FLC News

Early Legislation for the 114th Congressional Session

DConT2

Greetings from D.C. Although it’s still early in the new congressional session (114th, for those counting), there have been a few proposals that may be of interest to the tech transfer community. Most of these are, in fact, re-introductions of bills proposed last session that never made the complete journey to becoming law. They cover patent reform (focused on nonpracticing entities), agency-specific proposals (focused on DOE lab management and tech transfer), and at least one proposal on prize competitions that some in our community are utilizing in their tech transfer activities.

Patent Reform

Two patent reform proposals have been introduced that may be of interest, although both are primarily focused on the litigation actions of nonpracticing entities (aka patent trolls by some), and have elicited varying responses from the intellectual property (IP) community. Both bills are re-introductions (literally or in spirit) of bills from the 113th session on a topic that generated considerable discussion over the past few years.

On February 5, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) sponsored The Innovation Act (H.R. 9), “a bill to address the ever increasing problem of abusive patent litigation.” This is the same bill that passed the House in 2013 (see DC on TT), but stalled when the Senate dropped pursuit of related legislation late in the session. You can find general provisions of the bill on the Committee website here. As in the 113th session, this bill has generated considerable push-back from the academic community (see here), who suggest that in an attempt to address what some consider to be a "patent troll litigation" problem, the current proposal is too broad, based on erroneous data, and could have a deleterious effect on U.S. innovation generally.

On March 3, Senators Chris Coons (D-DE), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) sponsored The Strong Patents Act (S. 632) “to strengthen America’s patent system and target abusers.” As noted in Senator Coons’ press release, this bill “would make it harder for firms to be targeted with frivolous patent lawsuits, level the playing field between small inventors and large companies, and ensure the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has the resources it needs to ensure patent quality.” The STRONG Patents Act is essentially a competing bill with The Innovation Act, with both focused on alleged patent abuses by nonpracticing entities and other related issues. Unlike the House bill, however, the Senate bill has the endorsement of several university groups, as noted in the press release.

Department of Energy Tech Commercialization

On February 27, Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-IL) sponsored the DOE Modernization and Technology Commercialization Act (H.R. 1158) to “improve management of the National Laboratories, enhance technology commercialization, facilitate public-private partnerships, and for other purposes.” This bill was also from the 113th session (see DC on TT), having passed the House in the last session. The DOE garnered noticeable attention in the 113th session, with multiple bills introduced in both chambers designed to address various components of DOE lab management and tech transfer. Rep. Hultgren’s was only one of many at the time.

On March 18, Senators Heinrich (D-NM) and Gardner (R-CO) sponsored The Microlab Technology Commercialization Act to “direct the Secretary of Energy to establish microlabs to improve regional engagement with national laboratories.” Another bill from the 113th focused on DOE lab management and tech transfer (see DC on TT), this bill was dropped only weeks before the end of the last session, with no hope of passage at that time - but has now been re-introduced in the 114th. As noted in the press release, this bill would establish off-campus “microlabs that would serve as the ‘front-door’ to national laboratories … [giving] academia, local government, businesses owners, and communities direct access to equipment, facilities, and personnel of national laboratories.”

On a related note, Senators Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Tom Udall (D-NM) also introduced the LDRD Enhancement Act (S. 830) to “increase the maximum percentage of funds available to the Department of Energy for laboratory directed research and development.” As noted in the press release, the “[LDRD] program … fosters collaboration between our labs and small businesses that often results in innovative products, spinoff ideas, and new jobs.”

Prize Competitions

On February 27, Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) introduced the Science Prize Competitions Act (H.R. 1162) to “make technical changes to provisions authorizing prize competitions under the Stevenson-Wydler Technology Innovation Act of 1980.” Although the thrust of this proposal is mostly technical changes (as opposed to sweeping revisions), it is included here since there have been a number of these types of proposals over the past year—signifying a growing interest in prize competitions as another mechanism supporting tech transfer efforts. If you want to learn more about this issue, there will be a panel session on this topic at the FLC national meeting in Denver (April 28-30).

….

The issues that kept the 113th session proposals from progressing may still be in place, but the fact that they are being reintroduced in the 114th suggest, at the very least, that their sponsors consider them important enough to try again. We’ll keep an eye on these and others as they come along.

Category: 
FLC News