A Kinder, Gentler ‘Death Squad’: Ten Years in, Despite Some Reforms, the USPTO is Still Killing U.S. Patents
Now that the 10th anniversary of the America Invents Act (AIA) has passed, we can look back not only at the past decade, but also the reactions of various interested parties and how they responded to that anniversary. There were two revolutionary amendments to U.S. patent laws enacted on September 16, 2011; one relating to the U.S. changing from first-to-invent to first-to-file, the other relating to the creation of the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) and three new procedural mechanisms to invalidate issued patents. While from a philosophical and practical point of view, the change from first-to-invent to first-to-file had the largest impact on patent practice, it has essentially become a footnote in patent history. Yes, the United States had a bizarre system that allowed the second filer in some instances (i.e., the first to invent) to obtain a patent over the first-to-file, but that almost never happened. And now, the United States has a strange, hybrid first-to-file system that still theoretically allows the first-to-invent to prevail in even rarer circumstances, but that change became easily baked into the system, because overwhelmingly, the first-to-invent did file first. The real story of the change to first-to-file is that much more is now prior art, including foreign filed applications as of their foreign filing date, typically, which continues the theme of the last 15+ years of making it harder to obtain and keep patent rights in the United States.