Legislation to overhaul the United States patent system is one step closer to becoming law. On 23 June, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would change the ability of an inventor to patent a discovery. HR 1249 would give priority to the first inventor to file for a patent. Currently, patent law favors the first person who invents or discovers a new technology, device, process, or material. Some worry that this change would favor large corporations that have the resources to undergo the lengthy and expensive process of filing for a patent, and that individuals or small businesses may be at a disadvantage. Supporters of reform claim that this is an important step towards harmonizing the U.S. patent system with the process used by the rest of the world.

The legislation passed by the House would also impact the funding structure for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. If enacted, the bill would direct excess user fees into a fund that Congress would direct back to the patent office. This provision is aimed at increasing the budget for the agency in order to address the backlog of more than 700,000 pending patents applications.

The Senate passed patent reform legislation (S. 23) in March. Although the two bills are similar, any differences will need to be worked out, and the compromise bill will need to pass both chambers in identical form before the bill could be signed into law by President Obama.


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