The full Senate Judiciary Committee today passed the Inventor Diversity for Economic Advancement (IDEA) Act, which seeks to direct the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) “to collect demographic data – including gender, race, military or veteran status, and income level, among others – from patent applicants on a voluntary basis.” Representative Nydia Velázquez (D-NY), Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC), and Congressman Steve Stivers (R-OH) reintroduced the bill in March of this year; Senators Chris Coons (D-DE), Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin (D-IL) are also co-sponsors.
Though there was some back and forth between the sponsors and Senator John Kennedy (R-LA) – who questioned the need to collect the data at all when the statistics seemed to already be known – and Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), who questioned how voluntary the process would be, and thus introduced an amendment that would ensure voluntariness – the bill passed as is.
The IDEA Act was first presented in July 2019, following Representative Steve Chabot’s (R-OH) introduction of the Study of Underrepresented Classes Chasing Engineering and Science (SUCCESS) Act in 2018. That bill asked the USPTO, “in consultation with the Administrator of the Small Business Administration, to study and provide recommendations to promote the participation of women, minorities, and veterans in entrepreneurship activities and the patent system.” A key finding of that study was that there simply isn’t enough publicly available data to guide and support legislation that will foster inclusive innovation. This inspired the IDEA Act.
According to a March press release on the latest version of the bill, in addition to collecting demographic data, it would also require the USPTO “to issue reports on the data collected and make the data available to the public, thereby allowing outside researchers to conduct their own analyses and offer insights into the various patent gaps in our society.”
“This bill will make the U.S. patent system more equitable and allow more women, people of color, and other disadvantaged groups to develop their inventions,” said Velázquez, who is Chairwoman of the House Small Business Committee, in March. “By making the patent process more inclusive, we will help drive economic growth and elevate communities hurt by longstanding discriminatory barriers.”
Speaking this morning, Durbin said “We want to make sure the patent system is not only open to all inventors, regardless of race, gender and economic status, but we know the studies show women and minorities apply for and obtain patents at significantly lower rates than their white, male counterparts.”
Industry groups quickly applauded the passage. Invent Together’s Executive Director Holly Fechner said “the IDEA Act is a crucial step toward ensuring that our nation’s inventors have equal access to the benefits of patenting, regardless of gender, race, or income. It will also help ensure that we use the full measure of our talent to compete globally.” She added that her organization looks forward to House movement on the companion bill, H.R. 1273.
Innovation Alliance Executive Director Brian Pomper said the legislation “is needed to help improve diversity in patenting, which is critical to promoting American innovation and competitiveness,” and that studies show “including more women and African Americans in the innovation process would increase annual GDP by nearly $1 trillion.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee also voted today to pass the ARTS Act, sponsored by Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC), Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), as well as Representatives Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Nancy Mace (R-SC). If enacted, the bill would give the Register of Copyrights authority to waive copyright registration fees for student winners of the Congressional Art Competition and the Congressional App Competition.