White House on patent reform bill: Thanks, but no thanks

The White House really wants a law reforming and modernizing the U.S. patent system. But it really doesn’t like the idea of limiting federal judges’ discretion in handing down patent infringement awards.

So the Bush administration has decided to oppose the “Patent Reform Act of 2007,” S. 1145, in its entirety because its damages provision does just that, it says.

In a 6-page letter sent Monday to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, Nathaniel F. Wienecke, Assistant Secretary for Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs at the Commerce Department, said the damages provision of the bill would discourage innovation and encourage patent infringement.

“Unless [the provision] is significantly revised, as we believe the resulting harm to a reasonably well-functioning U.S. intellectual property system would outweigh all the bill’s useful reforms,” Wienecke wrote in the letter, which you can see here. [PDF file]

In a joint statement issued yesterday, Leahy and ranking Judiciary Committee member Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said lawmakers from both sides of the aisle had worked together with the administration and patent stakeholders worldwide to come to a consensus on the legislation, which is scheduled to go to a Senate vote some time this month.

“A critical piece of the Patent Reform Act addresses how courts determine damages for patent infringement,” the statement said. “Since its passage in committee, we have been working to strike the right balance to ensure patent holders obtain appropriate compensation in infringement cases. We have worked and will continue to work with the White House as the Senate prepares to consider this important legislation.”

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