This was a vote on a motion to table (kill) an amendment by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) that would have prohibited fees collected by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) to be transferred to other government agencies. This amendment was offered to legislation overhauling the U.S. patent system.
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) urged support for his amendment: “What we ought to be worried about is doing what is best and right for our country. What is best and right is to give the money to the Patent Office that people are paying for so the patents will get approved and our technological innovations will be protected….the Patent Office ought to get the money we are paying for patent fees, just as the FDA should get the money paid by drug companies for new applications, just as the Park Service should put the money for the camping sites--the paid-for camping sites--back into the camping sites. Why would we run away from doing the right thing?”
Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT) argued that while he supported Coburn’s amendment in principle, such a prohibition on transferring PTO fees to other government agencies would be rejected by the House of Representatives. Thus, Coburn’s amendment, Leahy argued, would have effectively killed the underlying bill: “…The Senator from Oklahoma knows that the basic thing he is trying to do is something I had supported….He also is aware that my belief…is that the acceptance of his amendment will effectively kill the bill. Even today the leadership in the House told me they would not accept that bill with it.” Leahy also said: “This is an amendment that can derail and even kill this bill--a bill that would otherwise help our recovering economy, unleash innovation and create the jobs that are so desperately needed. I have worked for years against Patent Office fee diversion, but oppose this amendment at this time. Its formulation was rejected by the House of Representatives, and there is no reason to believe that the House's position will change. Instead, for ideological purity, this amendment can sink years of effort and destroy the job prospects represented by this bill. So while I oppose fee diversion, I also oppose the Coburn amendment.”
The Senate tabled (killed) Coburn’s amendment by a vote of 50-48. 41 Democrats—including a majority of progressives—and 9 Republicans voted “yea.” 37 Republicans and 11 Democrats voted “nay.” As a result, the net effect of this vote was to allow fees collected by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to be transferred to other government agencies.