WASHINGTON The U.S. House of Representatives approved an overhaul of the patent system on Friday that had been sought by high tech companies to curb the number of infringement lawsuits they face.
The House voted 220 to 175 to approve the measure that would also make it easier to challenge patents before disputes even reach the courts and aims to ease the burden on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which receives 450,000 patent applications annually.
The vote was welcomed by companies whose software and gadgets often depend on many innovations woven together. Most of these elements are protected by patents and any one of them could spark a legal battle.
But pharmaceutical companies and other industries whose products depend on just a few key patents worry the legislation will reduce their ability to punish infringers.
The Senate is considering a similar bill.
Rep. Howard Berman, a California Democrat who co-sponsored the measure, said the overhaul was needed to improve patent quality and cut down on the number of patent infringement lawsuits.
"There are serious problems in the patent system. Many poor quality patents have been issued," he told lawmakers before the vote. "There are many abusive lawsuits filed."
But Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican, called the bill "fundamentally flawed" and argued that it would allow overseas patent pirates to declare open season on the innovations of American inventors.
"Technology thieves are licking their chops," he said before the vote.