The America Invents Act passed: Here’s what it means

US-PatentTrademarkOffice-SealThe technology world is rife with patent wars. Every day, names like Google, Microsoft, Sony, and Apple are busy throwing their metaphorical weight around, crying infringement at the slightest provocation. And it’s not only the accusations that are building up, as companies acquire one another in order to wage patent battles, interested in nothing more than the leverage intellectual property can provide.

You can’t blame the industry for engaging in these tactics. But the risk of continuing down this path is obvious: Innovation and thus, consumers, suffer. Which is why the issue has risen to the political arena, and last night Congress passed the America Invents Act. While the legislation doesn’t do quite as much as some (read: Google) would like it to, there are a few elements to the bill that will directly impact the state of patent wars we’re currently subjected to on a daily basis.

First-to-file

Prior to the passage of HR 1249, the US patent system operated under a “first-to-invent” policy. The change here is fairly obvious: Now, priority is given to the whomever first filed the patent – that person or corporation is protected, versus the individual who claims ownership. The obvious benefit here is that many a frivolous lawsuit is based on claims of invention regardless of patent, and now this sets a hard line, giving original patent holders protection.

Regardless of those who file, however, universities that are actually responsible for new inventions will retain special protections. The patenting process in general should be sped up as well. Fees tied to filing patents will be adjustable based on market conditions to try and make the entire thing more efficient, and working in the bill means funds can’t be deviated to other areas.

False marking abuse

The America Invents Act doesn’t only propose legislation to help big companies protect their rights. It’s also trying to keep them from engaging in the plethora of legal battles the court is flooded with. According to the bill, lawsuits would be limited “only to those parties who have actually suffered competitive harm.” If we’re to take this at face value, a good many of the current patent lawsuits could be found unwarranted. Interpretation, of course, will affect what kind of usage this sees.

Will the bill hurt small businesses?

The largest criticism of the America Invests Act is that it favors big businesses that are able to lawyer-up and act quickly. To address this, an ombudsman will be appointed to represent “independent inventors and small businesses.” The bill has been heralded as a way to create new jobs, and was partially spurred by competition from China and the massive amount of patents coming out of the country.

There will also be protections under prior user rights, which means the court will take into account those who have made heavy use of inventions. 

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