May 10, 2005--A bill that proposes amendments to the U.S. Patents Act is likely to be introduced in the House of Representatives before June 9, when the National Academies Board on Science, Technology and Economics and the American Intellectual Property Law Association convene in Washington, D.C., to discuss issues relating to the current patent system.

The patent reform bill, a draft of which has been circulated by the House Subcommittee on Courts, Internet & Intellectual Property, has several recommendations relating to litigation and validity of patents, provisions that are likely to make patent-related litigation easier and less expensive for small businesses.

The bill is based on recommendations made by the National Academies and the Federal Trade Commission on modernizing U.S. patent law, and has been reviewed by the American Intellectual Property Law Association.

Patent law reform experts say that the issue of having a review period, which currently does not exist under the U.S. patent law, has been included in the bill, and is likely to simplify the process of litigation over patents.

"Large businesses typically have a portfolio of patents and can afford the expensive legal resources needed to defend them. But for small businesses that usually have one, two or 10 patents, the reforms can be critical to their survival," said J. Matthew Buchanan, partner at law firm, Fraser Martin Buchanan Miller, LLC, based in Perrysburg, Ohio.

Under current patent laws, objections to another person's patents can be resolved only through litigation in the courts. This is unlike the European patent law system that allows for an opposition period to settle disputes.

"We have recommended a review period of about nine to 12 months during which anyone can challenge the patent shortly after it is issued. The complaints can be addressed by the patent office rather than the courts, which will help cut down the costs of litigation," said Stephen Merrill, director of science, technology and economic policy at the National Academies.

The establishment of a review period is expected to help small businesses settle questions of validity more quickly and offer a greater deal of certainty to the disputing parties. "The review period will make it a lot less expensive and time consuming to settle patent disputes," added Merrill.

The other proposed change significant to small businesses is to the first-to-file system. The proposal would allow the patent to be granted to the first inventor who filed for it, rather than the first person that invented it.

The June 9 conference in Washington, D.C., will be the fourth and final one in a series held to discuss Congressional hearings that have been taking place on the issue of patent law reform during the last two weeks. Around 300 delegates representing both small and large businesses are expected to attend to discuss the recommendations from business, judicial, and academic perspectives.