Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) has been perhaps the most active and passionate Congress person when it comes to intellectual property (IP) rights, and patents specifically, in recent history. In early August, he released the first draft of the Patent Eligibility Restoration Act of 2022, which if enacted would abrogate the Supreme Court’s decisions in Ass’n for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc., 133 S.Ct. 2107 (2013) and Mayo Collaborative Services v. Prometheus Laboratories, Inc., 132 S.Ct. 1289 (2012). He has also been closely involved with oversight of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) on topics such as patent quality and has written numerous letters to the Biden Administration on issues including the waiver of IP obligations under the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement, the theft of U.S. IP by Chinese companies, and more. While he seemed fairly exasperated by the end of his last attempt at eligibility reform in 2019, he explains below that the Supreme Court’s refusal to fix the problem by denying the American Axle case inspired him to revive his efforts.
This week in Washington IP news, former U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Director Andrei Iancu offers remarks at a Center for Strategic & International Studies event that provides a critical view of methodologies being employed by reports ranking the most innovative companies or countries. Elsewhere, the American Enterprise Institute looks at modernization efforts at the U.S. Air Force with Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., and the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation’s Center for Data Innovation explores pathways towards closing the data divide that prevents equitable
Last week, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) announced that it is launching a campaign against Senator Thom Tillis’ (R-NC) proposed “Patent Eligibility Restoration Act of 2022,” which would effectively abrogate the Supreme Court’s decisions in Ass’n for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc., 133 S.Ct. 2107 (2013) and Mayo Collaborative Services v. Prometheus Laboratories, Inc., 132 S.Ct. 1289 (2012). The EFF’s post claimed the bill “would tear down some of the public’s only protections from the worst patent abuses.” While many in the patent community welcomed Tillis’ renewed attempt at clarifying U.S. patent eligibility law, others said the bill would create more problems by failing to clearly define terms like “technological” and including language that would be problematic for software patents.
On August 9, President Joe Biden signed into law the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors (CHIPS) and Science Act, enacting a major legislative package that will provide $280 billion in federal funding to encourage the domestic production of semiconductor products in the United States as well as fund research and development projects in advanced technological fields like quantum computing and artificial intelligence. Although the 1,000+ page bill establishes massive investments into several areas of developing technologies, it focuses very little on the intellectual property rights that are critical for protecting the new technologies that would be developed through federally funded projects.
On August 5, US Inventor and Eagle Forum Education & Legal Defense Fund (Eagle Forum ELDF) jointly filed an Amicus Brief supporting inventor David Tropp’s petition for a writ of certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) regarding whether Tropp’s method claims are patent-eligible under 35 U.S.C. 101. Tropp owns two patents relating to luggage lock technology that enables airport screening of luggage while still allowing the bags to remain locked. In July, just days after the Court denied cert in American Axle, Tropp asked the High Court to answer the question: “Whether the claims at issue in Tropp’s patents reciting physical rather than computer-processing steps are patent-eligible under 35 U.S.C. § 101, as interpreted in Alice Corporation Pty v. CLS Bank International, 573 U.S. 208 (2014).”
In U.S. government, setting public policy is the sole and exclusive domain of Congress. The laws they pass effectuate the public policy positions that Congress alone has the power to set. In law, words are everything. The precise meaning of the words in law determines whether the public policy is implemented as intended by Congress. Altering the meaning of just one word can change the entire public policy set by Congress, even turning the public policy on its head. Anyone following the debate on patent eligibility can attest to how the Supreme Court’s redefinition of the word “any” in 35 U.S.C. § 101 to have an exception called an “abstract idea” caused a significant public policy change and that change destroyed countless startups, especially those in tech. Senator Tillis’ Patent Eligibility Restoration Act of 2022, S.4734, wrongly puts the courts in charge of defining public policy because it leaves key words completely undefined.
Today, Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC), the Ranking Member of the Senate IP Subcommittee, released the first draft of the Patent Eligibility Restoration Act of 2022, which if enacted would, at a minimum, overrule the Supreme Court’s decisions in Ass’n for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc., 133 S.Ct. 2107 (2013) and Mayo Collaborative Services v. Prometheus Laboratories, Inc., 132 S.Ct. 1289 (2012)…. This legislation would absolutely be a solution to many of the patent eligibility problems that have plagued the industry for the last decade. Of course, if the tech giants in Silicon Valley think this will hurt them the bill will be killed, period.
