Efforts to reform United States patent laws were revitalized on January 14, 2008, when the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary issued its draft report about the proposed Patent Reform Act of 2007 (S. 1145), which urged the Senate to pass the bill. The 106-page report summarized the key features and goals of the bill, but did not introduce new proposals. The House of Representatives passed its version of the bill in September 2007.

The purpose of the Patent Reform Act of 2007, as reported by the Senate Judiciary Committee, is “to ensure that the patent system in the 21st century reflects the 18th century Constitutional imperative. Congress must promote innovation through the enticement of inventors of temporally limited monopolies on their inventions, and must do so for the ultimate benefit of the public.” While “the object of the patent law today must remain true to the constitutional command,” the report declares that, “its form needs to change, both to correct flaws in the system that have become unbearable, and to accommodate changes in the economy and the litigation practices in the patent realm.”

Supporters hope to bring the bill to a vote by February 2008, but it is unlikely to pass without substantive revisions. While the House Judiciary Committee passed the bill unanimously last year, it eliminated the controversial post-grant review provision during mark-up. Also, legislators, inventors and technology companies continue to debate over how best to protect innovation. Former Apple Computer engineer and QuickTime co-inventor Steve Perlman argues that proposed patent legislation as currently written would allow America’s dominant high-tech companies to largely control the pace of innovation. Perlman points to the American auto industry and cautions, “Detroit is a very clear example of what happens when you have large companies who have already established they’re the winners.”

Among its provisions, the Act would do the following: change to a “first-inventor-to-file” system; codify and clarify the “reasonable royalty” standard in calculating damages, as well as awards for willful infringement; create a relatively efficient and inexpensive system to resolve patent validity issues before the USPTO; provide for eventual publication of all applications and enhance the utility of third parties’ submissions of relevant information for filed applications; improve venue in patent cases and provide for claim construction appeals; allow the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to set its fees; remove the Federal Circuit judge residency restriction; authorize the USPTO to require patent searches with explanations with patent applications; codify and improve the doctrine of inequitable conduct; limit patent liability for institutions implementing the “Check 21” program.