Information technology coalition backs PTO fee measure

A coalition of big tech firms that opposes the latest version of a Senate patent overhaul bill said Monday it backs a stand-alone measure that would allow the Patent and Trademark Office to set its fees.

The House is set to take up the bill today, drafted by House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., to give the PTO fee-setting authority.

In a letter Monday to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. and House Minority LeaderJohn Boehner, R-Ohio, the Coalition for Patent Fairness noted the backlog -- more than 750,000 -- of patent applications awaiting examination and said allowing the agency to set fees, using an appropriate rulemaking process, will give the agency the resources it needs to reduce the time it takes to obtain a patent.

The coalition's support comes on the same day that two other groups that back the broader compromise patent overhaul measure offered by the Senate Judiciary Committee's leaders came out against the stand-alone fee-setting bill, saying it does not include language barring the diversion of PTO fees for other government activities. The Coalition for Patent Fairness agrees this is an important concern, but said the PTO's need for additional funding outweighs the issue. In the letter, the coalition said the PTO's need for more money should not be held back by those who favor a broader patent overhaul bill.

"Some oppose this simple, commonsense legislation on the ground that it is limited to providing needed funds to the PTO and does not include other proposed reforms of the patent system that supposedly have received 'widespread support,'" the coalition said. "Relief for the PTO -- and for the thousands of companies and individuals unable to bring their inventions to market because of the agency's backlog -- should not be held hostage to these other issues."

The coalition, which includes firms such as Apple, Google, Intel and Oracle, supported the patent overhaul bill approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee last year, but pulled that support after Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and ranking member Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., unveiled a compromise in April that made several changes aimed at bringing some lawmakers and groups on board.

Conyers, House Judiciary ranking member Lamar Smith, R-Texas, and other House Judiciary members have been negotiating with their Senate counterparts in an effort to address many of the same issues raised by the coalition, but so far the talks have yet to yield a deal. Conyers noted this lack of progress during a hearing earlier this month at which he said he was considering drafting a stand-alone PTO fee-setting bill.