Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Just in from Capitol Hill

Farmers urge lawmakers to preserve strong patent system

Washington—Concerned that the Innovation Act (H.R. 9) will discourage investment in modern agricultural tools important to rural America, the American Farm Bureau Federation and more than two dozen other farmer organizations and agricultural companies urged Senate and House Judiciary Committee leaders to proceed with caution as they consider making changes to the U.S. patent system.

The bill, as written, will make patent rights more difficult to enforce and make it more challenging for companies and universities to cross-license agricultural technologies, the groups wrote in a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), as well as House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Ranking Member John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.).

“Agricultural innovation depends upon clear, predictable and enforceable patent rights,” according to the groups. “Without these patent rights, new products used to produce healthful food, protect crops, preserve the environment and improve human and animal health will be more costly to develop.”

The first U.S. Patent Act was enacted in 1790, with the most significant reforms taking place in 1836, 1952 and in 2011 with the America Invents Act. A bill identical to the Innovation Act was passed by the House in 2013.

At a House Judiciary Committee hearing last week, Goodlatte, chief sponsor of the bill, said the Innovation Act targets current abusive patent litigation practices.

In their letter, the groups did not rule out any changes to the patent system, but encouraged lawmakers to carefully consider the impact of any changes to the patent system on the agricultural community.

Companies and universities expend tremendous resources to research and develop economically and environmentally beneficial technologies to help feed, fuel, clothe and heal people and animals. It can easily take a decade or more and more than $100 million to commercialize a single product. Patents are critical to ensure a return on investments of time and money, which is why Farm Bureau and other agricultural organizations are worried about weakening the patent system.

“We look forward to working with you and your colleagues to ensure that any changes to the U.S. patent system are narrow, targeted and drafted to avoid damaging agricultural innovation,” they wrote.

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