The federal Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) received a flood of patent applications during the week of February 24-March 2 –12,670 to be exact, the highest weekly total of the year. Many anticipate tallies for the remainder of March to be even bigger. Why the sudden influx of applications? The US patent system will be undergoing a few changes that will make it both more expensive and difficult to patent new ideas.
Part of the 2011 federal patent-reform act, also known as the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act, took effect this past Saturday, March 16. Before, the US went by a “first-to-invent” system: those who filed patent applications with the PTO had to prove that they were the first to invent the idea, regardless of whether they were the first to apply. After Saturday, the PTO will follow a “first-to-file” system, which is exactly what it sounds like. The PTO will now honor patent applications that are filed first, even if another inventor claims to have come up with the idea first. The rest of the world follows the “first-to-file” system — the US wanted to conform to the world’s system.
The new system is more likely to hurt small businesses and inventors, who often take their time in filings, and is really a gift to big businesses and corporations. There will also be an additional change that might change US innovation all together: an extension of “prior art”.
In order to ensure that an idea deserves patent protection, PTO examiners typically compare patent applications with prior art — or any existing documents and materials that relate to the inventor’s idea. However, now the amount of prior art that examiners will study has expanded. For example, according to the revised legislation, prior art will now include foreign patent applications in any language. Previously, foreign applications were only accepted as prior art if they were filed in English.
We think that the new patent regulations could damage US invention — the new law has certainly created more hurdles for inventors to jump through, and offered a”big bonanza” to patent lawyers. The reformed law will only give a leg up to big business, a race that smaller inventors might lose. All big companies were small at one time; small companies are the main engine of innovation growth in the US economy, creating most of the new jobs and industries.
Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan
March 19, 2013
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