- - Tuesday, March 8, 2011


Patent-reform bill wins on 95-5 vote

The nation’s 1950s patent system, which has forced innovators and inventors to wait years and outlast challenges and lawsuits before getting recognition for their products, would be overhauled under a measure passed Tuesday by the Senate.

The legislation, which was approved 95-5, transforms a patent system now operating under a law passed in 1952, at a time when the high-tech revolution was still in the future and international competition was still negligible. It now moves to the House.

President Obama said he looked forward to signing into law “the most significant patent reform in over half a century” to increase economic growth and create jobs.

The bill’s most substantial change would be to switch the United States to a “first-inventor-to-file” system for patent applications used by all other industrialized countries, rather than the current “first-to-invent” system. Supporters say the first-to-file system would put American innovators on the same page as their overseas competitors, making the process simpler, more certain and less expensive.

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, said disputes over who invented a product can cost $500,000 in legal fees. The new system lets an inventor pay $100 for a provisional application to protect his invention. To meet the concerns of independent inventors and small businesses that first-to-file would aid corporations with the resources to file quickly and often, the bill gives a one-year grace period to protect academics and inventors who disclose their inventions before filing.

Patent office director David Kappos said first-to-file was “a win for all American innovators, of all sizes and all industries.”


Underwater mortgages rise as home prices fall

The number of Americans who owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth rose at the end of last year, preventing many people from selling their homes in an already weak housing market.

CoreLogic said about 11.1 million households, or 23.1 percent of all mortgaged homes, were underwater in the October to December quarter. That’s up from 22.5 percent, or 10.8 million households, in the July to September quarter.

The number of underwater mortgages had fallen in the previous three quarters, but that was mostly because more homes had fallen into foreclosure.

Underwater mortgages typically rise when home prices fall. Home prices in December hit their lowest point since the housing bust in 11 of 20 major U.S. metro areas. In a healthy housing market, about 5 percent of homeowners are underwater.


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