The Leahy-Smith America Invents Act, also known as the latest version of the patent reform bill, was approved by the U.S. Senate today. The legislation now heads to President Barack Obama for his signature.
The bill, which Bloomberg reports as having passed 89-9 today, is the fourth such attempt to reform patent legislation in the U.S., following similar proposals in 2005, 2007, and 2009. It was approved by the House in late June.
Among the major changes in the legislation is turning the U.S. patent system into a first-to-file patent system as opposed to a first-to-invent system. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's current use of the first-to-invent system awards a patent based on the conception of the invention, not necessarily when it's filed. The first-to-file system, as the name suggests, awards a patent to the first person who files for it.
Proponents, including technology companies like Microsoft, Google, and Apple have rallied for the first-to-file system, saying it makes our intellectual-property system more competitive with those in foreign countries. While smaller businesses have said the change in filing standards puts them at a disadvantage.
Among the other changes in the bill is the capability for the USPTO to set and collect its own fees for new patent filings. The bill also introduces a review process for challenging granted patents, and a change to the grace period wherein the inventor has time to file for a patent after disclosing it.
"The supplemental examination procedure allows patent owners proactively to make voluntary disclosures of information to the PTO after patent issuance to correct or remedy missing information in the original patent prosecution," explains intellectual property expert Bruce Wexler. "Overall, this allows for stronger patents and protects patent owners from charges later in litigation that they committed fraud in the original patent prosecution. Until enactment of this law, patent owners had no way to cure defects in patents like this."
Patents and intellectual-property protection have become an increasingly important topic in technology, with companies building up massive patent collections to fend off, as well as go on the offensive against, other companies. Most recently that's been the high-profile feud between Apple and Samsung, with the two companies suing one another in courts around the world for patent infringement. There has also been the spat between Google and Oracle, and Apple and HTC.
Companies are now buying up troves of patents from others, including last year's acquisition of Novell for $2.2 billion (which was later altered by the Justice Department); the $4.5 billion purchase of Nortel's patents by a consortium of companies led by Apple, Microsoft, and Research In Motion; and the expected upcoming sales of patent collections from InterDigital and Eastman Kodak.
Updated at 4:26 p.m. PT throughout.