Because of sufficient funding not linked to the current fiscal year, the United States Patent and Trademark Office will remain open for business and will continue to operate as usual through the close of business on Monday, April 18, 2011 even in the event of a government shutdown.
Both the House and Senate bills create the opportunity for continual and constant challenges, one right after another. For example, challengers could tie up issued patents in post-grant review, followed by inter partes review and subsequently, or simultaneously, by challenges in one of the Federal District Courts. Thus, the settling of patent rights seems a distant dream if a well funded challenger wants to tie up a patent. The only hope for the patent owner is that with every subsequent challenge it becomes more difficult to challenge. That is what S. 23 sets up by having a “substantial new question of patentability” standard to initiate a post-grant review and then a much heightened “likelihood of success” standard to institute inter partes review.
BIO also is concerned about the inclusion of broader prior user rights in the House bill, and believes that this issue, coupled with the harmful inter partes review changes, could set back efforts to pass meaningful patent reform this year by undermining the broad coalition of American innovators currently supporting patent reform.
Today the House Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Competition and the Internet, which is a subcommittee of the House Committee on the Judiciary, held a hearing on the America Invents Act, the House version of patent reform. While the House and Senate bills are largely identical, there is one striking difference between the two, and that difference relates to prior user…
The Innovation Alliance is disappointed that the America Invents Act as introduced today in the House of Representatives does not include some important safeguards against the potential for abuse of the post-grant review procedures at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). In particular, the bill includes a weak threshold for ‘second window’ inter partes review proceedings, one that will allow virtually all challenges to proceed to a trial-like hearing before an administrative patent judge. We believe a higher threshold is needed to enable the USPTO to manage the increased workload of the new administrative review system fairly and efficiently by screening out meritless or unsubstantiated petitions.
A prior user rights defense prevents those who have previously used the patented invention from being infringers. In many parts of the world there are strong prior user rights, which allow those who keep innovation as a trade secret hidden away from the public to later use those trade secrets as a defense to a patent infringement lawsuit. You can’t sue me for patent infringement because I have been hiding, using that innovation you patented as a trade secret. So the party that disseminates the information for the benefit of the public loses in favor of the party that kept the innovation a closely guarded secret. This has never struck me as fair, a good idea or even in keeping with the Constitutional purpose for patents.
I think those that are against first to file are really most worked up about the loss of the across the board grace period for the statutory bar. If the problem is with the grace period let’s talk about the grace period. Misdirection and demagoguing the first to file issue has lead to the weakness of the arguments being exposed and the likelihood that no meaningful debate on the real issue — the grace period — will be possible. I’m here to tell you that those who are making a big deal out of the loss of the ability to swear behind with 131 affidavits are making a mountain out of an ant hill; not even a mole hill.
Late in the afternoon on Thursday, March 24, 2011, the purported patent reform bill from the House of Representatives began circulating. The House patent reform bill is largely identical to the Senate version – S. 23. There are some differences, one rather major difference, but the Senate first to file provisions remain intact. The House bill would still grant the Patent Office the right to use all of the funds collected, as did S. 23. The House bill also would grant the United States Patent and Trademark Office fee setting authority, as did S. 23, but then curiously goes on to set the fees that the USPTO charges. It seems unclear why on one hand you would set the fees and in another section of the bill say that the USPTO can vary any fees defined.
With a powerful vote of 87 to 3 on a motion to bring debate to a close, the Senate is on the cusp of passing comprehensive patent reform legislation. S.23, “The America Invents Act,” is expected to pass with a strong vote as early as Wednesday of this week. In the end, the full House and Senate will need to pass the same version of any patent reform bill before it can become law. Assuming House Judiciary Committee Chairman Smith passes a bill of note through the House; the House and Senate bills will need to be reconciled. While civics books teach that the differences in the bills will be resolved via a formal Conference Committee, the Senate and House have not conferenced on a Judiciary Committee bill since 2005. A formal conference for patent reform is considered very unlikely.
As the debate in the Senate starts to wind down and moves to the House of Representatives, whether you are pro-reform or against reform, get involved and participate. Taking the time to be engaged can go a long way. In listening to the debate in the Senate over the past 4 days it is clear to me that Senators are listening to those on both sides who engage in thoughtful debate. While I am often cynical about government, it has been refreshing to watch. Painful at times, but nice to see that ordinary citizens can make a difference.
The Senate Roll was called and a vote taken on whether to table the Feinstein Amendment. The votes were 87 in favor and 13 against, thereby killing the Feinstein Amendment and keeping the first-to-file provisions within S. 23.
As flattering as it was to be inserted into the patent reform debate in some peripheral way, the real news from yesterday was the Manager’s Amendment was passed by a vote of 97-2. The Manager’s Amendment included language that would allow the United States Patent and Trademark Office to keep the fees it collects. The Manager’s Amendment reportedly also included insertions favored by Congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX), who is chair of the House Judiciary Committee. Thus, it seems quite likely that patent reform will soon become a reality.
As I have repeatedly explained over and over again for the past several years, there is nothing to fear about a first to file system (see above) AND there is no reason that a first to file system must be linked with changes to the grace period enjoyed by innovators. It seems those that would prefer to marginalize my factually correct statement about a de facto first to file statement conveniently ignore my complete views. Those who mischaracterize the truth seem to have an unhealthy and unnatural emotional attachment to a first to invent system that simply doesn’t exist, at least 99.99613% of the time.
Easily the most eggregious thing written about patent reform, at least that I have seen, is a statement from the Associated Press. In talking about the grace period in the patent reform legislation the AP wrote: “It comes with an enhanced grace period to protect inventors who publicly disclose their inventions before seeking patents.” This is not misleading, it is flat wrong. The grace period contained in S. 23 is not “enhanced,” but rather it is reduced.
What follows is a letter to Congress from Gary K. Michelson, MD, published here with permission…. First to invent versus first to file is the proverbial tempest in a teacup (smaller than a teapot). All sound and fury signifying nothing. The low cost and ease of filing a provisional patent application (a placeholder for the first to invent) should render any discussion of fairness moot. I believe that first to file is both fair and beneficial to all inventors; and is an important change to correctly position the U.S.P.T.O. as the leader in what will become a worldwide patent system.