Senate Considering Patent Reform

The Senate is taking up the Patent Reform Act, a bill sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chairman Senator Patrick Leahy, Senator Orrin Hatch, and Senator Chuck Grassley.  This legislation is designed to overhaul the U.S. patent system and bring the patent system in line with 21st century technology, such as biogenetics.

Among other things, the bill proposes to make the following controversial changes:

1.  Transition from a first-to-invent system to the first-to-file system used by the rest of the world;

2.  Create a nine-month, post-grant procedure that allows challenges to recently issued patents;

3.  Give the United States Patent Office the authority to set its fees at a level that will provide enough funds to reduce the backlog of its applications; and

4.  Create a “micro-entity” class which allows for a 75% reduction in fees for independent inventors who have not been named on five or more previously filed applications and have gross incomes less that 2.5 times the national average.

Senator Leahy’s office lists a growing number of supporters for the bill, including Pfizer and other major drug companies, IBM, and the Association of American Universities.  Opponents of the bill include the Coalition for Patent Fairness, a group of high-tech companies that would like to see more in the bill to “lessen the growing burden of abusive and unjustified patent infringement claims.”  Other opponents of the bill, including the American Innovators for Patent Reform and the U.S. Business and Industry Council, assert that the bill favors multinational and foreign firms over start-up companies entering the U.S. market for the first time.

Congress has been trying for over a decade to rewrite patent law, so only time will tell if this attempt will be successful.

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