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Senate Hearings Held on Proposed Bill to Change Patent Law

June 6, 2019

The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property held hearings on June 4 and 5, on a bipartisan draft bill released May 22 by subcommittee chair, Senator Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), and ranking member, Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) (see the press release here), that would amend current patent law to expand eligible subject matter. A third hearing is scheduled for June 11. The bill’s sponsors have expressed concern that today’s U.S. patent law discourages innovation in important technologies, such as medical diagnostics, personalized medicine and artificial intelligence.

The draft bill, which specially makes changes to sections 101 and 112 of the patent code, includes a provision that could potentially overturn exceptions to patentable subject matter in a number of Supreme Court cases, including Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc., Mayo Collaborative Services v. Prometheus Laboratories Inc., and Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank International. The court’s opinions have effectively excluded patents from covering abstract ideas, laws of nature, and natural phenomena.

Proposed changes would allow patentability for “any invention or discovery that provides specific and practical utility in any field of technology through human intervention.”  The draft bill would also provide that “no implicit or other judicially created exceptions to subject matter eligibility, including “abstract ideas,” “laws of nature,” or “natural phenomena,” shall be used to determine patent eligibility under section 101, and all cases establishing or interpreting those exceptions to eligibility are hereby abrogated.”

Over the three days of hearings, the subcommittee will hear from a diverse group of 45 stakeholders, including those who support and opposed the proposed changes.

Representative Doug Collins (R-GA-9), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee, and Representatives Hank Johnson (D-GA-4), and Steve Stivers (R-OH-15), have released an identical draft bill in the House.

Changes to the draft legislation are likely as stakeholders continue to provide feedback on the bill’s details.