By now virtually everyone in the patent and innovation communities knows that on September 16, 2011, President Barack Obama signed into law the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act. This is an enormous change to U.S. patent laws, likely the largest change in U.S. patent law since at least 1790. The last major re-write was in 1952, and that wasn’t a re-write so much as a codification of case law that had developed over the previous decades. This is a major change and one that must be thoroughly and completely respected in terms of breadth and depth.
A lot of arguing has been going on here on IPWatchdog.com about certain portions of the so-called first to file provisions contained in the Act. Truthfully, the new 102(b)(1)(B) is not written as clear as it probably could be, but I have steadfastly maintained that it provides only a personal grace-period, nothing more. Many have criticized me at great lengths, and some have even told me via private e-mail they have stopped reading IPWatchdog because I am dead wrong. I have even had a variety of entertaining discussions with Staffers on the Hill and a variety of senior attorneys and high ranking corporate counsel. Notwithstanding those who vehemently disagree with me, with every new statement made by the United States Patent and Trademark Office my position seems to be further confirmed.
The grace-period provided to inventors is only a personal grace-period and subsequent disclosure that is not derived from the inventor will create a statutory bar to patentability. My source? The United States Patent and Trademark Office.
Earlier today I spoke at the Practising Law Institute program on the America Invents Act. We had a good turnout in the room and an excellent turnout via webcast. The program was 4 hours long, and truthfully we could have gone on for at least several more hours without running out of material. For those who stayed online we ran long by about 20 minutes, and stayed talking with attendees and answering questions of live attendees for another 20 minutes. We are already talking about reprising the presentation for an audience at PLI’s New York City location on Seventh Avenue, so stay tuned.
There will be plenty of time to drill down on the particulars of the America Invents Act. The Act is dense, language choices from section to section in some places change and in other places remains the same, making you suspect that different terms must mean different things but the same term in different places has to mean the same thing, right? Our moderator, Denise Kettelberger (Faegre & Benson) said that patent attorneys should really read the Act about 10 times, which is really good advice. Every time you read it you notice something a little different, and during the presentation of others today I found myself taking notes and looking up things in the Act with new understandings. This is a major re-write of patent laws and not one that is at all simple.
That being said, I thought I might take this opportunity to provide a high level overview of the America Invents Act. What follows is discussion of 5 provisions contained in the Act. Look for an overview breakdown of additional provisions (prior user rights, supplemental examination, post-grant review, etc.) coming soon.
Senator Leahy (left) and Congressman Smith (left) at AIA signing.
The America Invents Act reshapes U.S. patent law in fairly profound ways with established major industries benefitting, but providing unwanted challenges for some. The final bill changes the US system to a first-inventor-to-file system. It creates several post-grant review mechanisms whereby 3rd parties can challenge another’s patent application, including the allowance of submission of prior art by 3rd parties and the creation of a new, post-grant administrative review proceeding. The financial sector will get additional tools to address long-held concerns over “business method” patents such as those at that heart of litigation involving several large banks and a company which holds patents on processes for securing checks electronically. The AIA also effectively bans the practice of patenting tax strategies. The bill also restricts the practice of plaintiffs in infringement cases joining together large groups of defendants who may have no business relation to each other.
The ink is hardly dry on the America Invents Act and Congress is already about to take money from the United States Patent and Trademark Office in violation of the promise of Congressman Rogers, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee.
It isn’t exactly a newflash to announce that Washington, D.C. is dysfunctional, anyone paying attention over the past few years has long since come to that conclusion. Thus, it is hardly breaking news to report that Congress is on the verge of passing a Continuing Resolution rather than actually doing their job and passing a budget for fiscal year 2012. Why do today what is required of you to fulfill the responsibilities of your job when you can just kick the can down the road? Of course, by so doing Congress will embark upon a path that will divert some $600 million from the USPTO during FY 2012.
