Major Patent Overhaul Aims to Bolster U.S. Competitiveness

The America Invents Act shifts patents from a 'first to invent' to 'first inventor to file.'

The America Invents Act shifts patents from a 'first to invent' to 'first inventor to file.'

The U.S. Senate on Sept. 8 passed legislation to drag the web of U.S. patent laws into the Internet age and spur high-tech innovation, sending the measure to President Barack Obama to sign into law.

In a rare show of bipartisan unity of purpose, the Democratic-held chamber voted 89-9 margin to approve the measure, which cleared the Republican-led House of Representatives by a similarly lopsided 304-117 margin earlier this year. "This is bipartisan, commonsense legislation that will spur the innovation that drives the American economy," cheered Democratic Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a key author of the legislation.

"The America Invents Act will ensure that inventors large and small maintain the competitive edge that has put America at the pinnacle of global innovation," he said, amid deep worries about 9.1% unemployment.

Leahy's main partner in the House, Republican Judiciary Committee Lamar Smith, called the vote "a victory for America's innovators and job creators who rely on our patent system to develop new products and grow their businesses."

Smith said the measure was "the most significant change to US patent law in 175 years" and called it "one of the most significant jobs creation bills enacted by Congress this year."

The bill, which Obama was expected to sign quickly, shifts U.S. patents from a "first to invent" to "first inventor to file" system while reducing a backlog in applications and curbing what its authors described as frivolous lawsuits.

A statement on the official website of Smith's committee warns that "this year, for the first time, China is expected to become the world's number one patent publisher, surpassing the U.S. and Japan in the total and basic number of patents."

"Our outdated patent system has become a barrier to innovation," it says.

'The Lifeblood of Manufacturing'

The National Association of Manufacturers points out that "intellectual property is the lifeblood of manufacturing, and it is absolutely essential that manufacturers have the necessary protections for their inventions to encourage jobs and economic growth."

"The current backlog of patent applications causes delays for manufacturers working to bring innovative products to the marketplace before their competitors overseas. " said Aric Newhouse ,senior vice president for Policy and Government Relations for NAM. "This hurts our global competitiveness. This legislation makes reforms that will give the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office the resources necessary to expedite examination and inventors the tools necessary to ensure our patent system remains the best in the world. These are the first major reforms to the patent system in nearly 60 years. Over the decades, manufacturing has evolved and modernized. Now its time to update the system to keep up with manufacturers. We urge swift passage in the Senate and look forward to the President signing the bill as soon as possible."

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2011, IW Staff

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