* Bill gives judges a major role in setting damages
* Durbin says he "feels good" that bill will pass
* Budget fight may push date back
By Diane Bartz and Thomas Ferraro
WASHINGTON, Feb 16 The U.S. Senate aims to
begin consideration next month of a bipartisan bill to revamp
the U.S. patent system and reduce the likelihood of what
critics see as excessive damage awards, Senate Majority Leader
Harry Reid said on Wednesday.
Reid said he plans to bring the bill to the Senate floor
after lawmakers return from a week-long recess set to start on
Assistant Senate Democratic Leader Dick Durbin voiced
confidence that the measure would win approval, which would
send it to the Republican-led House of Representatives for
"I feel good about it," said Durbin, a member of the Senate
Judiciary Committee that reported out the measure on a 15-0
vote earlier this month.
The bill would give judges a major role in determining how
important a particular patent is to a product, so that
infringing minor patents would not lead to huge damages.
The bill also would give a patent to the first inventor to
file, rather than the first to invent, making the patent
application process easier for companies who apply for patents
in multiple countries.
"We will take that up the week we get back," Reid told
reporters on Capitol Hill.
The Senate is slated to return to work on Monday, Feb. 28,
but action on the bill likely wouldn't start until at least
later in the week, aides said.
A vote on the bill could further slip a bit since the
Senate must act quickly on a stopgap-funding measure to keep
the government up and running beyond March 4.
Regardless, senior Senate Democratic aides said, the
anticipated plan is to get to the patent reform bill by the
second full week in March.
Senator Charles Schumer has said that he plans to offer an
amendment that would allow companies accused of infringing
business-method patents to allow them to ask the U.S. Patent
and Trademark Office to declare them invalid without resorting
The Supreme Court last year rejected a way to hedge energy
costs but declined to shut the door on business method patents
entirely. Perhaps the most familiar example of a
business-method patent is Amazon.com Inc's (AMZN.O) one-click
Other provisions in this year's 99-page bill aim to prevent
bad patents from being issued by allowing third parties to
provide information on why an application should be rejected.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has asked for the
right to set its own fees in order to hire more examiners and
upgrade technology so it can chip away at a massive backlog of
The bill would give the patent office authority to set
fees, but would require that the smallest applicants get relief
on application fees.
Big technology companies initiated a push several years ago
for patent reform because of expensive litigation, and even
more expensive damages, if they lost what many viewed as
Some big tech companies have since dropped their support,
at least partially because of efforts to reduce patent office
reviews of patents that have already been granted.
This year, Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O), the Pharmaceutical
Research and Manufacturers of America and the Biotechnology
Industry Organization support the patent legislation, while
others oppose it.
"We continue to have concerns with the current Senate
bill," a trade group called the Coalition for Patent Fairness
said in a statement.
"The Coalition for Patent Fairness believes that additional
changes need to be made to the bill to reflect the concerns of
America's leading technology innovators and job creators as
they continue to driving the economic recovery," said the
group, whose members include Adobe Systems Inc (ADBE.O), Apple
Inc (AAPL.O), Google Inc (GOOG.O), Intel Corp (INTC.O),
Research in Motion Ltd RIM.TO, Symantec Corp (SYMC.O) and
Verizon Communications Inc (VZ.N).
(Editing by Gerald E. McCormick)