WASHINGTON, March 1, 2011 - The Senate moved a step closer to the first major overhaul to the patent system in nearly 60 years when it introduced a bill to the floor on Monday.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-WV), Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, introduced the Patent Reform Act of 2011 in January, garnered by bipartisan support from cosponsors such as Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Herb Kohl (D-WI), Al Franken (D-MN), and ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA). The Judiciary Committee voted 15-0 to pass the bill to the full Senate earlier last month.
One of the largest changes the bill would institute if it becomes law is switching the U.S. from a First-to-Invent system to a First-to-File system. In the former, only the original inventor of a device or process may rightfully file for patent protection. The First-to-File system, however, grants protection to the first inventor that brings a prosecutable claim to the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The change would being the U.S. into harmony with the great majority of global patent systems, which rely on First-to-File.
"We need to reform our patent system so that... innovations can more quickly get to market," said Sen. Leahy during his opening statement. "A modernized patent system – one that puts American entrepreneurs on the same playing field as those throughout the world – is a key to that success."
Other provisions of the bill would institute procedural changes intended to reign in damages and expand third-party challenges to patents through the USPTO.
The push is the latest effort in revising the patent system after efforts in the previous four Congresses have failed. Each of the previous three Congresses have seen similar legislation passed to the Senate floor. The bill's supporters touted the measure as one that would help spur innovation, create jobs and stimulate the economy.
"Patents encourage technological advancement by providing incentives to invent, invest in, and disclose new technology," said Sen. Hatch in his opening statement. "This in turn will create an environment that fosters entrepreneurship and the creation of new jobs; thereby contributing to growth within all sectors of our economy."