US Patent bill passed but critics say it's relapse not reform

A controversial patent reform bill has been approved by the United States Senate, prioritizing those first to file for a patent rather than the first to invent the technology, and is expected to be signed by President Obama imminently. The America Invents Act not only amends the process for filing patents but the system for challenging them, with the introduction of a post-grant review that, it's argued, will allow bad patents to be re-examined. The bill's supporters claim it will streamline the filing process, allow the USPTO to more quickly crunch through the huge backlog of existing applications, and bring the patent system overall more in line with what other countries operate. Its critics, however, claim progressive amendments to the bill have diluted it to the point where it can no longer be considered true reform.

"This is not a patent reform bill" Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) complained, despite other democrats praising the overhaul. "This is a big corporation patent giveaway that tramples on the right of small inventors." Part of Cantwell's dissatisfaction is that the new process now favors those with the financial clout to push through applications quickly: if you can afford the patent lawyers required to fast-track your claim, you can potentially beat a smaller inventor to the punch, even if they came up with the idea first.

Meanwhile, the bill also grants the USPTO more control over its finances, with fees collected being separated out for future use by the authority, rather than being funneled back into US Congress. However, a proposed amendment to give the USPTO independent authority to spend those fees as it wishes failed to pass.

Whether the bill as it stands will do much to address the sort of back and forth legal sniping we've seen plenty of over the past 12-18 months remains to be seen. Improved processes for challenging what sometimes seem like ridiculous patents may take the wind out of the sales of some companies, but the shift in focus to "first to file" could end up skewing IP ownership to those with the best-stocked legal team rather than the most proficient in R&D.

[via Ars Technica]