Congressional Champions Fuel Tech Transfer's Legislative Victories

Mike Waring
AUTM Advocacy and Alliances Coordinator

In advocacy, members of Congress who understand your issues AND are willing to fight for your interests are huge assets. These kinds of lawmakers are known as “champions.” Much of AUTM’s work in advocacy involves finding and cultivating more members of Congress to become champions—an approach that can also bolster the advocacy efforts of academic research institutions.

The importance of champions has never been more evident than in the past few months, when two leading senators on the Judiciary Committee – Chris Coons (D-DE) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) – introduced two major pieces of important legislation that could directly impact the ability of tech transfer offices to carry out their mission.
As the chair and ranking member of the Senate Intellectual Property Subcommittee, respectively, Sens. Coons and Tillis share a commitment to a strong patent system that works for patent holders. Their efforts in support of those principles go back several years and are now front and center in their subcommittee work.
Sen. Tillis is the lead sponsor with Sen. Coons on the Patent Eligibility Restoration Act (PERA, S. 2140). This legislation is a direct response to the numerous Supreme Court cases over the last decade that have muddied the waters on what is or is not eligible for patenting. Unfortunately, that confusion has led to lost opportunities for new discoveries – particularly in the diagnostic and therapeutic spaces – to move forward. Even within the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, judges who hear patent cases have begged for more clarity. Enter the PERA bill, which will lay out in direct language what can and cannot be patented.
Similarly, worries about how the Patent Trial and Appeals Board (PTAB) has been operating at the US Patent and Trademark Office have risen in recent years. Too many patents have been repeatedly attacked by big-money interests, and PTAB has developed a reputation for killing patents. 
In response, Sen. Coons (with support from Sen. Tillis) has introduced the Promoting and Respecting Economically Vital American Innovation Leadership (PREVAIL, S. 2220) legislation to make the entire PTAB process fairer. It begins by synchronizing the burden of proof between PTAB and federal court on plaintiffs who believe a patent was wrongly issued. This will streamline the process and cut down on patents being unfairly overturned. It also will prevent serial challenges, in which repeated attacks prevent patenting efforts from moving forward. The patent system simply cannot be subverted by those who want to block potential competition.

Having Sens. Coons and Tillis as champions of the patent system means we have a real opportunity for Congress to take these issues seriously. Hearings on the PREVAIL Act are expected this month, and AUTM thanks both senators for their longtime commitment to a fairer and more effective patent system. We look forward to helping push these bills forward and to helping our allies in Washington recruit other lawmakers to become patent champions.
As you interact with lawmakers from your own region, work with your federal relations officers to help turn those policymakers into champions for tech transfer. We can never have too many.