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Patently better: U.S. patent system overhauled, will it help?

When Thomas Edison filed his patent for the phonograph, it was approved in 7 weeks, today the average amount of time for a patent to be approved is three years, with approximately 700,000 that haven't even been opened. With those facts, President Obama laid out the urgent need for patent reform in the U.S. during a signing ceremony for the America Invents Act, the biggest overhaul to America's patent process since 1952.

"Here in America, our creativity has always set us apart, and in order to continue to grow our economy, we need to encourage that spirit wherever we find it," Obama said during the ceremony, which was held at the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Virginia.

The plastics industry is one that will hopefully benefit from the legislation, and it was represented in the ceremony in the person of Ellen Kullman, DuPont's CEO and a member of the president's Jobs Council.

The big changes:

Fast track option for Patent Processing within 12 Months: The Patent and Trademark Office will be able to offer startup companies an opportunity to have important patents reviewed with a guaranteed 12-month turnaround. 

Reducing the current patent backlog: The patent backlog has already been reduced from more than 750,000 patent applications to 680,000 since Obama took office, despite a 4% increase in filings. Additional resources provided in the law will allow the Patent and Trademark Office to chip away at the backlog of 700,000 patent applications.

Reducing litigation: The Patent and Trademark Office will offer entrepreneurs new ways to avoid litigation regarding patent validity, at costs significantly less expensive than going to court.

Increasing patent quality: The Patent and Trademark Office has re-engineered quality management processes to increase the quality of the examinations, issuing guidelines that clarify and tighten its patent issuance standards. The legislation also reportedly gives the USPTO additional tools and resources to further improve patent quality, and allows patent challenges to be resolved in-house through expedited post-grant processes.

Intellectual property protection abroad: The new law will harmonize the American patent process with the rest of the world reportedly making it more efficient and predictable, as well as allowing entrepreneurs to simultaneously market products in the U.S. and for exporting abroad. The Patent and Trademark Office has expanded work-sharing with other patent offices around the world to increase efficiency and speed patent processing for applicants seeking protection in multiple jurisdictions.

What do you think? Any patent horror stories out there; do you feel these changes will help?

TAGS: Business
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