Read our latest coverage of patent law and intellectual property issues, from Silicon Valley to the U.S. Supreme Court.

At issue was whether Research in Motion Ltd., the maker of the BlackBerry, infringed on the intellectual property rights of the small, Virginia-based NTP Inc., whose founder created a system to send e-mails between computers and wireless devices. RIM agreed to pay NTP $612.5 million to settle the dispute.

For members of Congress and their staff, BlackBerrys have become the single most identifiable work tool, says Isakowitz, and the shutdown threat was a winning argument with pols, who couldn’t imagine life in Washington without the electronic device.

“It’s essential to the culture in that building, and this is the very issue that almost took their BlackBerry away,” he says.

Coalition members say they want to change the way a venue is chosen for patent challenges, set standards for how juries determine damage awards, and ensure companies are not held liable in U.S. courts for worldwide damages.

Those who oppose the legislation, such as members of the pharmaceutical industry, assert that proponents are trying to make it harder to get, and easier to invalidate, a patent.

Hunton & Williams partner Patrick Doody, who focuses on intellectual property and patent infringement litigation, says the coalition represents one basic industry sector, computers. He says the proposed changes would serve computer companies well but harm others, notably pharmaceutical companies, which often have only a handful of patents for their prized drugs versus the several hundred that computer companies often possess.

Says Doody, “Microsoft will come out with Office 2009 and will sell millions of copies of it whether or not patents are protected.”

Joe Crea is a reporter with Legal Times, a Recorder affiliate based in Washington, D.C.