mvar writes "A bill to reduce the likelihood of massive damage awards in patent disputes took a step forward with approval by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The committee voted 15-0 to back the legislation that would give judges a major role in determining how important a particular patent is to a product, so that infringing minor patents would not lead to huge damages. The bill (PDF) also gives patents to the first inventor to file, rather than the first to invent, making the patent application process easier for companies who apply for patents in multiple countries. This year, Microsoft, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America and the Biotechnology Industry Organization support the patent legislation, while Dell, Cisco and others oppose it." Microsoft's blog post in support of patent reform calls for a quick review period for newly-granted patents and the acceptance of prior art submissions from third parties.