Federal Relations

May 21, 2009

APLU Releases Overview of Patent Reform Legislation


To: Association constituents

From: Robert M. Berdahl, President, Association of American Universities
 Molly Corbett Broad, President, American Council on Education
 Darrell G. Kirch, President and CEO, Association of American Medical Colleges
 Peter McPherson, President, Association of Public and Land-grant Universities
 Arundeep S. Pradhan, President, Association of University Technology Managers
 Anthony P. DeCrappeo, President, Council on Governmental Relations

Subject: S. 515, the Patent Reform Act of 2009

We write to inform you about S. 515, the Patent Reform Act of 2009, and our associations’ engagement in the Congressional patent reform process begun four years ago.  S. 515 modifies U.S. patent law in ways that strengthen the system’s ability to promote innovation.  Earlier versions of patent reform legislation, while containing many beneficial changes, also included several provisions of concern for universities.  S. 515 effectively addresses the concerns our associations have raised. 

Congress has been working for more than four years to reform U.S. patent law to enhance the ability of the U.S. patent system to promote innovation and strengthen the nation’s economic competitiveness.  The process has been complicated by the fact that different sectors rely on the patent system in varying ways and are affected differently by proposed reforms.  However, the Senate Judiciary Committee achieved a breakthrough on April 2nd with the adoption of a comprehensive amendment that included an effective compromise on major outstanding issues.  The resulting bill was reported by the Judiciary Committee on a 15-4 vote and now awaits a vote by the full Senate. 

The Congressional patent reform effort was prompted by seminal reports by the National Academies and the Federal Trade Commission.  In its report, the National Academies recommended reforming U.S. patent law to accomplish three goals:  1) harmonize U.S. patent law with international patent law, 2) improve patent quality, and 3) reduce unwarranted patent litigation costs.  Among the numerous improvements to U.S. patent law that would be achieved by S. 515, several respond directly to the National Academies’ recommendations.

On April 20th, the Associations’ Patent Reform Task Force, made up of university presidents and chancellors along with the co-chairs of the Associations’ Technical Advisory Committee, met to discuss the provisions of the legislation, outstanding areas of concern raised by several member institutions, and the overall strengths and weaknesses of the bill.  The Task Force recognized that while several universities have continuing concerns that remain unaddressed, Congress has been responsive to the major issues raised by the higher education associations.  In considering all these factors, the Task Force concluded that S. 515 is a strong bill that achieves a balanced compromise on a number of difficult issues, and addresses the major problems for universities identified by the associations. 

Accordingly, we sent the attached letter to the Senate leadership encouraging them to bring the bill before the full Senate for a vote.  In addition to the letter, we have attached two documents that provide descriptions of key provisions of S. 515 and background on the process the higher education associations have taken in addressing patent reform. 

It is important to note that Congressional consideration of patent reform is a continuing process, and its outcome is uncertain.  As the Senate is considering S. 515, the House of Representatives has recently begun to act on its own version of the bill.  We will remain engaged with Congress as these measures move through the legislative process, working to maintain the improvements included in the Senate bill and seeking opportunities to address remaining concerns.