US senator says "trying to resuscitate" patent bill

WASHINGTON, April 16 Wed Apr 16, 2008 4:23pm EDT

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WASHINGTON, April 16 (Reuters) - A leading senator said on Wednesday that the troubled patent bill, which has pitted big drug companies against high-tech firms, may be salvageable.

Sen. Arlen Specter, a Republican from Pennsylvania and a leading negotiator on the bill, said lawmakers continued to work on the measure despite what some in the business community say is a stalemate over how damages for infringement should be calculated.

"We're trying to resuscitate the patent bill," Specter said at a news conference to discuss a recurrence of his Hodgkin's disease. Specter said doctors told him prospects for full recovery were excellent.

Big high-tech companies such as Cisco Systems Inc (CSCO.O) and Hewlett-Packard Co (HPQ.N) began pushing for reform legislation years ago to cut the number of patent infringement lawsuits and the amount of damages paid.

Pharmaceutical companies and others said the bill was a mistake since it would cheapen the price of infringement.

"The patent bill is, as you know, extraordinarily complicated. And its consequences are very, very far-reaching," Specter said.

"Mistakes can be very, very costly. And that's why we're determined to get it right," he said. "Time is not running out. It's April 16th. There's a lot of time left."

The bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives last September, but quickly stalled in the Senate.

Senate Democratic leaders had hoped to bring up the bill in the Senate this week. But they postponed action indefinitely when negotiators failed last week to reach a self-imposed deadline to resolve differences, aides said.

Currently, damages can be calculated as the entire market value of the product. That number can be tripled when the patent infringement is found to be intentional or willful.

The technology industry, which sells devices that can have many patented elements, wants to reduce damage awards to deter people -- referred to as "patent trolls" -- from filing what tech companies say are unwarranted lawsuits.

The pharmaceutical industry, whose drugs often have just one or two patents, says it needs the threat of high damages to protect their intellectual property. (Reporting by Diane Bartz; editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

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