updated 3/3/2004 9:26:29 PM ET 2004-03-04T02:26:29

The House voted Wednesday to raise patent fees, agreeing that the additional dollars were needed to save the overburdened Patent and Trademark Office and ensure that U.S. innovators are not stymied.

Without a strong office, said Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, chief sponsor of the bill, "Our economy would be devastated, our quality of life would be diminished and jobs would be lost or never created."

The legislation raises most patent fees by about 15 percent. It also takes steps to end the practice of sending that money into the general Treasury fund instead of using its for patent and trademark processing.

The bill passed by a 379-28 vote. It now must be considered by the Senate.

Smith said that over the past decade some $750 million in patent fees have gone to other government programs.

The patent office said the cost for a business to file for a patent would rise from $750 to $1,000. The cost, over the 20-year lifetime of a patent, for filing, issuance and maintenance fees, would go from $8,140 to $9,400.

Fees for small businesses are about half that; the bill provides discounts to reduce the increases for those businesses.

Outsourcing provision has some worried
Lawmakers who opposed the bill, mostly Democrats, objected to the added costs for small businesses and a provision that allows the patent office to set up a pilot program to contract out work such as determining whether an application infringes on any patents.

"It's another episode in the outsourcing of American jobs," said Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio. "It's like the virus that can't be stopped."

House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., said that without legislative action the current two-year wait to get a decision on a patent could extend to six years to eight years. "Failure to enact this legislation will truly be a disaster for American innovation," he said.

Smith said the bill would enable the office to hire 2,900 patent examiners, adding to the 3,400 now on the job.

He added that without the bill some 140,000 patents would not be issued over the next five years. Last year the patent office received 355,000 applications and issued 190,000 patents.

Passage of the bill was welcomed by the business community.

Separately, the House passed, by 406-0, a bill aimed at making the copyright royalty system more efficient and less costly for artists, songwriters, music publishers and Webcasters.

The bill would create three judgeships to rule on copyright royalty and distribution rates, replacing the current system that uses arbitration panels.

Patents provide exclusive rights to make, use and sell inventions for up to 20 years. Copyrights protect works of authorship such as writings, music and works of art.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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