I've lost count of how long inventors and patent attorneys alike have been bemoaning the state of the U.S. patent system and demanding changes. Years, at least. Maybe even decades - all to no avail.
But the tide may be turning. Last month the U.S. House of Representatives passed a patent reform bill sponsored by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas). In March, the Senate passed a similar measure. According to Washington Business Journal, the bills would create a first-to-file patent system rather than the existing first-to-invent system, as well as establish a post-grant patent review process. Once legislators meet to resolve the differences between the two versions, patent reform will finally be reality.
Unfortunately, Bloomberg Businessweek reports, one issue on which they differ is significant: The Senate version would allow the Patent and Trademark Office to fund itself with fees received from patent applicants. The agency would not have to wait for the House to give it funds or to approve its spending plans. (Currently, patent fees are considered general revenue, and Congress decides what the PTO will get.) The change would give the agency resources it needs to catch up on the backlog of approximately 700,000 patent applications awaiting consideration. It would mean more patent examiners, regional satellite offices, and improved technology, supporters say.
The House, however, was uncomfortable removing the PTO from the appropriations process completely. That version of the bill provides for patent fees to be placed in a fund to which the PTO can have access only after Congress approves its spending plans. Critics say the funding provisions will prevent the agency from implementing the changes set out in the rest of the bill. But Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who sponsored the Senate version, indicated he is optimistic that the two sides will reach a compromise since "the core reforms are consistent."