Richard Lloyd

Representative Bob Goodlatte, the Chairman of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, has said that he expects to see patent reform signed into law in the near future. Following the mid-term elections, which handed control of the Senate and therefore the upper chamber’s Judiciary Committee to the Republicans, Goodlatte declared that he welcomed the opportunity to work on the proposed legislation with Senators Chuck Grassley and the Senate leader in the next Congress, Mitch McConnell. Grassley looks set to take over from Senator Leahy in heading the Judiciary Committee where reform foundered in May. “This is a bill that the Congress can pass, put on the President’s desk and see it signed into law,” Goodlatte insisted today at the Global IP Summit taking place today in Washington DC.

Goodlatte’s speech was light on specific detail, although its tone suggested that he sees little that needs to be changed from his original Innovation Act, which was resoundingly passed by the House of Representatives last December. Referring to the bill’s ultimate withdrawal, Goodlatte quipped that “the Innovation Act ran into the DC version of quicksand known as the Senate”.

Responding to a question from the audience which raised concern over fee-shifting provisions, Goodlatte insisted that under the terms of his bill it would only apply in cases where there “is no valid claim in law and in fact”. He also stressed that the focus of the debate should be on behaviours rather than actors, commenting that he was reluctant to use patent troll as a noun, although it is something he has done himself in the past.

The Global IP Summit is being hosted by the US Chamber of Commerce’s Global IP Center. Acting director of the USPTO, Michelle Lee was also part of the speaking faculty and took the opportunity to highlight the steps the agency is taking to reduce its backlog of applications and to focus on improving patent quality. The PTO’s ability to retain most of its fee income now meant that it had the ability to invest in longer-term projects, Lee said; and she added that the agency would be issuing new proposals in January around improving patent quality and reaching out to the public for feedback. Changes could come in the way that the PTO uses big data, how it trains its examiners and the level of resources it devotes to examiner interviews. 

On the subject of the still-burgeoning applications backlog, Lee, who last month was nominated by the Obama administration to become the PTO’s permanent director, revealed that the stockpile had fallen by around 19% from a high of 750,000 in 2008 despite a 5% year-on-year increase in the number of applications being filed. Acknowledging that the backlog remains very high, though, Lee stressed that the PTO would continue to take steps bring it down. This year, she pointed out, around 1,000 examiners had been hired and better retention of examiners would help improve quality and reduce the backlog.