IDEA Act Passed Out of Senate Judiciary Committee

The full Senate Judiciary Committee today passed the Inventor Diversity for Economic Advancement (IDEA) Act, which seeks to direct the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) “to collect demographic data – including gender, race, military or veteran status, and income level, among others – from patent applicants on a voluntary basis.” Representative Nydia Velázquez (D-NY), Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC), and Congressman Steve Stivers (R-OH) reintroduced the bill in March of this year;  Senators Chris Coons (D-DE), Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin (D-IL) are also co-sponsors.

Though there was some back and forth between the sponsors and Senator John Kennedy (R-LA) – who questioned the need to collect the data at all when the statistics seemed to already be known – and Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), who questioned how voluntary the process would be, and thus introduced an amendment that would ensure voluntariness – the bill passed as is.

The IDEA Act was first presented in July 2019, following Representative Steve Chabot’s (R-OH) introduction of the Study of Underrepresented Classes Chasing Engineering and Science (SUCCESS) Act in 2018. That bill asked the USPTO, “in consultation with the Administrator of the Small Business Administration, to study and provide recommendations to promote the participation of women, minorities, and veterans in entrepreneurship activities and the patent system.” A key finding of that study was that there simply isn’t enough publicly available data to guide and support legislation that will foster inclusive innovation. This inspired the IDEA Act.

According to a March press release on the latest version of the bill, in addition to collecting demographic data, it would also require the USPTO “to issue reports on the data collected and make the data available to the public, thereby allowing outside researchers to conduct their own analyses and offer insights into the various patent gaps in our society.”

“This bill will make the U.S. patent system more equitable and allow more women, people of color, and other disadvantaged groups to develop their inventions,” said Velázquez, who is Chairwoman of the House Small Business Committee, in March. “By making the patent process more inclusive, we will help drive economic growth and elevate communities hurt by longstanding discriminatory barriers.”

Speaking this morning, Durbin said “We want to make sure the patent system is not only open to all inventors, regardless of race, gender and economic status, but we know the studies show women and minorities apply for and obtain patents at significantly lower rates than their white, male counterparts.”

Industry groups quickly applauded the passage. Invent Together’s Executive Director Holly Fechner said “the IDEA Act is a crucial step toward ensuring that our nation’s inventors have equal access to the benefits of patenting, regardless of gender, race, or income. It will also help ensure that we use the full measure of our talent to compete globally.” She added that her organization looks forward to House movement on the companion bill, H.R. 1273.

Innovation Alliance Executive Director Brian Pomper said the legislation “is needed to help improve diversity in patenting, which is critical to promoting American innovation and competitiveness,” and that studies show “including more women and African Americans in the innovation process would increase annual GDP by nearly $1 trillion.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee also voted today to pass the ARTS Act, sponsored by Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC), Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), as well as Representatives Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Nancy Mace (R-SC). If enacted, the bill would give the Register of Copyrights authority to waive copyright registration fees for student winners of the Congressional Art Competition and the Congressional App Competition. 


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Join the Discussion

4 comments so far.

  • [Avatar for Anon$]
    April 30, 2021 10:07 am

    I, for one, would not wish to be tasked with asking my clients for their demographic information, unless relevant to representation, and if relevant to representation, it could in fact be privileged. The end result of asking for this information, and making it a government record, will be discrimination, and harks back to 1930’s Germany.

    The patent system is constitutionally required to advance the arts and sciences, and not to advance social welfare or achieve balance or diversity.

    The people voting for this are the same ones (or their successors) who voted for the AIA, which was based on completely incorrect presumptions fed by lobbyists. No-one was fired for passing the AIA, and no-one will be fired for IDEA. But I go on record to reflect that history will judge this attempt harshly.

    I can’t believe that I am aligned with Ted Cruz!

  • [Avatar for Pro Say]
    Pro Say
    April 29, 2021 06:41 pm

    Mere Congressional deck chair rearranging on America’s formally world-leading patent Titanic . . . as it lists and sinks from a bullseye eligibility torpedo . . . launched by our own Supreme Court . . . and guided to its target by our own Federal Circuit.

    AKA lipstick on a pig.

  • [Avatar for Jeff Hardin]
    Jeff Hardin
    April 29, 2021 06:23 pm

    Collecting data on patent applicants to better understand a problem can be helpful. But realize that any conclusions from this data set alone will be incomplete.

    The IDEA Act’s collection on patent applicants will not position Congress to help underrepresented inventors who elect to not apply for patents in the first place—the very class Congress intends to help. This is because an inventor’s demographic data cannot be collected from an application if she decides not to apply at the outset. These people are real, as revealed in the the SUCCESS Act study.

    Over 75% of independent inventors who provided public comments to the USPTO expressed this valid concern: “What good is a patent if you can’t defend it?” In other words, why apply for a patent when you get nothing valuable in return, which is the current state of today’s US patent system due to the America Invents Act, the PTAB, and IPRs.

    Underrepresented inventors informed the USPTO that post-grant enforcement concerns are a barrier to participating in the patent system. The Patent Public Advisory Committee (PPAC) even acknowledged this, and they discussed this very “missing data” problem when discussing the collection of data on patent applicants:

    Related to economically-disadvantaged inventors…there’s a cost and clear-perceived risk associated with, not only filing the application, but also protecting it thereafter in PTAB. There are less inventors in that subpopulation who will be entering into the patent application process. So, while you are collecting information on patent applicants, there is the issue of missing data—you’re not able to collect data on inventors who are in that population—the economically-disadvantaged—who aren’t entering the arena.

    – Camacho, comments to USPTO. PPAC Quarterly Meeting.

    Despite the USPTO admitting this as a challenge, no legislative solution was provided to Congress in the USPTO’s SUCCESS Act Report to address the post-grant concerns that the underrepresented voices raised. If Congress truly cares about patent diversity, Congress must first right the ship. Knowledgeable underrepresented inventors remain opposed to the PTAB, but unfortunately, their voices have been silenced in what appears to be a one-sided conversation.

    If the IDEA Act is all there is, it will be a disappointing day for inventors.

  • [Avatar for BlutoBlutarsky]
    April 29, 2021 03:40 pm

    What a waste of resources. The legislative session should be no longer than one month of the year. Who thought it was a good idea to “employ” these people year around to cook up laws?