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  • Washington Highlights

    Senate Committee Considers Reforms to Patent Act

    Christa Wagner, Manager, Government Relations

    The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property June 11 completed a series of three hearings titled, “The State of Patent Eligibility in America.” The hearings were organized to gain stakeholder feedback in response to a draft proposal from Sens. Thom Tills (R-N.C.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Reps. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), Hank Johnson (D-Ga), and Steve Stivers (R-Ohio) to reform Section 101 of the Patent Act.

    The draft proposal aims to increase patent eligibility under Section 101, Inventions Patentable, and includes language to redefine eligibility: “No implicit or other judicially created exceptions to subject matter eligibility, including ‘abstract ideas,’ ‘laws of nature,’ or ‘natural phenomena,’ shall be used to determine patent eligibility under section 101, and all cases establishing or interpreting those exceptions to eligibility are hereby abrogated.”

    Forty-five witnesses representing a wide range of industries including biotechnology, academia, pharmaceuticals, legal, technology, and gaming gave testimony over the three days of hearings. Witnesses shared diverse views on the best approach to amending the Patent Act, with many witnesses supporting the draft proposal and some expressing concern that increasing patent eligibility would allow for too little guidance on what can be patented, leading to patent thickets with the potential to harm patient care.

    The AAMC June 14 sent a letter to the five bill proposal authors opposing the draft proposal in its current form, specifically regarding the intent to nullify previous Supreme Court decisions about the validity of certain patents in the life sciences. While the letter does express support for a “strong and fair patent system,” the letter reflected the AAMC’s role in an amicus brief to a 2011 case before the Supreme Court in which a clinical laboratory alleged to infringe a patent by reaching a diagnostic decision.

    The AAMC reiterated the opinion from that amicus brief in objecting to the current draft proposal, stating, “Central to the [2011] amici’s concern was that the patents in question claimed the naturally occurring relationship itself, a correlation, rather than embodying that relationship in a human-made method, machine, manufacture or composition of matter.”

    Sen. Tillis noted that an updated proposal including bill text will be available following the July 4 Congressional recess.