As nearly everyone in the United States “Patent World” is likely aware of by now, on Friday, September 16, 2011, President Obama signed the patent reform legislation recently passed by Congress. The law, therefore, is legally in force, although different provisions have different effective dates. The overall bill is, of course, extremely complex and has many different of facets.
This post is focused on specific aspects of “new 102,” which legally has an effective date of March 16, 2013. Even with limiting the topic of this post to new 102, enough complexity is presented that it would not be possible to discuss in any meaningful way all the changes with which one should be familiar. In other words, there are many potential traps for the unwary; however, the two discussed below seem to me to be particularly pernicious.
On Friday, September 16, 2011, President Obama signed into law “The America Invents Act” (“AIA”) which passed the Senate on September 8, 2011, by a vote of 89-9. The AIA passed the House of Representatives on June 23rd by a vote of 304-117. The measure, which is the product of a seven-years-long legislative battle among patent policy stakeholders, changes how patents are obtained and enforced in the United States. Important reforms to patent law are incorporated into the AIA and, just as significantly, several controversial proposed changes were deleted from the AIA before final passage.
Starting with President Obama’s State of the Union Address in January, where he made innovation and job creation key elements of his speech and specifically embraced passage of patent reform as a means of addressing both issues, patent reform was well positioned to be enacted in 2011. Moreover, Congress was desperate for legislative accomplishments in an environment where partisan differences, a weak economy, and government fiscal concerns dominated. Longstanding pro-reform coalitions and associations continued to expend considerable resources on the bill. Passage was deemed virtually assured when the Chairmen of the Judiciary Committees – Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) – essentially agreed this summer on a common piece of legislation. But, as explained below, nothing’s ever as simple as it seems in Washington.
A great deal of attention has been directed to provisions of the recent Leahy-Smith America Invents Act and the provisions of the act directed to first inventor to file, post grant review, and other such changes to U.S. Patent Law. This attention is much warranted as these represent some of the most significant changes to U.S. Patent Law in recent history.
At least one other provision of the act, however, which appears to be receiving significantly less attention, is likely to have a substantial impact upon the manner in which many patents will be enforced following enactment.
Lechleiter, Foreman, Kullman, Mathews, Hyndman, Leahy, Smith, Goodlatte, Watt, Moran, Poppy, Kappos and Blank Smile while Obama signs the America Invents Act into Law.
Yesterday I had the pleasure of being present at the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology to witness President Obama sign into law the America Invents Act.
President Obama started by commending the students of what he called “One of the best high schools in the country.” He mentioned that; “We have an exhibit of some of the projects that you guys are doing, including the fist high school student satellite, a wheel chair controlled by brain waves, robotics and more.” He made the crowd smile when he jokingly said; “I am hoping that I will learn something just by being close to you; through osmosis. I already feel smart just standing here.”
Earlier today President Obama signed the America Invents Act at Thomas Jefferson High School in Alexandria, Virginia. Patent reform is now a reality, and over the next 18 months there will be massive changes to U.S. patent law. The Patent Office has already been working on regulatory reforms to the Appeals process and to the Reexamination process, so with the changes in this legislation along with the rulemaking necessary to implement the law there will be little that remains the same by March 16, 2013, when all aspects of the legislation have gone into effect. Virtually nothing that you know about patent law and/or patent process today will be relevant come March 16, 2013.
There are certain aspects of the patent reform legislation that will go into effect immediately, or nearly immediately. One example of a near immediate change is the treatment of fees paid to the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Effective 10 days after the legislation is signed fees will go up at the USPTO, thanks to a 15 percent surcharge.
The America Invents Act, which just recently passed by the Congress and sent to the White House for President Obama’s signature, is the most significant patent reform legislation in decades, and it promises to change virtually all of patent practice as we know it over the next 18 months. Some pieces of the legislation will go into effect almost immediately, but other aspects of the legislation will become effective 12 months and 18 months after the bill becomes law. We are in for the largest set of changes anyone practicing has ever faced. The 1952 Patent Act codified what was in existence, the American Invents Act shakes the very foundation of patent law and patent practice.