Could the anti-patent "troll" bill be voted on next week?

Hopes for swift passage of anti-patent "troll" legislation were reignited Friday, as various senators indicated they were engaged in intense negotiations to present a unified bill, possibly as early as next week.

Congressional Quarterly reported that S. 1720, legislation introduced by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), "will be replaced by a manager's amendment that has been the subject of weeks of behind-the-scenes negotiations between the parties."

In general, senators appear to be trying to harmonize many of the provisions of S. 1720 with the Innovation Act, legislation introduced by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and passed by the House last year by a 325-91 margin, which takes a harder line in combatting the excesses of patent assertion entities.

Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking member on Judiciary who has become especially hawkish on patent issues, said “I’m willing to work on compromise language, but I’m not willing to agree to language that is so weak that it won’t combat patent trolling."

Senate sources tell me that the key bone of contention at this point is the issue of fee shifting, or the award of attorney's fees to the prevailing party in litigation. The Goodlatte bill would make fee shifting the norm rather than the exception, a provision that is problematic for numerous reasons.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) reportedly seeks to introduce even tougher language that would require some litigants to set aside money in the form of a bond at the beginning of a case to cover attorney's fees should they lose at trial. "If you don't have bonding," Hatch says, "you don't have anything."

The parties are continuing to hammer out compromise language, but it's unclear whether they'll be able to reach agreement anytime soon. Sen. Leahy, for his part, told CQ that he expects to work across the aisle to incorporate "provisions to shift fees in unreasonable cases, require better pleadings in complaints, and make sure that bad actors cannot hide behind shell companies that are judgment-proof. I hope politics will not rule the day, and we can work together to pass this bill to help American businesses."

Stay tuned...