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Both sides of the patent reform debate have been showering Hillary Clinton with cash

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

On Friday night, Hillary Clinton revealed the names of the various companies and trade groups that have collectively given her millions of dollars in speaking fees since the beginning of 2014. Looking through the list, one thing that stood out to me was how many of the payments came from companies with a strong interest in the patent reform debate.

Over the past decade, the amount of patent litigation has skyrocketed. That has pitted major industries against one another. Companies that regularly find themselves on the receiving end of frivolous patent lawsuits, including high-tech companies and retail establishments, have lobbied for reforms to discourage litigation and get rid of low-quality patents. These efforts have been opposed by the companies that receive the most benefit from the patent system, including pharmaceutical companies, biotechnology companies, and large manufacturers.

Overall, Clinton was paid speaking fees by about 50 companies and groups, receiving around $225,000 for a typical speech. Of those 50 organizations, at least five have a record of lobbying against reforms to the patent system, while three are in the pro-reform camp. Here's a breakdown.

5 organizations that have opposed patent reform and gave Clinton money

  • Novo Nordisk is a major drug company. Drug companies benefit from patents and have opposed reforms that could weaken patent protection. Novo Nordisk is a member of the trade group PhRMA, which has lobbied heavily against patent reforms in recent years. Novo has also lobbied the US government on patent reform directly. Clinton received $125,000 from the company in 2014.
  • The Biotechnology Industry Organization has been an influential opponent of the patent reform bill Congress has been working on for the last two years. Last December BIO drafted a letter to members of Congress arguing that the leading patent reform bill would "go far beyond what is necessary or desirable to combat abusive litigation." Clinton's disclosure appears to say she got $335,000 from BIO in 2014, though the text is difficult to read.
  • Qualcomm is a company that makes chips for wireless devices. Qualcomm has a lot of patents related to wireless technology and has opposed significant changes to the patent system. In a letter to the New York Times this week, Qualcomm's general counsel described the leading patent reform bills as "sweeping measures that would treat all patent holders seeking to enforce their rights as 'trolls.'" Clinton's disclosure appears to say she got $335,000 from Qualcomm in 2014, though it's also hard to read.
  • While Xerox has not lobbied against patent reform as actively as some other companies, it signed a letter in 2013 opposing a proposal that would make it easier to get rid of low-quality software patents. Clinton received $225,000 from Xerox in 2014.
  • Glassmaker Corning has not been very active in the current patent reform battle, but it was more vocal when Congress was debating the last major patent reform bill, which passed in 2011. Corning signed a letter in 2009 opposing a number of reforms that could weaken patent protections. The letter argued that "there is no explosion in patent litigation," and warned that "it would be a terrible mistake to allow the increase in patent applications to become an excuse to undermine patent protections." Clinton received $225,000 from Corning in 2014.

3 organizations that have supported patent reform and gave Clinton money

  • Cisco, a major manufacturer of networking equipment, supports a number of patent reform ideas. The company has lobbied in favor of recent patent reform proposals. Cisco paid Clinton a $325,000 speaking fee in 2014.
  • EBay is a member of the Internet Association, an industry group that favors patent reform. eBay has also lobbied on patent issues. The company paid Clinton $315,000 in March 2015.
  • Salesforce is a member of the pro-reform umbrella group United for Patent Reform, and has lobbied on patent issues. The company paid Clinton a $225,000 speaking fee in 2014.

Clinton herself has been silent on patent issues

Clinton's ability to earn huge speaking fees from both sides of the patent debate may have been bolstered by her own silence on the issue. I haven't been able to find any record of her offering an opinion on the controversial issue. She left the Senate before she would have had to vote on the 2011 America Invents Act, Congress's last attempt to reform patent law.

Yet she'll have a lot of influence over patent policy if she wins the White House in 2016. It's quite possible the current debate over patent reform legislation will drag into 2017, in which case she'd be able to veto legislation she didn't like. She would also appoint the nation's top patent policymakers, including the secretary of commerce and the director of the US Patent and Trademark Office. She would also name the next US Trade Representative, who may follow his or her predecessor's lead in inserting pro-patent provisions into trade agreements.

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