With the stroke of a pen, President Barack Obama signed into law a comprehensive overhaul of the US’s patent law system. This move marks the most significant reform of the Patent Act since 1952.
The conclusion of a bipartisan effort, the America Invents Act is expected to boost the economy and create jobs by improving patent processing delays and preventing unnecessary litigation.
The US Patent and Trademark Office issued 244,358 patents in 2010.
Faster Patent Processing Times
The America Invents Act was intended to reform the patent system, which has been encumbered by a steep increase of patent applications over the past decade. Under the new act, patent applications will be processed faster than the current 3-year lag time.
Many inventors have complained that their inventions are copied by competitors while they are waiting for their applications to be approved by the US Patent and Trademark Office. The new law will provide preferred processing times for startups to receive faster consideration of their patent applications, as they are now guaranteed a decision within 12 months.
The law will also alleviate the current patent backlog by adding 100 more administrative judges to make decisions on patent applications.
Patents on a First-to-Invent Basis
The new legislation will also award patents on a first-to-file basis instead of the first-to-invent basis, in accordance with patent laws in other countries.
Used in all countries except the US, the first-to-file system grants the patent to the first person who files a patent application, regardless of the date of the actual invention. The first-to-invent system, on the other hand, provides patent protection to the first person to invent and use an invention, rather than the first to file.
By abandoning the first-to-invent system, the US hopes to bring more certainty and simplicity to the patent process and allow greater patent participation by startups.
This new harmonization will also enable inventors to more efficiently and predictably seek patent protection in other countries, and enable businesses to market their products in other countries. The Patent and Trademark Office is also cooperating with other patent offices around the world to improve efficiency and patent processing times for applicants seeking patent protection in multiple jurisdictions.
Reducing Litigation and Increasing Patent Quality
The new patent law will also enable entrepreneurs to avoid litigation regarding patent validity by offering a less expensive alternative to going to court.
The act will improve the US Patent and Trademark Office’s quality management processes by issuing guidelines that clarify and tighten standards regarding the issuance of patents.
Reactions to the New Patent Law
Proponents of the America Invents Act say that the changes enable a startup to file and protect its patent in a more cost-efficient, faster manner. Proponents also say that the law will spur innovation because it will decrease the wave of patent lawsuits and will streamline the patent system, making the US more competitive globally.
Opponents of the act argue that it weakens patent protection and diminishes incentives for investments and development. They argue that patent reform should be left to the US Patent and Trademark Office and court orders because the time and money to implement the law will be costly.