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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