SAN FRANCISCO—The U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly Thursday (March 3) to table an amendment proposed by Senator Diane Feinstein (D. Calif.) that would have largely defeated a major patent reform bill being debated in Congress.
The Senate voted 87-13 to table Feinstein's bill, which would have preserved the current "first-to-invent" system used by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The current system awards patents to the first inventor to come up with an idea, even if that person was not the first to file a patent application.
The America Invents Act, sponsored by Senator Patrick Leahy (D. Vt.) and currently under debate in Congress, would move the U.S. to a "first-to-file" system—meaning patents would be awarded to the first person or company that submitted an application, not necessarily the first to create the invention.
Critics say such a change would favor larger companies and hurt small startups and entrepreneurs.
On Wednesday, Feinstein acknowledged that she had twice before voted for bills that contained a provision that would move the U.S. to a first-to-file system, but said she had become convinced the move is the wrong thing to do.
"For over a century, our country has awarded patents to the first inventor to come up with an idea, even if somebody else beat them to the Patent Office—a first-to-invent system," Feinstein said. "And we have done very well under the first-to-invent system."
Later, she added, "The genius of America is inventions in small garages and labs, in great ideas that come from inspiration and perspiration in such settings and then take off. So many of America's leading companies—Hewlett Packard, Apple, Google, even AT&T arising from Alexander Graham Bell's lab, for example—started in such settings and grew spectacularly, creating jobs for millions of Americans and lifting our economy and standard of living."
Leahy said Thursday that a vote for Feinstein's amendment would be, in effect, a vote against the America Invents Act because it would remove the first-to-file provision at the heart of the bill. Saying the U.S. is the only country in the industrialized world that does not have a first-to-file system, Leahy argues that the change would streamline and simplify a patent system that most see as broken.
I am a major supporter of the first to invent! There is no excuse for this change, only special interests benefit. When will common sense prevail? I too am feed up with the hot water patents getting through and needing to be litigated away, why can't we have a sane processing of patents and proper acknowledgment of the real inventor and not the fastest to file. This will REALLY stifle technology growth as no-one would dare say anything that might help someone else until AFTER they have applied for a patent. No more will collaboration be encouraged, closed door, secret developments that must run in parallel will now be required to protect the IP being developed... Sad sorry state of affairs indeed!
Getting confused on a reform that adds no major value. When you have a system that an institution awards you a patent after paying $15k and tomorrow tells you that that same patent is void without refunding for their mistake, you can save us?
Although the system was originally intended to encourage innovation, it has devolved into something quite different. In most cases, patents are used to stifle innovation and to thwart innovation.
I don't necessarily agree that the entire system must be scrapped. But the USPTO needs to stop letting people patent "hot water" or "the wheel". For that, they need more resources and especially domain expertise.
How many readers of EE Times in British-speaking countries (UK, Aussie, India, etc.) will mis-interpret the title of this article? To them, to "table" an agenda item means to bring it up for discussion -- to bring it to the table. In the U.S., the meaning is exactly the opposite.
Divided by a common language!
The entire patent system should be scrapped. It hinders innovation and creativity. Patenting algorithms or placement of icons on a pc screen, or an element is absurd. There is no benefit to society in awarding patents, and it sets us back decades. Even if no patent exists we can't invent because some large corporation will file a suit knowing that they can spend us into poverty. Look at Microsoft - their annual statement shows that they paid over 2 BILLION dollars in settlements for the year. Imagine the court costs! Imagine how much intellectual data they stole that they didn't have to pay settlements on because their opponent couldn't afford the court costs. The patent system is broken and should be entirely scrapped.
tmarlow: that's a great site you pointed to. Too intelligent and law-ery (pardon if you are a lawyer) for a small mind like mine to understand. With so many possible "exceptions to the rules" in the proposed legislation, it will indeed be a challenge to legislate this with full understanding of the consequences. As in all laws that don't work, however, they can always be changed. May the squeakiest wheel be oiled!
The First-to-File and First-to-Invent specifics are not as simple as many are making them out to be.
For a great article that describes the exact differences without taking a position either way, check out the following article by Franklin Pierce Professor McCrackin - it is very well done:
Feinstein is right. Small entities have created the lion's share of our greatest inventions which have resulted in millions of jobs. In fact, according to recent studies by the Kauffman Foundation and economists at the U.S. Census Bureau, “startups aren’t everything when it comes to job growth. They’re the only thing.” Yet Congress has largely ignored their needs and input in drafting this bill. Congress is rushing headlong into disaster. This bill will be a wholesale slaughter of US jobs.
Please see http://truereform.piausa.org/ for a different/opposing view on patent reform.
Well, this is where I have to agree with Feinstein (perhaps it's a first!) I believe it gives small (and large, for that matter) companies a better opportunity to react if they have made an investment in technology before it has a market application (and thus justification for the cost of filing).