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Unions Urge Senate To Oppose Patent Reform Act

A letter sent this week claims the bill would "significantly weaken" U.S. patent protection and give competitors ideas to steal.

U.S. patent examiners and 13 other unions want the U.S. Senate to block patent reform legislation.

The Patent Office Professional Association (POPA) issued a statement Thursday saying that the Patent Reform Act contains provisions that endanger American intellectual property. POPA, which represents nearly 6,000 U.S. patent examiners, including engineers, scientists, and designers, joined the other unions to sign a letter to members of the Senate, urging their opposition to the bill, S. 1145.

The letter, sent this week, said the bill would "significantly weaken" U.S. patent protection and give competitors ideas to steal. The groups said the bill's proposal to change the way infringement damages are calculated would be particularly harmful. It also said that proposed changes to post-grant procedures and publication of pending applications would hurt U.S. competitiveness.

"All of these changes increase the likelihood of American inventions being stolen and provide incentives for American manufacturers to simply license their technology for production overseas," the letter stated.

POPA president Robert Budens said the bill's requirement that applicants submit prior art searches, for all relevant patent and nonpatent literature, would "effectively outsource the search." He said that contracted searches would allow foreign entities to bypass legal protections.

He also said that instead of simply trying to hire 1,200 new patent examiners in 2008, the United States Patent and Trademark Office should try retaining skilled and experienced patent examiners, while providing them with the time and resources they need to search relevant prior art. Budens said the current attrition rate among trained examiners is in the double digits.

POPA said that despite growing volumes of prior art and an increasingly complex application process, the time allowed for examination of patent applications has not changed in 32 years.

The unions that joined POPA to sign the letter represent a broad range of laborers and trade professionals in professions ranging from communications to the steel industry.

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