By Diane Bartz
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, said on Wednesday a controversial patent bill backed by major technology companies was being taken off the committee's agenda for now.
The committee had been attempting to reach agreement on changes to a bill aimed at reducing patent litigation brought by patent assertion entities, often called "patent trolls" by their critics. The measure is similar to legislation passed overwhelmingly by the House of Representatives in December.
"Because there is not sufficient support behind any comprehensive deal, I am taking the patent bill off the Senate Judiciary Committee agenda," Leahy said in a statement.
"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," Leahy said.
The bill has strong support from companies such as Google Inc and Cisco Systems Inc, as well as retailers that have been surprised to find themselves accused of patent infringement for such practices as using off-the-shelf routers to provide Wi-Fi to customers.
But it also has critics who worry that efforts to rein in truly abusive, unwarranted patent infringement lawsuits could inadvertently hurt drug companies, colleges and others seeking to protect intellectual property from those who would steal it.
Leahy did not say he was giving up on the bill, and noted that he still sought to "address the problem of patent trolls who are misusing the patent system."
"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," he said. "Regrettably, competing companies on both sides of this issue refused to come to agreement on how to achieve that goal."
The bills in the Senate and House contemplated changes such as making it easier for judges to require the loser of an infringement lawsuit pay the winner's fees, and allowing a manufacturer to step in to defend a customer accused of infringement.
(Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Ros Krasny and Bill Trott)