The Senate on Thursday, after six decades of work on patent reform, overwhelmingly approved the America Invents Act by a vote of 89-9, the most comprehensive overhaul of the U.S. patent system in years. The bill enjoyed rare, bipartisan support, with backers touting its potential to create scores of jobs in the struggling economy, along with streamlining the now-complicated, backlogged patent system, making it easier to get patented products to market.
"We cast aside partisan rhetoric," the bill's lead author, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said as he praised numerous Republicans for their assistance. "It's now going to be the law of the land."
The primary component of the legislation is a switch from the current "first-to-invent' system to a "first-inventor-to-file" system for patent applications. Many countries already have this in place, and supporters of the bill said the U.S. had fallen behind in the global marketplace, as a result of the delay.
An attempt by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., to change the House-passed legislation to include more oversight of fees sent to the U.S. Patent and Trade Office (USPTO), to ensure that the money could not be diverted from that account by members of Congress.
The bill gives USPTO, an entity entirely self-funded by patent fees, more power to keep the money it collects in order to reduce the massive backlog in processing applications, but it also preserves congressional controls. The money is not guaranteed to make it to the patent office.
House members threatened to kill the bill if anything was changed, a move that angered the Oklahoma Republican.
"This is a critical, critical juncture for our country," Coburn warned. "When we're going to not do what's right, because someone is threatening" to scuttle the bill, the senator said, "That's wrong."
Calling House opponents "bullies", Coburn added, "I don't buy that the House won't do this...That's why people don't have confidence in members of Congress."
While praising the Coburn effort, Leahy said, "This is an amendment that could derail or kill this bill." The chairman of the Judiciary Committee vowed to continue to work against any diversion of fees from USPTO, adding, "This is a bill that would otherwise help our struggling economy, create jobs that are so desperately needed."
Opponents of the bill also said the measure favors big corporations over small inventers. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., warned, "If this is job creation, it is siding with corporate interests over the little guy."
The measure now heads to the president's desk for his signature.