This morning, Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) introduced the Patent Eligibility Restoration Act of 2022, S.4734, which would amend the U.S. Patent Act to clarify the application of 35 U.S.C. Section 101 to certain technologies. While the bill was welcomed by many in the intellectual property (IP) community, since it would abrogate or weaken many of the seminal decisions that have arguably caused confusion on eligibility over the last decade-plus, some have called the bill out as being far from perfect. Questions remain with respect to the text’s language regarding the definition of “technological” and what it means for software patents, for instance, as some commenters note below.
Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) today announced the introduction of the Patent Examination and Quality Improvement Act of 2022, which is aimed at “evaluat[ing] and improv[ing] the patent examination process and the overall quality of patents issued by the USPTO,” according to a press release. Last week, Tillis told IAM that he would be introducing legislation to reform U.S. patent eligibility law, which is still to come. The bill announced today instead focuses on providing clarity around “what constitutes patent quality, the setting of patent quality metrics, and how the quality of work product performed by patent examiners is measured within the office.”
On August 1, the U.S. Copyright Office sent a report addressed to Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) detailing the results of the agency’s study into the feasibility of a deferred registration examination (DRE) option for copyright applicants seeking registration under U.S. law. While the Office recognized the genuine concerns of those seeking the creation of such an option, the report issued by Register of Copyrights Shira Perlmutter concluded that alternative approaches for addressing those issues would achieve better results than the proposed deferred examination option.
Late last week, United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) Director Kathi Vidal announced in a blog post that the agency had issued a notice in the Federal Register, which was published on Friday, to clarify the duties of disclosure and reasonable inquiry for pharmaceutical patent applicants, as well as parties to Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) proceedings. The notice was specifically targeted to parties proceeding before both the USPTO and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and was issued in response to urging by Senators to establish interagency communications aimed in part at eliminating so-called drug patent thickets.
Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra may consider himself a lucky man (which would probably sound ironic to him at the moment). He just received three letters which aptly summarize the fork in the road he faces in deciding which way to turn in a critical policy decision. On June 23, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), joined by 98 of their Democratic Congressional colleagues, sent him the latest in their series of letters urging him to use alleged existing authorities so that copycats can make expensive drugs to lower health care costs. That triggered an immediate rebuttal from six associations representing research universities and hospitals (including the Bayh-Dole Coalition, which I lead) and another from the Licensing Executives Society, USA & Canada, Inc. (LES), representing the licensing profession. It seems appropriate to let the letters speak for themselves, so let’s start with the Congressional letter, urging the Secretary to use tools they allege he already has to cut the Gordian Knot to lower drug costs.
Recently published research conducted by Vital Transformation shows legislative provisions similar to those found in the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, which allows the U.S. Government to “negotiate” drug prices under a set framework based upon the amount of time a drug has spent on the market, would have significant, negative effects on patient access to new therapies because funding would be severely curtailed for research and development. According to Vital Transformation, the reduction of net earnings due to government price fixing would substantially reduce the amount of research and development of small biotech firms, which would negatively impact future drug discovery and development. The model used in the study estimates that with government price fixing “only 6 of 110 previously approved therapies would be considered ‘not at risk’ of being cancelled, or at very least divested.”
Earlier today, the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary convened a brief executive business meeting to discuss a series of judicial nominees selected by the Biden Administration, as well as a pair of proposed bills. One of those bills, the Interagency Patent Coordination and Improvement Act of 2022, follows various efforts to limit certain patent rights in the pharmaceutical industry and was passed favorably out of the Committee via voice vote toward a full vote on the Senate floor.
This week in Washington IP news, committee hearings at the U.S. House of Representatives focus on several topics related to technology including improvements to civil space procurement activities to promote cybersecurity in space systems, the use of facial recognition technology by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, as well as technological recommendations advanced by the House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress. Over in the Senate, the Judiciary Committee will debate a proposed bill that would establish an interagency task force for sharing communication on drug patents between the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Elsewhere, the Center for Strategic & International Studies explores how last year’s bipartisan infrastructure law is being leveraged to create a regional clean hydrogen hub in Houston, the Brookings Institution discusses the future of crypto regulation following the stablecoin crash, and the USPTO closes out the week with a regular quarterly meeting of the Trademark Public Advisory Committee.