Congress passes major overhaul of patent system

Friday - 9/9/2011, 8:18am EDT

By Jack Moore
Federal News Radio

The Senate passed the America Invents Act Thursday, clearing the way for the first significant overhaul of the U.S. Patent system in 50 years.

The House passed its version of the bill in June and President Barack Obama said he will sign the legislation.

Under the new system, the Patent and Trademark Office, an agency in the Commerce Department, will give preference to the first person to file a patent (known as "first-to-file"), rather than those who say they are the first to invent.

The change would streamline the process and reduce the vagaries of the current system, advocates of the plan said.

The bill also overhauls PTO's fee system and expedites the patent-processing system.

It now takes an average of three years to get a patent approved and the agency faces a backlog of 1.2 million pending patents.

Since 1992, the agency has lost nearly $1 billion because what it receives from Congress is less than what it collects in fees. The new system aims to shore up that gap, however an amendment that would have given PTO more authority to set fees and keep all of what it collects was defeated in the Senate version.

Still, the legislation has garnered praise from both sides of the aisle and across the government.The Senate version passed on a wide, bipartisan basis, 89-9.

Acting U.S. Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank praised the legislation's "clearer, more certain and more consistent patent rights" and said it would bolster American inventors' ability to create jobs.

The bill, which passed the upper chamber a little more than a hour before Obama was set to deliver a speech on jobs before a joint session of Congress, was noted by the president as "the kind of action we need."

And one of the administration's chief Congressional critics, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee — himself a patent owner — gave the bill's passage high marks.

Issa, who worked on the House version, said the legislation would create "high-paying jobs and help grow our economy."

(The Associated Press contributed to this report).

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