Fourth time lucky? A bill to reform patent law in the US

On Tuesday 25 January 2011, a bill to reform patent law in the US was introduced into Congress with bipartisan support.  The reform bill aims to simplify the patent application process, improve patent quality and keep the US Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) independently funded.  It marks the fourth consecutive time the Senate has attempted to implement patent reform.

Reforms introduced by the bill include a first-to-file system (as opposed to the current first-to-invent system), and the implementation of post-grant review akin to Australian opposition and re-examination processes.  In addition, the PTO will gain new fee setting authority.

The bill also introduces a new system for testing the validity of existing patents.  It is proposed that cases be heard before a Patent Trial and Appeal Board, made up of specifically appointed patent judges.  Damages will also be limited by the amendments, and a higher standard is proposed for establishing wilful infringement.  

It is unclear whether this bill will be passed by Congress, as previous attempts at reform have faltered under intense lobbying from small businesses and inventors.  However, this fourth attempt has been described as “compromise legislation”, and has the support of the Obama administration and a number of key industry stakeholders including IBM, Microsoft and General Electric.

The full text of the bill can be found here.


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