Washington President Barack Obama signed into law Friday a major overhaul of the nation’s patent system to ease the way for inventors to bring their products to market. “We can’t afford to drag our feet any longer,” he said.
Passed in a rare display of congressional bipartisanship, the America Invents Act is the first significant change in patent law since 1952. It has been hailed as a milestone that will spur innovation and create jobs.
The bill is meant to ensure that the patent office, now facing a backlog of 1.2 million pending patents, has the money to expedite the application process. It now takes an average of three years to get a patent approved. More than 700,000 applications have yet to be reviewed.
Some questions and answers on how the new America Invents Act would help accomplish that:
Why are there so many applications sitting around the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office?
It’s primarily because of insufficient manpower and funding. The patent office doesn’t have enough examiners to keep up with the filings, which have increased slightly under Obama. The agency has a backlog of 1.2 million patents pending, including nearly 700,000 applications alone that are waiting to be reviewed. The agency is funded entirely by fees but Congress has tapped its funding stream over the years.
How will the America Invents Act make the process better?
In several ways. The agency will be able to set its own fees and, with congressional oversight, keep all the money it collects. Plans call for hiring between 1,500 and 2,000 examiners during the budget year ending Sept. 30, 2012. Congress currently sets the office’s annual budget and the fees it can charge. David Kappos, the patent office director, told Congress that change would raise an additional $300 million, which could be used to increase staffing and upgrade computers and other information technology.
Applicants also can pay extra for a faster review process that is supposed to cut the average wait to one year, down from three. Small businesses would get a discount on the fee for that special process. New guidelines clarify and tighten standards for issuing patents. The law also switches the U.S. from a “first-to-invent” system to a “first-to-file” system, a change designed to help reduce costly legal battles and even the playing field with other industrialized nations.
What about the backlog?
Kappos said the changes could help cut that in half, to 350,000 applications.
How many jobs would be created?
Kappos told Congress that “millions of jobs are lying in wait,” without being more specific.