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Although the Supreme Court recently handed big business a victory in patent law in Ebay v. MercExchange, it’s clear that companies’ drive for patent reform is far from complete. During a congressional hearing last week corporate representatives made clear to members of a House Judiciary subcommittee that pending legislation to reform the patent system falls short in their eyes, particularly regarding limits it would place on damages. The hearing, the seventh held on the Patent Reform Act of 2005, focused on so-called patent trolls, a term critics use to describe small companies that buy up patents with the intent of suing large companies for infringement. The “massive” damages and settlements in patent cases “often bear no relation to the real value of the patent in the marketplace,” testified Chuck Fish, vice president and chief patent counsel for Time Warner. The reform bill, Fish argued, needs to address the problem by changing the way judges assess damages. Small businesses worry that stricter regulation of the patent system could inhibit new innovations. Dean Kamen, president of DEKA Research & Development Corp., said that when dealing with big companies, “the only thing I have on my side of the table is that patent.” Though Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the subcommittee, promised “to act quickly” on the bill, the consensus in the patent community seems to be that the legislation still has a long road to travel.
Marisa McQuilken can be contacted at [email protected].

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