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Fish & Richardson: Leading source on patent reform

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After years of growing concern over poor patent quality and out-of-control patent litigation, a bill with the most sweeping reforms in 50 years was introduced in Congress this summer.

Patents are a fundamental thread of the nation's fabric, enshrined in the Constitution. Yet more than $500 million in fees collected by the Patent Office in the last several years has been siphoned off by Congress to pay for unrelated federal programs, leaving the Patent Office under-funded and impairing patent quality.

Patent litigation has become an industry in and of itself. More than 2,500 patent lawsuits are filed each year. The average cost of patent litigation is upward of $4 million. These, and the threat of being forced to pull products and features from the market based on patents of questionable validity, create fertile ground for abuse.

The time for change has come. The Patent Act of 2005, introduced by Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, chairman of the House Intellectual Property Subcommittee, goes a long way toward addressing many troubling aspects of the current patent system.

Fish & Richardson, which has one of the largest patent law practices in the United States, has been analyzing and speaking on legislative proposals pending in Congress since the first committee draft bill was released on April 14.

The nationwide law firm has effectively utilized its Web site (www.fr.com) as source for up-to-date information by posting new developments as they occur. In addition to updates on the bill, Fish & Richardson's Web site also includes news clips and links to other resources regarding patent reform. Subscribers to the firm's patent reform e-mail alerts receive up-to-the-minute news.

The firm, which has 320 attorneys in nine offices throughout the United States, has taken the lead in tracking the legislation. Fish & Richardson patent attorneys have made several presentations about the proposed reforms and their affects on various technology sectors.

Firm attorneys have also participated in national Web cast forums sponsored by industry groups. In September, the San Diego office of Fish & Richardson hosted a forum for Steve Pinkos, Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Deputy Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, at a California Healthcare Institute (CHI) roundtable discussion on patent reform.

Pinkos and leading representatives from a broad cross-section of the California life sciences community participated in an informative dialogue concerning a number of intellectual property and patent-related issues of importance to continued biomedical research and innovation.

"The ramifications of patent reform in the biotech industry are extensive," said Fish & Richardson principal Stephanie Seidman. "Biotech organizations have been instrumental in getting certain portions of the bill removed that would adversely affect its members, but many biotech professionals still have concerns."

Seidman, who in additional to her law degree holds a Ph.D. in molecular biology/biochemistry, leads the firm's San Diego Biotechnical and Pharmaceutical Patent Law practice. She said the firm encourages all companies that have patent portfolios - large or small - to stay informed about the legislation.

Observers predict that the bill will not be passed until next year and more changes to the draft are likely.


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