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K Street Files: Patent Proliferation

An army of coalitions and new faces has emerged in the ongoing debate over patent reform legislation as the Senate Judiciary Committee meets Tuesday for what could be the final markup of legislation introduced this month by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).

The more than five-year-old legislative battle to overhaul patent law has long been framed as a debate between the high-tech, business and software industries, which support the Leahy-Hatch bill that would limit damages to reflect only the value of the infringed patent, not the whole product, and the pharmaceutical industry, which maintains that this “apportionment” of damages would reward infringers and hurt inventors.

This time around, a growing group of coalitions, companies and individuals across the political spectrum that opposes the legislation has re-upped its efforts to ensure a diverse group of faces are seen in the debate.

“It’s really a small group of companies driving the legislation,” said Stan Fendley, director of legislative and regulatory policy at Corning Inc. “There are literally hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of companies on the other side, and more are raising their voices every day.”

New to the debate this year are green-tech companies, which have concerns that the damages provisions in the pending legislation would stifle innovation and slow green-job growth, and organizations, such as the Manufacturing Alliance on Patent Policy, created to emphasize the effects that changes to patent law will have on industries outside the pharmaceutical sector.

The groups join a broadening base of opposition that includes 29 conservative leaders who sent a letter this month to House and Senate leadership as well as organized labor, including the AFL-CIO, concerned that the bill’s damages calculations would hurt the country’s international competitiveness and threaten jobs.

To keep their actions aligned, opponents of the legislation — from the nanotech and biotech industries to universities, venture capitalists and small, high-tech companies — have formed a loose coalition, dubbed the Cross Coalition, that meets weekly to discuss strategy and outreach.

“This year we are making it clear it’s not an issue of high tech versus pharma,” said Fendley, an active member of the coalition. “We want to give policymakers a perspective of how patent proposals affect every industry.”

Surf’s Up. More than a dozen Members from tourism-dependent states asked the White House last week to allow stimulus money to be used for beach projects.

In a letter sent Thursday, the lawmakers asked President Barack Obama to consider spending some of the $787 billion included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act on shovel-ready beach renourishment projects that they claim “are an effective way to help our economy recover.”

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