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Congress Revamps Patent System

Innovation: Revised law gives patent office more control over its funding

by Glenn Hess
September 19, 2011 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 89, Issue 38

Credit: PTO
David J. Kappos, Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)
Credit: PTO

President Barack Obama was scheduled to sign into law last week the most significant overhaul of the U.S. patent system in almost six decades.

The legislation (H.R. 1249), which the Senate cleared with broad support on Sept. 8, aims to streamline the review process and give the Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) the resources to tackle a backlog of nearly 700,000 unexamined patent applications. The House of Representatives approved the same measure in June (C&EN, July 4, page 8).

“The America Invents Act was passed with the President’s strong leadership after nearly a decade of effort to reform our outdated patent laws,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters. “It also reflects strong bipartisan cooperation.”

Carney said that at the signing ceremony, which at C&EN’s press time was planned for Sept. 16, Obama will also announce “new steps the Administration is taking that will help convert the ideas from America’s universities and research labs into new products, expanding our economy and creating new jobs.”

The patent legislation transitions the U.S. from the first-to-invent system of awarding patents to the first-inventor-to-file approach used throughout Europe and Asia. Advocates say the switch will simplify procedures and reduce litigation.

The bill also gives the patent office the authority to set its own fees and retain access to all the money it collects from patent and trademark applicants rather than being limited to a fixed budget.

PTO Director David J. Kappos says the changes will give his agency “the tools it needs to deliver cutting-edge technologies to the marketplace sooner, drive down the backlog of patent applications, and expedite the issuance of high-quality patents—all without adding a dime to the deficit.”

The Coalition for 21st Century Patent Reform, whose members include 3M, Dow Chemical, DuPont, Eastman Chemical, Eli Lilly & Co., Pfizer, and GlaxoSmithKline, says inventors and patent applicants will have a simpler, more transparent, and objective path to patent protection.

“At the same time, they benefit from a reduction in the time, costs, and unpredictability associated with the current system,” the coalition adds.



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