WASHINGTON, January 28, 2011 - The chairman of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee is taking another run at enacting legislation that would update the nation's patent laws.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., on Tuesday introduced The Patent Reform Act of 2011, legislation that has been stalled in Congress since it was first introduced in the House in 2005 because of an inability of the biotech and computing industries to agree on how the law should be changed.
The new bill aims to achieve three goals, Leahy said in a press statement. The first is to change the system of awarding of patents to a first-inventor-to file system; the second goal is improve the quality of the patent-approval process at the Patent and Trademark office; and the third is to "provide more certainty in litigation."
Leahy said that the federal courts have made positive progress in addressing many of the issues that Congress has tried to tackle during the three years its been tussling with the issues.
As an example, he cited the Federal Circuit's move to curtail the calculation of monetary damages for infringement.
"The courts have addressed issues where they can, but in some areas, only Congress can take the necessary steps," Leahy said. "The Patent Reform Act will both speed the application process and, at the same time, improve patent quality.
"It will provide the USPTO with the resources it needs to work through its application backlog, while also providing for greater input from third parties to improve the quality of patents issued and that remain in effect."
Leahy framed the issue of patent reform as one of global competitiveness.
He cited a Thomson Reuters analysis that finds that China is likely to surpass the United States this year in terms of the number of patents that its inventors will file, and a recent Newsweek survey that found that less than half of Americans believe that the United States is staying ahead of China in terms of innovation.
"That is astonishing, until considering that China has been modernizing its patent laws and promoting innovation while the United States has failed to keep pace," he said. "It has now been nearly 60 years since Congress last acted to reform American patent law. We can no longer wait."
The number of patent-related lawsuits edged up by about four percent in 2010 to 2,853 in the United States, according to the University of Houston Law Center.