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By Tony Dutra
The House Judiciary Committee will advance bills to update copyright law and curb patent litigation abuses this year, committee chairman Robert W. Goodlatte said Feb. 1, but only after it deals with more pressing issues, including immigration policy.
Goodlatte (R-Va.) said the panel will push for targeted solutions to intellectual property issues in the 115th Congress, rather than wholesale rewrites of laws.
However, with the priorities Goodlatte identified, consideration of any IP-related legislation will likely be delayed in favor of other agenda items. He devoted the most time to potential changes in immigration laws and made clear President Donald Trump’s priority would be the committee’s priority as well.
Goodlatte announced his agenda for the committee in a speech before the Federalist Society at the National Press Club in Washington Feb. 1.
Goodlatte said there is bipartisan support for modernizing the Copyright Office and moving it out of the Library of Congress. “I think we’ll act on that soon,” he said. He made it clear the committee would tackle those two questions in a stand-alone bill.
Over the past two years, Goodlatte has held more than 20 hearings covering a wide range of copyright law topics. He has chosen a piecemeal approach to address them rather than a comprehensive overhaul. The Copyright Act last saw a a major rework in 1976.
Goodlatte said the Copyright Office move would be “the first of what we intend to be numerous policy proposals to reform aspects of our copyright laws.”
Asked to prioritize areas of concern, Goodlatte focused on music licensing. That area is ripe for change because of the use of new technology, he said. He committed to hearing arguments on “whether or not all the people who work to create great music are being fairly compensated.”
The only other topics Goodlatte mentioned were orphan works—finding a way to allow use of creative material where the copyright owner isn’t known—and making it easier for photographers to be able to enforce copyrights, “to have access to the copyright legal system in less expensive way, in some type of small claims process,” Goodlatte said.
Goodlatte indicated that the comprehensive patent law changes he pushed in the last Congress needed to be pruned.
“We are definitely going to continue to pursue patent litigation reform,” he said. But he added, “Fortunately, the courts are doing the same. Some of the decisions in recent years have had a positive impact on reducing the problem of patent trolling.”
Goodlatte didn’t name specific decisions, but the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2014 ruling in Octane Fitness has led to more courts forcing the losing party to pay the winning party’s attorneys fees, addressing the Innovation Act’s requirement for more fee-shifting. And district courts are now a full year into implementing the Supreme Court-authorized changes that require more detail in patent infringement pleading and less discovery in a lot of cases—two other highlights of the Innovation Act.
Also the Supreme Court is about to address another hot topic—patent owners handpicking patentee-friendly courts for patent infringement cases.
Goodlatte indicated that his committee will wait to see how the Supreme Court handles the issue in TC Heartland LLC v. Kraft Foods Grp. Brands LLC, No. 16-341 (U.S., petitioner merits brief filed Jan. 30, 2017, to be decided by the end of June.
Hinting that the committee wouldn’t act on any patent legislation until then, Goodlatte said, “We’re looking to see what will come from that court case. It may inform some of our work.”
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