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Patent Bill Unites Past Enemies

Tom Williams/Roll Call
Sen. Tom Coburn might decide to block a House GOP deal on patent reform that allows spending panels to control the Patent and Trademark Office’s finances.

Even as House Republicans reached an agreement Tuesday to move long-stalled patent reform legislation, Coburn remained opposed to any deal that gives Congressional appropriators a hand in the patent office's finances.

The bill, which enjoys the support of the Obama administration, has been bogged down thanks to a fight between the Appropriations and Judiciary committees regarding oversight of how patent office fees are spent under the bill.

According to Senate aides familiar with the situation, Coburn is unlikely to accept a last-minute deal cut in the House that would segregate fees collected by the Patent and Trademark Office in a separate fund because the arrangement would still give the Appropriations Committee broad authority regarding how the funds are spent. The Senate-passed bill allowed the PTO to keep and use its fees.

"He wants to talk to [House Majority Leader Eric] Cantor ... but he is not interested in giving the appropriators any access to that fund," a Senate GOP aide said, adding that the dispute is a "classic appropriations turf war."

But whether Coburn will end up using procedural tactics to block the bill remains unclear as he continues to hold his cards close to the vest. A Coburn spokesman declined to comment.

"He always leaves all procedural options on the table and often comes up with new ones," the Senate aide quipped.

It also remains unclear what effect Coburn's opposition will have on the timing of the legislation. At press time, the bill was expected to go before the Rules Committee, and aides said floor consideration could begin Wednesday.

But that could change because the hope had been to pass a bill out of the House that would easily pass muster in the Senate, allowing it to avoid a lengthy amendment process and subsequent conference committee.

Notably, after years of missteps on the issue, the patent reform bill had widely been seen as a rare example of policy legislation that could pass both chambers and make it to President Barack Obama's desk.

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