US & World

Patent reform bill splits California Republicans in Congress

US Republican Representative Darrell Issa of California.
US Republican Representative Darrell Issa of California.
Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images

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Congress is expected to vote this week on a patent reform bill that would change the rules about who gets to file for a patent. Republican members of Congress from California are split over the measure.

There’s a backlog at the U.S. Patent office. If you’ve got a great idea for a new invention, you could wait two years before a reviewer can even take a first look at your application. There’s 700,000 people ahead of you in line.

Al Tramposch says it’s a matter of money. Tramposch, director of governmental affairs at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, says for the past 20 years, the patent office has had to share patent fees with the rest of the federal government. "Now this would all be changed if the current patent reform legislation is successful."

That legislation is the America Invents Act. Its cosponsors include California Republican congressmen Darrell Issa and Elton Gallegly.

It’s opposed by a bipartisan group of House members that includes Dana Rohrabacher of Huntington Beach. Rohrabacher says he believes the patent bill to be "unconstitutional and have dramatic negative impact on our inventors and thus on the standard of living of the American people."

Rohrabacher objects to language in the bill that conforms U.S. patent law to international patent law, granting patents to the “first to file” for an invention, rather than the current “first to invent” standard. "And we can expect that America’s innovation will be stolen, not only by other Americans, but by forces overseas."

The bill is backed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Microsoft, General Electric and DuPont. Steve Bartlett, CEO of the banking trade group The Financial Services Roundtable, told the House Judiciary Committee why he supports the bill.

"Given the importance of the financial services sector to the nation’s economy and infrastructure," he said, "it’s important that the patent system work for everyone. But it does not." Critics say the financial services industry will use the new law to challenge patents for technology like check scanning.

Kevin Kearns heads the U.S. Business and Industry Council, which represents 2,000 manufacturers. He’s asking Congress to slow down. "If we straighten out the mess at the patent office and do a funding only bill, that would be sufficient for the time being and then we can see after we get the Patent Office out of its dysfunctional state, we can see what we need to do in the future."

The Senate has already passed its own version of patent reform. The House is expected to vote on the America Invents Act later this week.