Historic Patent Reform Bill Signed Into Law
Walter Eisner • Wed, Sep 21st, 2011
While Washington seems gridlocked on every major public policy item under the dome, the signing by President Obama of the “America Invents Act” was a remarkable bipartisan achievement.
That’s the opinion of famed inventor Gary Michelson, M.D., who attended the signing at a science and technology high school in Virginia on Friday, September 16. The legislation was sponsored by the respective Chairs of the U.S. Senate and House Judiciary Committees, Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat and Representative Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican. The Senate passed the bill on an 89-9 vote.
The Act is the first major patent law change in the U.S. since 1952. Supporters of the bill say the reform is meant to ensure that the patent office, now facing a backlog of 1.2 million pending patents, has the money to expedite the application process. It now takes an average of three years to get a patent approved. In 2009, the patent office received some 483,000 patent applications and granted 192,000 patents. According to the patent office, there are approximately 1.2 million applications currently under review or waiting for a review, including 700,000 applications waiting to be acted on and 500,000 in process.
Michelson told OTW that America’s intellectual property system was constipated, killing jobs and keeping investors from putting their money into new ideas. “When Edison was inventing, it took seven weeks to get a patent approved. Seven years ago it took two years and today it’s taking three years,” added Michelson.
“Somewhere in that stack of applications could be the next technological breakthrough, the next miracle drug,” President Obama said at the signing. “We should be making it easier and faster to turn new ideas into jobs.”
In addition to streamlining the patent process to bring it into harmony with other patent systems around the world, the reform also seeks to reduce legal battles. It was backed by companies including Google and Apple as well as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Small-scale inventors were divided on the legislation, with some arguing that it gives an advantage to big corporations who would have an advantage in moving to a “first-to-file” system.
“It’s a big lie that it would hurt the little inventor,” said Michelson. “You still have to be the true inventor first-to-file.” The law includes a post-grant review process where inventors can challenge someone else’s filing. According to proponents of the bill, this would also keep more disputes out of court.
Under the new law, the patent office will be able to set its own fees, with any money in excess of the budgeted amount going to a fund that can only be used by the agency. The office plans to hire as many as 2,000 more examiners in the coming fiscal year, revamp an outdated information technology system that it has described as “beyond horrific,” and open satellite offices across the country to tap into local workforces.