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.