12:00 AM
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May 21, 2007
 |  BioCentury  |  Politics, Policy & Law

Voices for patent equity

The computer and software industries have been clamoring for sweeping patent reform, and legislation being reviewed in the House and Senate show that the message is getting through, to the chagrin of the biotech and pharmaceutical industries. But last week lawmakers showed signs that drug industry objections also are being heard on the hot button issues of perpetual patent challenges envisioned under the bill, as well as proposals that would lower the price of infringement.

Also last week, the industry gained some unlikely allies: small tech companies and the U.S. Department of Commerce, which oversees the Patent and Trademark Office.

"Somehow, since 2000, patents are now widely perceived as being bad for the economy. They used to be seen as good for promoting innovation," said Hans Sauer, associate general counsel for the Biotechnology Industry Organization.

This change in perception is largely due to successful lobbying by the high tech industries, which are plagued by "patent trolls" that file patents on inventions they never intend to practice. The trolls then wait for a product that uses a similar technology and then sue for infringement.

Such trolls are common in the tech space, where products are covered by hundreds of patents and companies can introduce improvements to the market every few months. Biotech companies, on the other hand, rely on a few patents to protect each product and often need over a decade of investment and R&D to get a product to market.

These fundamental differences in business models translate to fundamental differences in opinion on patent protection: the biotech and pharma industries rely on strong IP protection, whereas technology companies want more avenues...

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