For the third time since 2008, the Senate Judiciary Committee has reported patent reform legislation (S. 23) out of committee for consideration by the full Senate. Some of the senators who agreed to approve the bill have reportedly indicated that they will not support it without amendments that they plan to bring to the floor. Business method patents are likely to be one of the issues that will come up for debate.

Among other matters, the proposal would adopt a first-to-file rule that a coalition of inventors calls “a race to the patent office [that would] put small inventors at a disadvantage.” Under current law, exclusive patent rights are given to the inventor who first had the idea. The proposal would also drop a requirement that judges sitting on the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals bench live within 50 miles of the District of Columbia. The bill contains significant changes to the procedures governing post-grant review of issued patents, including a change to the threshold for granting review from a “substantial question of patentability” to a “reasonable likelihood of invalidity.”

The bill apparently has the support of the American Intellectual Property Owners Association, Biotechnology Industry Organization and Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. While it has bipartisan support, the Patent Reform Act of 2011 may languish as its predecessors have. No companion bill has yet been introduced the House. See, January 30, 2011; The National Law Journal, February 4, 2011.