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Revisions to the U.S. Patent Law Under Consideration
The House endorsed a bill last week that would mark “the most significant changes in patent law in more than 50 years.” The last major change to patent law was in 1952. Supporters of the renovations include consumer groups, major high-tech companies, financial associations and farm groups.
The most significant change is duplicating the patent process already established in many overseas countries, such as Europe and Japan, of “first to file” as the patent holder. Currently, the U.S. is the only major industrialized country in the world that still holds a “first to invent” policy.
Of course, these changes would need extra protect from fraudulent inventors who file a patent but have yet to invent the actual product, while someone else has invented the product but was second to file the patent.
This is a large concern of those who question the strength of the changes (many industry groups, including pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies), as they believe it would be hard to determine who the actual inventor was. Among the protective measures supporters endorse is a post-grant review process, which gives one chance to challenge the patent, but such a challenge must be initiated within of year.
Another change up for consideration is a limitation to the damages that can be awarded in patent lawsuits. Supporters of this change point to a $1.5 billion jury verdict against Microsoft as an example of this extreme. This change is not supported by the White House (though other changes are). I would assume that their position is that such limitations would not adequately punish large corporate companies to the point that they would change their practices. In other words, if Microsoft was sued for $100,000 it would be a mere dent in their finances and make no lasting impact.
What I find interesting is the division on the issues. Farms and consumers support the change and pharmaceutical companies do not. To me that is saying that the patent changes would protect the little guy better and maybe cause problems for the big time companies. We all have our conceptions of how businesses like pharmaceutical companies make it harder for the common man to afford medical care. So, that may be a plus to the change in my mind.
However, the idea of doing a “first to file” system somewhat bothers me. I don’t know what exactly would keep an inventor who truly believes in his product or innovation from filing a patent upon first thought, but if something does there may be trouble. What if someone comes across their invention somehow and decides to bank on it first? I would really need to see more information on how the true inventor would be protected before I could support such a change 100%.
There is no doubt though, that changes need to be made. Over 50 years without any major overhauling of the patent law says that it is probably very behind on the times. Just look how far technology has come in that time frame. I’m certain that the current patent law does not coincide with the ever increasing number of technologically advanced inventions coming our way. Hopefully, whatever changes are made will meet everyone’s approval to make the patent process better.
• BusinessWeek.com: House passes overhaul of patent law
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