By Lisa Seachrist

Washington Editor

WASHINGTON — The chances for patent reform by the end of the year are much brighter following passage of H.R. 400 in the House Wednesday night.

An amendment protecting the interests of small businesses and individual inventors introduced by Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) allowed the once highly contested bill to pass on a unanimous voice vote.

"This may be the most important patent bill passed," said Chuck Ludlam, vice president for government relations at the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO). "We see no obstacles to getting patent reform signed into law in 1997; the House was the difficult part."

H.R. 400, sponsored by Howard Coble (R-N.C.), chair of the House Subcommittee on Courts and Intellectual Property, corrects inequities which resulted from enactment of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). GATT changed the U.S. patent system, which provided 17 years of exclusivity from time the patent was granted to a system that granted exclusivity for 20 years from the date of filing.

While most applicants gained patent term, the contentious and complex nature of biotech patents resulted in applicants losing as much as 10 years of patent term from delays in the patent office. H.R. 400 restores patent term to diligent applicants for any delays in the patent office.

"Patent reform continues to be one of our highest legislative priorities," Ludlam said. "We stand to lose so much from current patent law."

Ludlam noted that the major obstacle for patent reform was Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), who sponsored competing legislation that would have had a difficult time passing in the Senate (See BioWorld Today, April 23, 1997, p. 1.). With last week's defeat of Rohrabacher's amendments, H.R. 400 appeared to have a chance at passing in the House.

Kaptur's amendment — which exempted small businesses, individual inventors and universities from publishing their patents 18 months after filing — consolidated support for H.R. 400 and allowed the bill to pass on a voice vote.

Patent reform now heads to the Senate, where Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has introduced his patent reform bill, S. 507. *