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Techies oppose US patent reform bill

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More than 430 organizations spanning all fifty US states have fired off a letter urging Senate leaders to oppose a bill that would overhaul the country's patent system. And that includes tech outfits like Qualcomm and AmberWave.

Last month, after a heavy lobby from the likes of Apple, Google, Intel, and Microsoft, the US Patent Reform Act was passed by the House of Representatives and a similar bill was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, but the proposed law is still awaiting a vote from the Senate as a whole.

The bi-partisan bill seeks to harmonize the US patent system with methods used in other parts of the world and cut back on perceived abuses of the system in the courts. That's right, it's an effort to crack down on so-called patent trolls, those rascally outfits that use their patents solely as a means of nabbing cash from other companies.

The bill's biggest backer is an organization called the Coalition for Patent Fairness, a lobbying group that reads like a who's who of the high-tech industry. Apple, Google, Intel, and Microsoft are members, as well as Cisco, Dell, HP, Micron, Oracle, and Symantec.

"This is the third consecutive congress where patent reform has come up, and this group, in various forms, has been pushing it," says Michael Siekman, an attorney with the New England patent-focused firm Wolf Greenfield. "These are companies that have been hit with lawsuits that most people think are crazy, and because their products make so much money, the potential damage awards are sky-high."

But not all high-techers approve of this new legislation, which would reduce the damages paid out by patent infringers. Many believe it will end up devaluing patents and curbing American innovation.

That's the stance taken by the Innovation Alliance, a lobbying group behind a letter that just hit the desks of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

"This bill contains provisions that will create uncertainty and weaken the enforceability of validly issued patents," the letter reads. "Some of the proposed reform provisions...pose serious negative consequences for continued innovation and American technological leadership in a competitive global economy."

Signers run the gamut from computing and telecom companies to biotech and health care outfits. "What's particularly impressive about this list is that the companies and organizations all signed up to it within two weeks, and it represents about one per cent of US jobs," said Steve Perlman, the founding father of WebTV and one of the leading voices in opposition to the bill.

The letter is also signed by National Association of Patent Practitioners (NAPP), a trade association representing patent agents. "Even the people on the ground floor of the patent process are opposed to the bill," Perlman told us. ®

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