Obama Signs First Major Patent Law Change in a Generation
President Obama signed a bill into law on Friday, Sept. 16, that marks the first major change to American patent law in almost 60 years. The bipartisan Leahy-Smith America Invents Act will enable the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to set its own fees, hire more patent examiners and decrease the time it takes for a patent to be issued after filing.
Perhaps the most controversial change in the America Invents Act is the shift from a first-to-invent system to a first-to-file system. First-to-file patent systems are in use in all countries except for the United States, and grant the right of patent to the first person or persons to file for a particular invention, regardless of the date of invention. The American first-to-invent system is unique in that it grants that right to the person who first conceptualizes an invention, even if another party files a patent on the same invention beforehand. The first-to-file system will not go into effect until March 16, 2013.
Proponents of the change point out that the current system greatly increases the time required to issue patents and creates a roadblock preventing new products, and in turn new jobs, from entering the U.S. economy. Presently it can take up to three years for a patent to be issued. The first-to-invent system is a major factor in delays, they claim, as patent disputes between inventors can drag out for months as each attempts to prove who was the first to invent. The first-to-file system would obviate any such claims.
Currently there are approximately 1.2 million pending patents, with more than 700,000 applications that have yet to be reviewed. Combined with the ability to hire more employees, the patent office hopes that the first-to-file system will reduce patent processing time to 12 months.