Image courtesy of Matt H. Wade

In December 2013 I wrote about the Innovation Act, H.R. 3309, a bill focused on patent infringement litigation and other patent law reforms that passed the House of Representatives on a bipartisan basis. My interest in the bill was because it would make the most sweeping changes to the treatment of intellectual property licenses in bankruptcy since the 1988 enactment of Section 365(n) of the Bankruptcy Code. Follow the link in this sentence for a full discussion of the proposed law.

Proposed Changes In The House-Passed Innovation Act. To bring you up to date, here are the four major changes the Innovation Act would make to Section 365(n)’s protections for IP licensees.

  • First, it would extend Section 365(n)’s protections, including through an amendment to Section 101(35A) of the Bankruptcy Code’s definition of intellectual property, to licenses of trademarks, service marks, and trade names.
  • Second, rejection of a trademark, service mark, or trade name license would not relieve the trustee (or presumably a debtor in possession in a Chapter 11 case) of the debtor’s contractual obligations to monitor and control the quality of a licensed product or service.
  • Third, it would expand the payments that a licensee would have to continue to make to the estate, if it elected to retain its license rights, to include not only “royalty” payments but also “other” payments under the license.
  • Fourth, it would amend Section 1522 of the Bankruptcy Code to make Section 365(n) directly applicable to Chapter 15 cases, providing that if a foreign representative rejects or repudiates an IP license, the licensee would be entitled to elect to retain its IP rights under Section 365(n).

If enacted and signed by the President, the Innovation Act’s revisions would apply as of the date of enactment to pending and future cases.

After House Passage, Action On A Senate Version. After passing the House, the Innovation Act moved to the Senate and was referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary. Senator Patrick Leahy, the Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman, had introduced a similar bill, S. 1720, the “Patent Transparency and Improvements Act of 2013.”  As introduced, that bill would have made many of the same changes to Section 365(n) and the Bankruptcy Code definition of intellectual property (specifically, adding in coverage of trademarks as discussed above) as in the House-passed Innovation Act. The Senate bill would have also addressed the applicability of Section 365(n) in Chapter 15 cases, but by amending a different section of Chapter 15.

The Legislation Hits A Roadblock. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on S. 1720, and a number of discussions and negotiations involving companies affected by patent litigation ensued. However, those efforts reached an impasse and on May 21, 2014, Senator Leahy announced:

We have been working for almost a year with countless stakeholders on legislation to address the problem of patent trolls who are misusing the patent system. This is a real problem facing businesses in Vermont and across the country.

Unfortunately, there has been no agreement on how to combat the scourge of patent trolls on our economy without burdening the companies and universities who rely on the patent system every day to protect their inventions.  We have heard repeated concerns that the House-passed bill went beyond the scope of addressing patent trolls, and would have severe unintended consequences on legitimate patent holders who employ thousands of Americans.

I have said all along that we needed broad bipartisan support to get a bill through the Senate. Regrettably, competing companies on both sides of this issue refused to come to agreement on how to achieve that goal.

Because there is not sufficient support behind any comprehensive deal, I am taking the patent bill off the Senate Judiciary Committee agenda.  If the stakeholders are able to reach a more targeted agreement that focuses on the problem of patent trolls, there will be a path for passage this year and I will bring it immediately to the Committee.

We can all agree that patent trolls abuse the current patent system.  I hope we are able to return to this issue this year.

Conclusion. Senator Leahy’s statement makes clear that the focus of this legislation is on patent litigation reform, not bankruptcy and IP licenses. The fate of the legislation will depend on whether the interested parties can reach agreement on those patent issues. However, the stalling of the patent legislation also means the bankruptcy provisions, at least for now, will stay on hold; it seems unlikely the bankruptcy provisions would move forward in legislation separate from the overall patent reform effort. Stay tuned, but the odds now seem considerably lower that these changes to the treatment of IP licenses in bankruptcy will be enacted.