Sacramento readers may not have heard about an important piece of federal legislation that was passed last fall. Called the America Invents Act, it doesn't take effect until March. But when it does, it will shift our long-held "first to invent" system of granting patents to a "first to file" system.
That means patents will generally be awarded to the first person who files a patent for an invention. The hope is that it will streamline the patent-granting process and will save patent officers and fellow inventors from ransacking lab notebooks, sketchbooks and prototype storage units to determine who really was the first to come up with an idea.
On the positive side, this may make the system of granting patents easier to understand, more cost-effective and more efficient. It will also bring the U.S. in step with Japan and many European countries, which also use a "first to file" system.
But some people see the America Invents Act as a concession to big corporations. It's easier for big companies to file for patents, they say, because they have the resources to file early and often. It tends to be more difficult for so-called garage inventors to file for patents because they don't have the same means as their disposal.
This is a very topical issue here in the greater Sacramento area. Big companies like Google, Facebook and Oracle are very important to the economy of the Bay Area. Then again, a great many ideas have come from people who don't work for big companies. Startup businesses and individual innovators matter, too.
In any event, it will be very interesting to watch the progress of the America Invents Act. It's far too early to declare it a success or a well-intentioned failure, but we will be observing its progress with great interest.
Source: The New York Times, "Inventor Challenges a Sweeping Revision in Patent Law," Steve Lohr, Aug. 26, 2012