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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Positive Movement on Patents

On very rare occasions, bipartisanship in our nation's capital happens, and it's actually a positive for the economy.

Consider patent reform.

In June, the U.S. House of Representatives passed patent legislation by a vote of 304-117, with 168 Republicans and 136 Democrats voting in favor.

That was followed by a vote in the Senate of 89-9 on September 8.

President Barack Obama mentioned it in his September 8 speech on the economy: "Today you passed reform that will speed up the outdated patent process, so that entrepreneurs can turn a new idea into a new business as quickly as possible. That's the kind of action we need." The President is correct. And he subsequently signed the legislation.

The key aspects of this reform will be plusses for entrepreneurs and innovation.

For example, it aligns the U.S. patent system with the rest of the world by shifting to a "first inventor to file" system. This will be beneficial to small businesses by reducing uncertainty and costs in the system, while also beefing up intellectual property rights internationally.

In addition, an expanded post-grant review process, limited to nine months after the patent is issued, should help to reduce some of the costly litigation swirling around patents.

Progress also was made in terms of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office budget by allowing the office to set its own fees, with excess revenues placed in escrow, and those resources, with congressional approval, could be used by the USPTO. This is a positive step, and should help to speed up the patent process. Unfortunately, though, Congress is not fully barred from raiding Patent Office coffers to spend elsewhere.

In the end, reform that brings the U.S. in accordance with other patenting nations, reduces litigation costs, and helps to reduce the patent backlog is good for small business, innovation and the economy. And that's what this legislation does. Again, patent reform has proven to be a unique case of positive bipartisanship.


Raymond J. Keating serves as chief economist for the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council.

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