By Thomas Ferraro and Diane Bartz
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to overhaul U.S. patent laws, approving a measure aimed at chipping away at a huge backlog of patent applications and offering alternatives to expensive litigation.
The Senate approved the measure by a vote of 95 to five.
There is no companion bill in the U.S. House of Representatives at present, but Republican Representative Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has said he is close to completing a draft.
Under the bill, the United States would grant precedence to the first inventor to file a patent application, rather than requiring patent office examiners to decide who was first to produce an invention.
Supporters of the bill have said the first-to-file measure would make the patent application process easier for companies that apply for patents in multiple countries.
The White House said last week that it supported the legislation.
Before approving the bill, the Senate stripped out controversial provisions aimed at containing infringement damages and restricting forum shopping. Court decisions have already gone a long way toward accomplishing those goals.
Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, who has been shepherding the bill through the Senate, said patent reform would help the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office work through a backlog of more than 700,000 patent applications.
"It is nice to finally have this bill through the Senate," Leahy said after the vote.
(Editing by Tim Dobbyn)