NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Feds Protecting Patents

May 1, 1997

Some small inventors say proposed changes in the patent law now before Congress would devastate the patent system, taking with it America's technological edge. A key issue is how quickly patent information is made public.

  • Under current law, patent information is kept secret until the patent is actually approved by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
  • But a bill passed in the House last week sought to require publication of all applications 18 months after they are submitted -- whether or not the patent had been granted by that time.
  • The bill would also make it easier for third parties to challenge patents by allowing challengers to take part in determining a patent's validity.
  • It would also make the Commerce Department's Patent and Trademark Office into a stand-alone government corporation.

While a number of large corporations back the bill, saying it would make their R&D more efficient and less duplicative, inventors and small businesses fear that companies and other countries would use the earlier disclosures to steal their ideas.

  • The General Accounting Office says patent applications usually take about four years until they are granted.
  • Moreover, invention breakthroughs can be slowed for years, often by the government itself -- for example, the Food and Drug Administration can add a decade or more in testing before permission to market a new drug is granted.
  • An amendment to the House bill exempts universities, independent inventors and firms with fewer than 500 workers from the 18-month publication rule. But observers say that amendment might not survive in the Senate.

Source: Daniel J. Murphy, "Is It Patent Reform or Piracy?" Investor's Business Daily, May 1, 1997.


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