Public service announcement: starting today, as per the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act, the United States has switched from a ‘first to invent’ system to a ‘first to file.’
In short, it doesn’t matter if someone thought up your idea a week before you and has a single scribbled note on paper proving so, if you are the first person to file for a patent, it’s all yours. Before, whomever could prove that they had thought something up first could depend in legal primacy regarding intellectual property protection.
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The move brings the United States into better keeping with the international community. As Wired noted yesterday, on the eve of of the switch of patent systems, “[s]upporters of the law say that, in addition to aligning U.S. law with the rest of the world, the act will speed up patent review and cut down on the backlog of applications.”
Component to the American Invents Act is a legal category called a ‘micro-entity.’ A micro-entity allows that a small company with a gross income of under 300 percent of the national media income, and has less than four patents, will pay a 75 percent reduced fee to the patent office. It’s a provision for the little guy, in short.
The effects of switching up the US patent system to first-to-file won’t be felt for some time, as the economic impacts of such a switch will take quite a while to be understood. That said, in my view it seems quite fair that simply thinking up an idea and doing nothing with it doesn’t grant an individual unending rights to it.
Get thee to a patent office, or surrender your intellectual property. With the reduced prices for the small entity, there is no excuse.
Update: It turns out my understanding of prior art was a bit off, so the headline on this story is a touch wrong. As Luke Chamberlin noted via email, prior art is material that was or is in fact publicly available. He went on to point out that “‘First to invent’ claims on the other hand are often based on material that is *not publicly available*.” This is in fact a key distinction. In short, with the new system, if you have prior art, but were not first to file, you will retain, and I quote Luke again “protection.” Sorry for the mixup.
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