Updated 7:07 p.m., Thursday Sept. 8
The U.S. Senate on Thursday voted 89-9 to approve a landmark patent reform bill, already passed by the House, that would radically overhaul the U.S. patent system, turning it from one of the only “first-to-invent” systems in the world to the more common “first-to-file.”
President Obama is expected to sign the “America Invents Act” into law without delay, making it the first time in 60 years that the U.S. patent system has been comprehensively reformed.
The passage came just hours before the President was expected to give his much-hyped speech debuting a new job-creation initiative, but the bill has already been frequently touted as a job-creating effort.
In a statement, the bill’s chief sponsor Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said: “The America Invents Act is a true jobs bill at a time when we need it the most. After six long years of debate spanning three Congresses and two administrations, it is finally set to become law. This is bipartisan, commonsense legislation that will spur the innovation that drives the American economy.”
The act’s supporters have touted that it could help create as many as 200,000 jobs by cutting through red tape, but that figure has been called into question.
Moreover, the bill is wildly unpopular with small inventors and medium-sized companies, who view the new “first-to-file” system as unduly favorable to larger corporations with armies of patent attorneys and bottomless legal defense funds.
The United States was one of the few countries in the world that relied on the “first-to-invent,” system, meaning that inventors who could prove that they came up with a particular advancement the same time or before another inventor who had filed a patent request could actually be awarded the patent. That won’t be the case under the new system, which grants the patent to the first inventor to file with the patent office.
There was a last-minute effort by several senators to tack amendments onto the legislation, but they were voted down.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) introduced an amendment to strike a section of the bill prohibiting the patent office from imposing deadlines on patent extensions outside normal business hours. Moving forward without the amendment effectively bails out high-profile law firm WilmerHale, which fumbled the patent extension for its equally high-profile pharmaceutical client Medicines Company back in 2001.
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) introduced an amendment to end the controversial practice of fee diversion, in which Congress is allowed to re-appropriate patent application fees collected by the office, but it too was voted down.
Late Update: IBM, which has long been the world leader in obtaining U.S. patents (securing 4,914 last year alone), has released a statement commending the passage of the bill:
“IBM has been a leading supporter of patent reform since the legislation was first introduced over five years ago and we applaud our elected officials for producing a bipartisan, common-sense bill that will significantly improve the U.S. patent system,” said Robert C. Weber, senior vice president, legal and regulatory affairs, and general counsel, IBM. “The America Invents Act, coupled with recent court decisions that provide more clarity and confidence for inventors, puts our patent system in a much better position to spur innovation and economic growth in the 21st century.”
Late late update: The Coalition for Patent Fairness, an industry group that includes such flagship companies as Adobe, Apple,Cisco, Dell, Google, Intel, Intuit, Micron, Oracle, RIM, SAP, and Symantec, released a statement applauding passage as well:
“Today’s passage marks the end of more than six years of debate and represents a consensus amongst many critical stakeholders. The bill contains critical provisions that will advance and harmonize our patent system, while making the U.S. more competitive in the international marketplace. We applaud the House and the Senate for passing a bill that takes significant steps toward strengthening America’s patent system and promoting innovation.”
Even later update: The Coalition for 21st Century Patent Reform, a lobbying group made up of 50 companies from 18 industries, including 3M, Caterpillar, General Electric and Johnson & Johnson, to name a few, is also a supporter of the vote. The group released the following statement:
Our Coalition urges President Obama to sign the legislation quickly. We look forward to working with USPTO [U.S. Patent and Trademark Office] Director Kappos on the implementation of the bill’s provisions. We will closely monitor the new Patent and Trademark Fee Reserve Fund to ensure that all patent fees remain within the Patent and Trademark Office and are promptly available to serve the needs of inventors and the public.
We’ll update with more reactions as they come in. Stay tuned.