On Friday, the House of Representatives passed the Patent Reform Act of 2007 by a vote of 220-175, favored among Democrats (160 ayes, 58 noes) and disfavored among Republicans (60 ayes, 117 noes). The Act would grant patent rights to the first applicant to file rather than to the first inventor, thus bringing the U.S. in line with other nations' systems. It also would allow third parties to challenge patents through the Appeal Board within the Patent & Trademark Office. I can see why Eli Lilly and other pharmaceutical companies would be wary of this aspect; in recent years, they already have undergone scores of challenges to their patents from generics makers, both domestic and foreign, who want to get their copies on the market sooner. However, if the Act forces challengers to go through the Appeals Board before filing in federal court, this might reduce the cost of such challenges and ensure that they are dealt with expeditiously and by people with more specific expertise in patents than the average federal judge may have.
The Senate version was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee in July, and is co-sponsored by that Committee's Sens. Leahy and Hatch. Seeing Hatch work to reduce intellectual property litigation is an odd sight, inasmuch as he is a well-known proponent of copyright protection legislation that has tended to increase it, particularly through extending copyright terms and increasing law enforcement powers to prosecute new federal crimes like taping a movie while sitting in the theater watching it. (Though his Family Entertainment Act provided a safe harbor for Utah company Clearplay and others that alter films in order to render them family-safe; as long as creators of works get paid, Hatch sees no problem in mutilating their creations.)