The USPTO’s chronic backlog problems and painfully slow registration process may soon be remedied. Last week, the House passed a bill that should speed up the patent process by doing two things: 1 – Making the first person to file a patent application the undisputed owner of patent rights, not necessarily the party who invented the idea, and 2 – Allowing all fees collected by the USPTO to be used by the USPTO, instead of being diverted into other agencies.
Previously, if a person could demonstrate in court that he or she was the first person to invent an embodiment of the idea, they owned rights to the patent, even if they hadn’t actually filed a patent application first with the USPTO. This caused heartburn for companies who were being sued by inventors who came out of the woodwork after an application was filed. Although this avenue of litigation was meant to protect the ideas of inventors, and give them appropriate rights, it had the potential to be abused.
As the L.A. Times notes, this is the biggest update to the patent system since 1952. Due to an unusual unified effort by both parties, the bill passed cleanly, with a final vote of 304-117. In March, the Senate passed its version of the bill, with a 95-5 vote.
But not everyone supported the legislation. According to one of the bill’s opponents, Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), “The bill would permit the Patent and Trademark Office to award a patent to the first person who can win a race to the patent office regardless of who is the actual inventor. That is patently unfair to inventors.”
The bottom line for inventors is that they will need to be sure to file a provisional patent application early on in the invention and marketing process, in order to protect their rights.