WASHINGTON _ Pending legislation to redefine whena patent term begins has created separate camps not onlyin the congressional committees considering the bills butalso among U.S. technology industries and the biotechsector in particular.

To bridge the differences, the Biotechnology IndustryOrganization (BIO), has offered compromise languagethat it hopes will produce a consensus on patent termproposals.

Rep. Carlos Moorhead (R-Calif.), who chairs the HouseJudiciary Subcommittee on Courts and IntellectualProperty, kicked off Tuesday's hearing with a lengthydefense of his own patent term bill (HR 1733).Moorhead's bill would assure inventors a 17-yearminimum for any issued patent that was delayed throughno fault of the patent applicant. At the hearing Moorheadsaid his bill would "harmonize U.S. patent law with othernations by requiring that all patents be published after 18months and permit the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office[PTO] to extend the term of patent for any time lost as aresult of delays caused by the PTO."

Moorhead was immediately challenged by Rep. DanaRohrabacher (R-Calif.) who defended his bill (HR 359)as a necessary correction of the 1944 General Agreementon Tariffs and Trade implementing legislation.Rohrabacher attacked Moorhead's bill, charging that"unrestricted publication of all patent applications 18months after filing is an invitation to the whole world tosteal our patent ideas." Rohrabacher's bill wouldestablish a patent term of 20 years from the date of filingor 17 years from the date that it was granted, whichever islonger.

However, Rohrabacher said he is "open to compromise"as long as the 17-year term is "absolutely guaranteed."Rohrabacher said he would study a proposal from Rep.Rick Boucher (D-Va.), former co-chair of thecongressional biotechnology caucus, that would identifythe inventor who was first to file for a patent as therightful owner.

Rohrabacher was followed by a parade of witnesses whowere split on the merits of the two patent term bills. BIOsubmitted a statement for the record which said that ithoped would provide "middle ground." BIO has proposedthat Moorhead's bill be amended to guarantee a 20-yearpatent term "if safeguards are adopted which ensure thatdiligent patent applicants are not penalized for delayswhich are beyond their control." BIO's efforts at buildinga consensus followed Rohrabacher's announcement thatthe list of biotech companies supporting his bill includesThousand Oaks, Calif.-based Amgen Inc., and BiogenInc., of Cambridge Mass.

However, in a letter submitted for the record toMoorhead's subcommittee on Oct. 31, 1995, Amgenassociate general counsel Steve Odre made it clear thatwhile he disagreed with Moorhead's definition of patentterm as 20 years from the date of filing, he hoped thesubcommittee would "combine the best features" of bothbills. Citing delays at the PTO, Odre said that ifMoorhead's bill were enacted it would "effectivelyshorten the terms of some leading biotechnology patents."n

-- Michele L. Robinson Washington Editor

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.