The biotech and technology industries are at odds over a new bill designed to revamp the patent process. The tech industry is crippled by massive patent-infringement lawsuits that can end up costing companies millions or hundreds of millions of dollars. The problem is that many technologies - such as the iPod - use hundreds or even thousands of patents, making it more likely that one company will infringe on another's patent. To alleviate this problem, the bill proposes a patent-review process that would re-evaluate patents up to 12 months after they're granted to weed out potentially problematic ones. This could save companies millions of dollars in legal fees.
But for biotech, pharmas and universities, therapies based on just a single patented discovery can lead to blockbuster sales. Those discoveries take 10 to 12 years and hundreds of millions of dollars to develop. Industry representatives fear that investors will be less likely to fund new drugs if the patent protection isn't there. "[Companies] attract financing based largely on the potential value of their inventions, whose profits may be many years in the future," explains the Boston Globe. "If those inventions were more vulnerable to patent challenge, with decreased penalties for infringement, they would become far shakier foundations on which to build a company." Though a House committee has made some concessions to the life science industry's concerns, critics still say Congress hasn't done enough.