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US patent reform moves step closer

patent650.jpgAdvocates for legislation that promises to make it simpler for researchers to patent their inventions are celebrating after the passage of the America Invents Act through the US House of Representatives yesterday.

The bill passed the Senate in March but minor differences between the versions passed by both houses still need to be reconciled. “The very encouraging thing is the two bills are very similar which increases the chance we can get patent reform signed into law,” says John Vaughn, executive vice-president of the Association of American Universities in Washington DC, which has pushed for patent reform.

Both bills would switch the US system from a first-to-invent system, in which competing inventors strive to show they had an earlier priority date, to the much simpler first-to-file system, in line with most other countries. Advocates say this will help clear a patent backlog (see graph, from Nature 472, 149 (2011)).

Vaughn says the passage of the bill through the House was made possible by a compromise reached between lobbyists for the IT industry, who were advocating for a prior user rights provision to protect the rights of those who have invented something but kept it a trade secret from being accused of patent infringement by another party who later patents it, and universities, who oppose the measure because it infringes on the scope of new patents. Under the compromise passed in the House, prior user rights will exist but will apply only to inventions that have been in commercial use for longer than one year prior to the patent or a disclosure of the patentable invention.

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    Algot Runeman said:

    This legislation seems to say that the first person to shout “fire” in a theater should be praised rather than scorned. Patents, particularly in software, stifle progress. Too many patents are ridiculously vague.

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