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The road to quality patents

May 30th, 2015
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The noisy legislative debate on patent reform in the U.S. Congress is without a doubt critical to America’s long-term economic future.

Patents are engines for economic productivity. Countries that encourage inventors and entrepreneurs to patent their innovations will be among the winners in the highly competitive global marketplace. That’s why the stakes are so high in the outcome of the current legislative deliberations on patent reform bills in the U.S. Congress.

The America Invents Act of 2011 introduced significant reforms to the patenting process, as well as controversy. The bill’s “first to file” provision replaces the “first to invent” doctrine and gives priority to the first inventor to file a patent application. It is also at the center of the ongoing debate on whether current patent laws give unfair advantage to large companies over smaller companies and inventors. Supporters, however, argue that the “first to file” provision brings U.S. laws into sync with the rest of the world and will speed up the patent examination process and reduce the backlog of patent applications.

Patent Trolls
The so-called “patent trolls” are the current focus of the patent reform debate. A patent troll is a company or individual that buys patents but does not use them to manufacture products or provide services. Instead, they file infringement lawsuits against companies that are developing innovations of their original patented idea in order to collect licensing fees and/or to block them from patenting a more original concept. Critics characterize patent trolls as drags on economic productivity that create disincentives for the development of new and innovative technologies.

The bills working their way through the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate will likely provide some relief from patent trolls by giving more clarity as to what behaviors constitute a “patent troll” and to implement reforms to combat frivolous lawsuits and other forms of intimidation.

The road to quality patents is not just about legislative reforms to encourage research, development and investment. Another key step along the way is the quality of the patent examination process and the metrics used to measure patent quality, as well as how an applicant is treated during the application process and after the patent is granted.

USPTO Campaign to Improve Patent Quality
The USPTO is leading an ongoing public discussion on what needs to be done to improve the quality of patents. At the two-day Patent Quality Summit in March, USPTO Director Michele Lee told participants in the auditorium and on the web:

“Now, to set the stage for the discussions and brainstorming art this two-day Summit, let me just say up front that we all recognize there is no “silver bullet” solution here. Creating a world-class quality patent system means that we need to think big and keep all options on the table. If I learned anything from my time in the labs and at Google, it’s that no idea is a bad idea. We all benefit when everyone speaks up and offers their insights.” (Remarks by USPTO Director Michele K. Lee at The Patent Quality Summit, March 25, 2015.)

The USPTO led effort is called the Enhanced Patent Quality Initiative. Director Lee said the summit was not a “one and done” event and that enhancing patent quality was a top priority for her and USPTO Commissioner for Patents Peggy Focarino. For any individual or company that relies on patents to drive their business and dreams in the competitive global marketplace, this is a worthwhile conversation to join. The link to the Enhanced Patent Quality Initiative is:

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