US Senate Passes Patent Reform Bill; President Expected to Sign

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  1. dgstorm

    dgstorm Editor in Chief Staff Member

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    A new, and much needed, bi-partisan patent reform bill, called the America Invents Act, made it through U.S. Congress, and just passed the Senate. The bill passed in an 89 to 9 vote Thursday, and the President is expected to sign it into law soon. This bill is historic because it is the first real reform for the patent system in 50 years. In theory, the America Invents Act will attempt to eliminate the patent troll mentality and behavior within the system now.

    The new bill completely overhauls the way patents are held now. Here is a list of the sweeping changes:
    • Gives the USPTO more control over its fees and directs the money to a capped patent office fund - Previously money from patents were given to Congress and ended up redirected elsewhere - According to estimates over $800 Million has been diverted from the agency over the last 21 years
    • Creates a new faster and improved application system for filing patents by recruiting more examiners, modernizing equipment and filtering out too broad patents - Currently the USPTO has a 3 year backlog of over 700,000 patents
    • Uses the "first-to-file approach" the way it is in Europe, instead of the current system's "first-to-invent" approach - this will eliminate years of wasteful legal arguments over who came up with the idea first - This was typically too costly for a small investor, thus giving larger corporations more monetary power - Now the new system helps to mitigate this disparity
    • Furthermore, this application can be disputed during the process or up to nine months after the filing - this change helps to police the system by allowing third parties to challenge a patent directly
    The bill was publicly backed by a number of different major corporations, including Google, Apple, Microsoft and Intel. In fact, Intel, Apple and Microsoft have been petitioning the Federal government for several years for legislation reform like this.

    The new law is not without some opposition. One example is Senator Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican. He felt that the bill did not go far enough in addressing the way Congress has siphoned away millions from the USPTO for years. He commented that Patent fee diversion to the U.S. Treasury is "immoral, if not criminal," and argued that all patent fees should go directly to the USPTO, instead of the reserve fund set up by the House. Furthermore, an advocacy group that had opposed some earlier patent reform provisions, called The Innovation Alliance, indicated that the bill passed Thursday was an improvement over earlier versions. However, they were disappointed that the bill "does not end, once and for all, the diversion of patent office user fees."

    Also, the National Small Business Association believes that the new bill favors big corporations by giving them extra leverage against smaller companies. Opponents also argue that the new legislation does nothing to address the software patent system. This may ultimately prove that the bill doesn't go far enough in dealing with these issues.

    Still, ultimately, this is a big step in the right direction, and perhaps the new system will be viable for some tweaking in the near future. Here's a quote from the PCWorld article with a final statement on the matter,
    Share your ideas in the forum.

    Source: America Invents Act and PhoneArena and PCWorld
     
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  2. OffWorld

    OffWorld Senior Member

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    It is a shame they didn't address the software patent issue - I've long argued software protection belongs under Copyright not patents, but perhaps a fight for another day I guess.

    For those garage, basement, and back yard inventors who are afraid some corporation could come along and patent and idea out from under them an important provision in this law was pointed out over at Slashdot regarding prior art:

    If you could prove you showed off your invention in the press, were using it publicly, or selling it already prior to some corporation claiming they invented it they can't pull the patent rug out from under you. Even if they file you can challenge the application, providing your proof of prior art as grounds for their patent claim to be denied. Of course the best thing to do is just patent the damned thing yourself as soon as you can!

    Since the "challenge" system is anonymous it could be (and most likely will be) abused by trolls, but the USPTO already has a system in place whereby companies and individuals can request the USPTO review the validity or scope of existing patents (in fact Google recently made news for using it). Since the challenge system is equally available to entities of all sizes it could present a more viable option for challenging patent claims than the current system does, especially with the steep litigation fees such counter-claims tend to incur.

    Obviously this patent reform doesn't go far enough for some people, there's always room for improvement (isn't that the basis of "invention" after all?).
     
  3. Icebike

    Icebike Senior Member

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    The same prior art protection has been in regulations for a hundred years and we see news every week of people getting patents on thing that have been in use for years.

    Contrary to the glowing report presented here, there are many who believe this is a bad move for everyone except the patent attorneys. No longer can you invent something, and work to patent it. You now have to do it the other way around. The trolls will be emboldened, because all they have to do is file patents on vague ideas, without ever doing the work. Corporate espionage will surge since one bribed or disgruntled employee can allow a competitor to fill a patent on what you have in your labs under development.
     

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