America Invents Act Signed into Law

Patent law is revised, but is it a good thing for tech's biggest patent holder?


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The U.S. has a new patent law today. President Obama signed the America Invents Act today at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Virginia.

The America Invents Act is being heralded by the White House as the most significant reform of the U.S. Patent Act since 1952.

"This much-needed reform will speed up the patent process so that innovators and entrepreneurs can turn a new invention into a business as quickly as possible," President Obama said in a statement.

The new Act includes multiple measures designed to increase the effectiveness and fairness of the U.S. patent system. Among the reforms are efforts to increase patent quality by giving the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) more resources and improving quality management processes. The new act also will provide a new fast track option that will enable patent to be issued inside of 12 months instead of the current average wait time of three years.

The America Invents Act also changes the U.S. Patent system from a "first to invent" system, to a "first to file" system. Most governments around the world already use a first to file system for patents.

The patent reform changes are seen in a positive light by IBM, which has been the leading patent recipient of patents in the U.S for the last 18 years. IBM inventors were issued 5,896 U.S. patents in 2010. In 2011, IBM is celebrating the 100th anniversary of their first U.S. patent, which was for a punch card innovation.

"The signing of the America Invents Act into law today will help to rev up the engine of American innovation by improving the patent system and providing greater assurance to our nation's inventors, " Christopher Padilla, IBM Vice President for Governmental Programs said.

IBM has worked with the U.S. patent system for 100 years and sees the move to first to file as having some benefits. IBM's Chief Patent Counsel, Manny Schecter, told InternetNews.com that IBM obtains patent protection in many countries that have first to file systems, as well as under the current U.S. system.

"However, the need to comply with different systems globally does create complexity in obtaining protection, so harmonization achieved by shifting the US to a 'first inventor to file' system should simplify processes for inventors and potentially reduce cost," Schecter said.

In addition to the first to file change, under the America Invents Act prior submissions in support of a patent application can now be filed up to six months after publication, up from the previous two month limit. The move to extending prior art submissions is seen by IBM as a way to improve patent quality.

"It allows the public to submit comments along with prior art, which should help the patent examiner understand how the information relates to the invention in the application," Schecter said. "This will help ensure that patents issued have claims that have been fully vetted against the best prior art, and thus are more likely to be valid (i.e. of high quality)."

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.

Tags: IBM, patents, patent lawsuit

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