Intellectual-property bill draws fire

A bill that would merge the Commerce Department's Pat-ent and Trademark Office and the Library of Congress' Copyright Office into one organization faced opposition at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last week.

The Omnibus Patent Act of 1996 (S 1961) was introduced in July by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). Title I of the bill would merge the two offices into a wholly owned government corporation called the Intellectual Property Organization which would consist of three separate administrative units: a copyright office a patent office and a trademark office. An appointed commissioner of intellectual property would run the IPO.

Marybeth Peters register of copyrights at the Library of Congress said the bill "ignores the fundamental differences" between copyrights - which are given for things such as books poems and movies and are not driven by purely economic concerns - and patents and trademarks which are centered around commerce and trade.

And there are other concerns Peters added. In order for the Copyright Office to be self-sustaining as mandated in the bill it would have to increase its copyright registration fees from $20 to $100.

This increase in fees "is likely to lead to a steep decline in the use of the copyright registration system " she said. "It will force some copyright owners to absorb a staggering increase in the aggregate costs of registrations. Many would be unable to register their works."

With people registering fewer works the result would be a "less valuable public database of information about works of authorship making it more difficult for users to determine who owns what rights at a particular point in time."

A drop in the use of the registration system likely would have a negative effect on projects such as the electronic registration recordation and deposit system Peters added. This system receives and stores copies of works in digital repositories.

Senators Express Concern

Members of the committee also expressed concern about the copyright provision in Title I of the bill."As I look at Title I I'm not sure we don't have a solution in search of a problem " said Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.).

Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) agreed. "Title I disturbs me " he said "putting the Copyright Office under the IPO [and] then saying it has to be self-sufficient."

Hatch suggested at the Wednesday hearing that he may take the copyright provision in Title I out of the bill after hearing concerns of the committee members and those testifying.

Apart from the copyright provision S 1961 shares similarities with other pending legislation that would reorganize PTO particularly HR 3460 introduced by Rep. Carlos Moorhead (R-Calif.). That bill was passed by the House Judiciary Committee and soon will be brought to the floor.

It is unlikely however that S1961 will see any further action in the 104th Congress.

Administration Warm to Bill

As with Moorhead's bill the Clinton administration likes the fact that Hatch's legislation allows PTO to play a "direct role in procurement enables us to structure personnel accordingly to our own needs and gives us [the money that] the current fee structure provides " said Bruce Lehman assistant secretary of Commerce and commissioner of patents and trademarks.

But Lehman would like to see more performance-based measures added to the bill.

For example Moorhead's bill requires the person who will run the PTO government corporation to sign a "performance contract" that would link salary with performance of the organization.

Commerce Secretary's Role

Lehman said the administration also would like to maintain the secretary of Commerce's role as the principal policy-maker on intellectual-property issues.

"We believe that it is essential to make it clear in the legislation that the newly established organization is within the Department of Commerce for intellectual-property policy and that it reports to and receives policy direction from the secretary of Commerce " he said.

DECKS 1961The Omnibus Patent Act of 1996 would:* Merge government copyright and patent offices into a single Intellectual Property Organization.* Allow for electronic filing of trademark-related documents. * Give IPO control of acquisitions and personnel.* Let IPO keep and use all its revenues and receipts.* Create three five-member management advisory boards for patents trademarks and copyrights.* Provide for the publication of patent applications either 18 months after the date on which they are filed or 18 months after the date on which the earliest referenced application was filed.* Extend the patent term if certain administrative delays occurred in the processing of the patent.

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