The Senate yesterday voted 89-9 to approve the House version of the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (H.R. 1249), sending the first reform of U.S. patent laws since 1952 to President Obama for his expected signature.
The bill will move the U.S. patent system from a first-to-invent to a first-inventor-to-file system, which most other countries currently use. This move should simplify the patent application process and enable U.S. inventors to compete more effectively in the global economy. It also includes a number of other provisions that will improve patent quality and reduce litigation costs, including a post-grant opposition proceeding as an alternative to litigation for challenging patent validity.
One of the most important provisions of H.R. 1249 is adequate funding of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), which has a huge backlog of applications. Under the current system, both fee levels and the USPTO’s budget are set directly by Congress. If the USPTO takes in more in fees than it spends, the difference is used to fund other government programs. Under H.R. 1249, the Office’s spending is still controlled by congressional appropriators, but the fees it collects will be saved in a separate account until Congress appropriates them for USPTO use.
“We appreciate that the concerns of universities and medical colleges were addressed in ways that ensure our institutions’ ability to carry out their public missions,” said a coalition of higher education groups that have been working in support of patent reform efforts. “These institutions are the nation’s principal source of the basic research that expands the frontiers of knowledge. The patent system plays a pivotal role in helping them transfer the discoveries made in their laboratories to the commercial sector for development into products and processes that benefit society.”
For further information, see:
Higher Education Associations Praise Senate Passage of Patent Reform (PDF; 43 KB)
Senate Passes Patent Bill
The Washington Post (free reg. req.)
Overhaul Expected to Speed Patent Process
Fighting Backlog in Patents, Senate Approves Overhaul
The New York Times