technology retailers have purchased or ordinary business practices they are unlikely to know are patented.

The panel discussion came less than two weeks after NRF joined Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker for a White House announcement of a new website and other steps intended to help businesses fight unfounded claims.

Details of final legislation are still being determined, but NRF wants the often-vague letters in which businesses are first accused of infringement to be clearer, that lawsuits against retailers be put on hold when manufacturers become involved and expansion of a program that allows patents on methods of doing business to be reviewed without going to court.