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U.S. sees most significant patent reform in decades

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Indiana Lawyer Focus

Sweeping patent reforms became law Sept. 16 when President Barack Obama signed the America Invents Act, the most significant patent reform legislation in six decades. The AIA incorporates many changes and harmonizes U.S. practices with systems in place around the world, according to some Indiana lawyers. Some believe the revisions are more symbolic than practical, while others believe the changes will impact every aspect of how patent lawyers do their jobs.

“It changes how you go about getting a patent, defend or challenge a patent infringement case, when to file, the internal procedures for documenting patentable inventions … basically there’s a lot that has been affected and it influences all companies, start-ups and individuals big or small,” said IP attorney Todd Vare with Barnes & Thornburg in Indianapolis.
 

Todd Vare Vare

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the bill 304 -117 in June, and in early September the Senate voted 89-9 in favor of it. Research universities, technology firms and various business groups supported the changes, while most of the opposition came from small businesses that worried the reforms favored large firms with access to more capital.

Some changes will go into effect in 2011, while other aspects of the legislation will become effective in 12 or 18 months.

Specifically, the bill streamlines the patent process to eliminate the backlog of 680,000 patent applications and reduces the time it takes for a patent to be approved, currently three years. Reforms are also designed to reduce litigation and costs associated with challenging or defending a patent.

Most notably, the reforms bring the nation’s patent system into conformity with laws observed throughout the world by granting patent protection to the first person to file a patent rather than the current “first-to-invent” process.

Before the change, the existing first-to-invent standard used to determine patent ownership involved an inventor being able to demonstrate that he or she came up with an idea first. The requirements of that process involved steps patent holders and seekers frequently described as burdensome and full of delays in obtaining a patent. The “first-to-file” system gives priority in deciding who owns an invention’s patent to the first person or entity to file for the patent, regardless of the date of invention.


rost-stephen-mug.jpg Rost

Some Indiana attorneys think this new first-to-file process will create a race to the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office in order to obtain patent protection first. Stephen Rost with Taft Stettinius & Hollister said smaller companies will be under more pressure to file a patent application for each new development and invest more upfront to get that done, without knowing the potential for actually obtaining the patent.

Baker & Daniels attorney Adam Cox of Ft. Wayne isn’t sure if the new first-to-file system will have a practical impact, but he finds the change troubling.

“In the U.S., we’ve always valued individual rights and the image of the garage inventor is very pertinent in our culture,” he said, mentioning iconic inventors like Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. “The thought of the garage inventor who invents first but delays filing and eventually loses to the big company who invents later but files faster is troubling. That is one reason we’ve always operated under the first-to-invent system, and this flips that notion on its head.”

But small individual inventors are often passionate and motivated to file quickly, so Cox says the impact may be less than critics expect. Rost said patent lawyers and patent agents may be asked to draft more patent applications because companies will be under increased pressure to file quickly. The number of provisional patent applications will likely skyrocket because they can be used as place holders until an actual patent can be officially requested, he said.

Other notable changes to U.S. patent laws include:

• Third parties are given the opportunity to challenge the patent office’s decision to grant a patent.

• Third parties may cite prior art to the patent office during prosecution of a patent application.

• Business method strategies to reduce taxes are not patentable.

• Only the government and those suffering a competitive injury will be allowed to sue for false patent marking.

• Failure to obtain the advice of counsel cannot be used to prove willful infringement.

• Creates a mechanism by which the patent office will reevaluate and possibly invalidate previously issued business method patents.

• Eliminates the requirement that inventors describe the “best mode” of making and using the invention as a basis for challenging the validity of a patent.

• Allows individual inventors or very small companies to file patent applications at significantly lower fees, allowing those small companies and inventors to afford filing a patent application where they might not otherwise be able to afford such an application.

The changes were designed to give the patent office more resources so it will do a better job of assessing patent applications, with the idea that rejecting bad patents will head off some litigation. The AIA has been promoted by the president as a job creator and a way to speed up the patent application process and end delays.

Half of the patents challenged in court are invalidated. The new law will allow anyone – including a company’s rivals – to scrutinize newly granted patents and give the patent office evidence to show why it should not be allowed.

“Whether these changes are viewed positively or negatively may actually depend on the type of client one represents,” Rost said.

More legal time will be needed to follow competitors’ filed patent applications and monitor those issues, Rost said, and that will increase the workload IP and patent-focused attorneys will have. Vare added on the flipside that companies won’t have to spend as much internally to document the invention process as they did in the first-to-intent system, compiling detailed lab notebooks and records.

“Anybody and everybody has an opinion about it being good or bad, but it is what it is,” Vare said. “As an attorney, you need to take advantage of the provisions you need and know what you might get burned by.”•
 

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  1. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  2. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  3. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

  4. Have been seeing this wonderful physician for a few years and was one of his patients who told him about what we were being told at CVS. Multiple ones. This was a witch hunt and they shold be ashamed of how patients were treated. Most of all, CVS should be ashamed for what they put this physician through. So thankful he fought back. His office is no "pill mill'. He does drug testing multiple times a year and sees patients a minimum of four times a year.

  5. Brian W, I fear I have not been sufficiently entertaining to bring you back. Here is a real laugh track that just might do it. When one is grabbed by the scruff of his worldview and made to choose between his Confession and his profession ... it is a not a hard choice, given the Confession affects eternity. But then comes the hardship in this world. Imagine how often I hear taunts like yours ... "what, you could not even pass character and fitness after they let you sit and pass their bar exam ... dude, there must really be something wrong with you!" Even one of the Bishop's foremost courtiers said that, when explaining why the RCC refused to stand with me. You want entertaining? How about watching your personal economy crash while you have a wife and five kids to clothe and feed. And you can't because you cannot work, because those demanding you cast off your Confession to be allowed into "their" profession have all the control. And you know that they are wrong, dead wrong, and that even the professional code itself allows your Faithful stand, to wit: "A lawyer may refuse to comply with an obligation imposed by law upon a good faith belief that no valid obligation exists. The provisions of Rule 1.2(d) concerning a good faith challenge to the validity, scope, meaning or application of the law apply to challenges of legal regulation of the practice of law." YET YOU ARE A NONPERSON before the BLE, and will not be heard on your rights or their duties to the law -- you are under tyranny, not law. And so they win in this world, you lose, and you lose even your belief in the rule of law, and demoralization joins poverty, and very troubling thoughts impeaching self worth rush in to fill the void where your career once lived. Thoughts you did not think possible. You find yourself a failure ... in your profession, in your support of your family, in the mirror. And there is little to keep hope alive, because tyranny rules so firmly and none, not the church, not the NGO's, none truly give a damn. Not even a new court, who pay such lip service to justice and ancient role models. You want entertainment? Well if you are on the side of the courtiers running the system that has crushed me, as I suspect you are, then Orwell must be a real riot: "There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always — do not forget this, Winston — always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever." I never thought they would win, I always thought that at the end of the day the rule of law would prevail. Yes, the rule of man's law. Instead power prevailed, so many rules broken by the system to break me. It took years, but, finally, the end that Dr Bowman predicted is upon me, the end that she advised the BLE to take to break me. Ironically, that is the one thing in her far left of center report that the BLE (after stamping, in red ink, on Jan 22) is uninterested in, as that the BLE and ADA office that used the federal statute as a sword now refuses to even dialogue on her dire prediction as to my fate. "C'est la vie" Entertaining enough for you, status quo defender?

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