- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 8, 2011

Congress gave President Obama’s drive to promote jobs growth a boost Thursday by presenting him with a major overhaul of the patent system that the president has sought as a means to spur innovation and put more people back to work.

The Senate voted 89-9 to pass the patent bill and send it to Mr. Obama for his signature. The vote came a little more than an hour before Mr. Obama’s speech to a joint session of Congress on his jobs agenda and gave some evidence that lawmakers can, in an age of political division, occasionally find common ground.

The first major change in patent law in six decades is aimed at streamlining the patent process, reducing costly legal battles and giving the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office the money it needs to process patent applications in a timely fashion.

With passage, said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, “we could unleash the genius of our country and put our entrepreneur class to work and create jobs. It can let us compete with the rest of the world.”

The bill, he added, “is an opportunity to show the American people that Democrats and Republicans can come together to enact meaningful legislation for the American people.”

Mr. Leahy’s partner on the bill, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, Texas Republican, said it was the most significant change to patent law since the Patent Act of 1836 and hailed it as “one of the most significant jobs-creation bills enacted by Congress this year.”

Mr. Obama has urged Congress to send him what he has called “the most significant patent reform in over half a century.” The legislation, which transforms a patent system now operating on legislation passed in 1952, passed the Senate in March and the House in June in a slightly different form. Thursday’s Senate vote accepted the House version.

It wasn’t easy. Congress has debated a patent bill every year over the past six years and, before final passage, the Senate had to defeat three proposed amendments that would have forced the bill to return to the House and increased prospects of another deadlock.

The measure would switch the United States from the “first-to-invent” system to the “first-inventor-to-file” system for patent applications. That change would put the U.S. in line with other industrialized countries.

The proposal has met resistance from some small-scale and independent inventors who say it will put them at a disadvantage with big corporations. Supporters say it will add certainty to a system now riddled by costly lawsuits.

With rivals having to rely on their own secret documents to prove they were the first inventor, it becomes difficult to “gain a clear picture of whether a patent is valid without years of litigation” and millions of dollars of discovery and other litigation costs, said Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican.

The bill would ensure that the patent office has the money to expedite the application process. It now takes an average of three years to get a patent approved. The agency has a backlog of 1.2 million pending patents. More than 700,000 have yet to be reviewed.