Congress is on the verge of passing the first patent reforms in 60 years. This may not be good news for small business.
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Arcadia, California, businesswoman Minna Ha, who has a patent application pending for a cosmetic case stated, "[the new process] does add to the anxiety, it does make it feel like more of a race" to the patent office.
A patent reform bill labelled by one Congressman as "patently unfair to inventors" could be in front of the President this month.
The bill, officially known as the Leahy-Smith American Invents Act, would switch the U.S. from a system that awards patents to the first-to-invent to a system that awards to the first-to-file. There also would be a post-grant patent review process.
Independent inventors fear the complications and expense of the new process and that it would put solo entrepreneurs and small companies at a disadvantage.
Arcadia, California, businesswoman Minna Ha, who has a patent application pending for a cosmetic case designed to hold makeup refills, told the Los Angeles Times the change "does add to the anxiety, it does make it feel like more of a race" to the patent office.
"What will make a big difference at that point will be the resources available," she said.
The new system would make U.S. patent laws, which haven’t changed for 60 years, closer to those in Europe and Japan. Large companies claim the new rules would cut down on legal battles over patent rights.
But George White, a licensed patent agent who prepares and files patent applications, said the first-to-invent system is a better fit for "the little guy."
"The first person to invent it should be the one to profit from it; that is kind of an American feeling,” White, who is president of the nonprofit Inventors Forum in California's Orange County, told the Times.
After years of calls for patent reform, an effort passed the House of Representatives in 2007, but languished since then. Then in March, the Senate passed a bill overhauling the system. In June, the House of Representatives passed a similar one. One major issue on which they differ: funding. The Senate version would allow the Patent and Trademark Office to fund itself with patent application fees; in other words, it wouldn’t have to wait, as it currently does, for the House to grant it funds.
Supporters say the change would give the agency the money it needs to catch up on the backlog of some 700,000 patent applications awaiting consideration. A possible compromise worked out in the House: the House hangs on to its appropriations authority, but the patent office gets its own Treasury account with some dedicated funds.
What do you think of the patent reform bill? Is it good or bad for business?
Inc. contributing editor COURTNEY RUBIN was for five years a London-based staff writer for People magazine. Rubin, a former senior writer for Washingtonian magazine, has written for the New York Times magazine, Time, Marie Claire, and other publications. She is the author of The Weight-Loss Diaries.