by Dennis Crouch
In strong bipartisan fashion, the Senate today passed the America Invents Act (S. 23). Attention now moves to the Judiciary Committee in the House of Representatives.
The Senate measure includes:
- The ability for the US Patent & Trademark office to set its own fees and to eliminate the practice of fee-diversion.
- A transition to a first-to-file system as discussed previously on Patently-O.
- Broader leeway for third-party submissions with explanations during ex parte patent prosecution.
- A new "first-window" post-grant patent opposition system with broader jurisdiction (but a shorter timeframe) than reexaminations.
- A provision that eliminates certain tax strategy patents.
- Although not entirely clear at this point, it looks like damages limitations were removed from the bill prior to passage.
Republican leadership in the House, including Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (Tx) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va) appear ready to move forward with their own version of legislation. Six years ago, Representative Smith introduced the Patent Reform Act of 2005. Under the new Republican leadership, a revived and modified Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Competition, and the Internet has jurisdiction over patent reform measures. The new Chairman of that Subcommittee is Representative Bob Goodlatte (Va) who co-sponsored prior patent reform measures as did the Vice-Chairman, Representative Howard Coble (NC).
On March 10, 2011, I will testify before the Judiciary Committee as members consider how to draft corresponding legislation. I have specifically been asked to address judicial changes to the patent law landscape since the reform process began in 2005. During that period, the Supreme Court has taken an active role in addressing patent policy concerns in cases such as KSR Int'l Co. v. Teleflex Inc., 550 U.S. 398 (2007) (eliminating technical hurdles for proving an invention obvious and instead applying a "common sense" analysis for assessing patentability); MedImmune, Inc. v. Genentech, Inc., 549 U.S. 118 (2007) (holding that declaratory judgment jurisdiction may exist even if the patent holder could not have sued for infringement and that the apprehension that patentee will sue for infringement is not a necessary element for Article III jurisdiction); Bilski v. Kappos, 130 S. Ct. 3218 (2010) (holding the claimed invention – a method of hedging – unpatentable as an abstract idea); and Microsoft Corp. v. AT&T Corp., 550 U.S. 437 (2007) (holding that Microsoft could not be held liable for exporting software code because source code does not qualify as a "component" of a patented invention as required under 35 U.S.C. § 271(f)). During this time, the Federal Circuit has decided more than two thousand patent appeals (including a dozen en banc decisions), many of which address the exact concerns raised in the original 2005 patent reform bill. Of course, over this period, the PTO administrative nightmare has grown to a backlog of 1.2 million pending patent applications and the Board of Patent Appeals (BPAI) backlog of pending ex parte cases has grown from 742 in March 2005 to over 20,000 today.