NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Revamping the Patent System

September 11, 1997

President Clinton and some in Congress are pushing for changes in the nation's patent laws. In the process, they may be endangering safeguards in current law which foster innovation, according to some analysts.

  • The legislation would require all patent applications to be disclosed publicly within 18 months -- rather than when the patent is granted -- and allow challenges to patents under relatively informal administrative procedures.
  • It would grant limited "prior use" rights to companies that had developed the technology independently but had failed to apply for a patent.
  • The Patent Office would become an independent government corporation.
  • The Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Nobel Prize-winning economist Franco Modigliani has sent a letter to the Senate signed by 20 Nobel laureates in chemistry, physics, medicine and economics warning against changes to "our time-tested patent system" which "would sap the very spirit of that wonderful institution."

Independent inventors generally oppose the changes, while large multinational corporations are promoting them -- claiming that they would reduce duplicate research and litigation. The inventors claim the changes would discourage research and smother innovation.

Modigliani objects that the public has not had a chance to listen to debate and examine the issue. Other critics warn that the actual effects of the changes cannot now be predicted with any degree of certainty.

Source: Peter Passell, "Some Say No to a High-Powered Drive to Revamp Patent Law," New York Times, September 11, 1997


Browse more articles on Government Issues