The Senate on Monday “will begin debating a bill that critics say will undermine American strength abroad, plunder the United States economy and exceed the government’s constitutional authority,” the New York Times reports.
The subject: patent reform.
Rarely has the Patent and Trademark Office elicited such passions. But included in the bill is a long-debated feature that would change the federal patent system to a “first to file” protocol of determining patent priority — one used by nearly all of the rest of the world — from its current “first to invent” system.
“This bill would be death to innovation in America,” said Phyllis Schlafly, the conservative writer and activist who has rallied opposition to the bill among conservative groups like the Gun Owners of America and the Christian Coalition.
Those groups have joined in opposition with small-business advocates and groups of professional engineers, who say that the change would favor big corporations over small inventors and make it harder for start-ups to ward off people seeking to steal their ideas.
David J. Kappos, the director of the patent office and under secretary of commerce for intellectual property, disagrees, as do the Obama administration and scores of technology and manufacturing companies whose success can be traced, in large part, to the patents they received on their creations.
“This would be an enormous improvement,” Mr. Kappos said of the bill. The current, first-to-invent system does no more than grant an inventor “a lottery ticket,” with the right to defend in court whether he was the first to come up with an idea, Mr. Kappos said. A first-to-file system “adds transparency and objectivity” in the form of a clear line of priority — that is, who arrived first at the patent office.
The bill would “also change procedures for challenging patents, before and after they are issued, alter how damages can be assessed and allow the patent office to set its own fees for applicants.”
It also contains “an odd provision that would outlaw patenting ‘any strategy for reducing, avoiding or deferring’ federal, state or local taxes.”
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-VT), Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) are leading the charge on the Patent Reform Act (S. 23), which “appears to be on a bipartisan path to approval in both houses of Congress, each of which has approved similar legislation in the past.”
The United States Patent and Trademark Office is an agency of the Department of Commerce.
The office is one of the few government agencies whose specific duties are enumerated in the United States Constitution. Article 1, Section 8 calls on Congress to promote scientific progress by securing to inventors the exclusive right to their discoveries for a limited time.