US begins patent system overhaul

The US Government is carrying out the largest overhaul of the patent system in 60 years.

The law changes, which are backed by the Obama administration and leaders of both parties, are designed to make it easier for inventors to get their bright ideas to market.

According to the Associated Press  it has taken nearly six years and there were some last minute hitches.  It was supposed to be sorted out last week, but the Republican chairman of the Budget and Appropriations committee was miffed that a little slice of his empire had been cut .  

The new law allows the US Patent and Trademark Office to keep all the user fees it collects rather than have to give all the cash to the Treasury and get some of the money back.

Since 1992, the PTO has lost nearly $1 billion because the sums it gets from Congress are less than the fees it collects. The agency can’t hire enough examiners, and it can take three years to get a patent approved – because the Budget and Appropriations committee would not give it enough money .

A compromise was hastily worked out where the agency would get more money, while Congress would still control the cash, get more oversight, and thus egos be salved.

Under the new law the United States will move from the “first-to-invent” system now in effect to the “first-inventor-to-file” system. Currently in the US an inventor has a year to develop the idea before filing it.

The downside of this is that it favours bigger companies and discourages academic cooperation. However, this is the same as all other industrialised countries.

Supporters say the current system means that there is costly litigation over patent ownership.