New patent law now in place
Since before taking office, President Barack Obama urged Congress to pass patent reform into law. The president finally got his wish when Congress passed the Leahy-Smith American Invents Act. President Obama signed the bill into law shortly thereafter on Sept. 16, 2011. Its passage marks the first major patent reform since 1952.
The law makes a number of changes to how the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office operates. It changes, for example, the system of who receives the patent from first-to-invent to first-to-file. This puts the United States in line with how most countries around the world issue patents. A statement of Obama administration policy summarizes the rationale for this change: "By adopting a first-inventor-to-file system, the bill simplifies the process of acquiring intellectual property rights. This provision provides greater certainty for innovators, reduces legal costs that often burden small businesses and independent inventors, and makes it easier for innovators to market their inventions in the global marketplace.”
The legislation also gives the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office greater power to establish and levy its own fees. Congress hopes this will reduce the backlog of approximately 700,000 patents awaiting review at the time of the legislation's passage. For example, the office can now charge an appropriate fee to fast-track an application toward approval. This fast-track option guarantees a 12-month turnaround for all patent applications, rather than the typical three-year waiting period.
But the legislation has also come under harsh criticism. "This is not a patent reform bill, this is a big corporation patent giveaway that tramples on the rights of small inventors. It changes 'first to invent' to 'first to file,' which means if you are a big corporation and have lots of resources, you will get there and get the patent,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. While companies like Microsoft, IBM, Apple and Google support the legislation, some entrepreneurs and Internet start-ups oppose it for the same reasons Sen. Cantwell specified.
So not everyone is happy with the bill Obama signed into law. Nevertheless, it represents a significant overhaul of the patent system, as Obama promised. We rate this Promise Kept.
Leahy-Smith America Invents Act - Public Law 112-29, full text.
The White House -- Office of the Press Secretary. "President Obama Signs America Invents Act, Overhauling the Patent System to Stimulate Economic Growth, and Announces New Steps to Help Entrepreneurs Create Jobs.” September 16, 2011.
Executive Office of the President -- Office of Management and Budget: Statement of Administration Policy for H.R. 1249, America Invents Act. June 21, 2011.
Congressional Record: September 8, 2011 (Senate) Page S5402-S5443.
Comments by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash on the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act.
CNN, "Obama Signs Patent Reform Bill,” September 16, 2011.
POLITICO, "Barack Obama signs patent reform law,” September 16, 2011.
POLITICO, "Patent reform bill approved by Senate,” September 8, 2011.
Congress working on patent overhaul
Congress has been working on a major overhaul of patent law, but it's not finished. A Senate bill received committee approval in the spring, but the legislation still hasn't come up for a vote in the full chamber.
Congressional Quarterly reported in October that the Obama administration was negotiating with members of Congress to finalize details of the legislation. The administration wants to give the Patent and Trademark Office new rulemaking authority and the authority to set fees, according to the report.
Because the legislation is pending, we rate this promise In the Works.
Thomas, S 515 , accessed Dec. 28, 2009
Congressional Quarterly, Commerce Department Negotiates Patent Law With Judiciary Chairmen , Oct. 30, 2009 (subscription required)
The New York Times, op-ed, Inventing a Better Patent System , Nov. 16, 2009
The New York Times, letters to the editor, A Fresh Look at Patents and Innovation , Nov. 28, 2009
PatentDocs blog, posts on patent legislation