Time for a change


Now that the US House of Representatives has passed US President Barack Obama’s controversial healthcare legislation, attention will turn again to patent reform. WIPR looks at the key proposals.

The Patent Reform Bill 2010 is the latest incarnation of an initiative that has been in the pipeline for several years. In 2005, 2007 and 2008, senators tried to pass reform bills, but they petered out in the face of opposition or ran out of time in the congressional session. The April 2010 Managers’ Amendment is an amended version of the 2009 iteration, proposed by Republican and Democrat senators.

Given that US patent laws have not been significantly reformed in more than 50 years, most agree that some updating is necessary, if only to take account of the changes to the IP landscape that have taken place in the interim. There are also concerns over the seemingly limitless lawsuits surrounding patents and the sense that damage awards have spiralled out of control.

To this end, the proposed bill outlines significant changes. Some are relatively uncontroversial. The bill will change the current ‘first to invent’ system to a ‘first to file’ system, bringing the US in line with most of the rest of the world. This has several advantages, the most notable being that the majority of companies that want patent protection worldwide are already obliged to work on a first to file basis in other jurisdictions, so it makes sense to have a uniform approach—about half of US patents have foreign priority anyway.

Obamacare, patent reform