White House Lays Out Ideas to Reform Patent System

The Obama Administration held a press conference today detailing how it wants to reform the U.S. patent system, with one key ingredient being crowd-sourcing. Michelle Lee, director of the Silicon Valley branch of the US Patent and Trademark Office, was one of the key speakers at a White House patent event today.

She laid out plans to reform the patent system and to deal with so-called patent trolls. President Obama said last June that the patent system need to be reformed and something needed to be done about the drain that so-called patent trolls put on America's industries and its citizens. The president reiterated this briefly in his State of the Union address in January. Now the Administration is offering more details.

"I don't think we felt like we had a choice but to take action on the issue of patent trolls," said Obama economic adviser Gene Sperling at today's event. "What we were seeing wasn't a trend upward [in patent threats], it was a hockey stick."

Sperling hopes that this issue will be an issue that finds bipartisan compromise and that a bill would make it to the president's desk quickly. Dubbed the "Innovation Act," the patent reform proposal contains fee-shifting and customer protection measures for patent lawsuits, and a crowd-sourcing model that would allow the general public and industry experts to help review pending patent applications before they get approval. The House passed the bill last year.

Two pilot programs that allowed the public to submit prior art were only applied to a tiny number of patents, and in one of those programs, all the patents were voluntarily submitted by the applicants. Applying that measure to hundreds of thousands of patent applications each year could prove to be problematic. Ars Technica points out that the typical patent application is reviewed by an examiner for an average of 18 hours, and an examiner can't say "no" to an application in the traditional sense; they can reject it but the applicant can amend and tweak the application as many times as they like and resubmit it.

The other new initiatives involve increasing training for examiners and providing more pro bono legal assistance for inventors, as well as help for "pro se" applicants without a lawyer.

Other USPTO proposals include a rule that would require patent owners to provide accurate ownership information to the office when patents are granted and when a patent gets involved in USPTO proceedings after it's granted (which would force patent houses and so-called patent trolls to disclose just who really owns the patent); a training program to help examiners "rigorously examine so-called 'functional claims' to ensure claims are clear and can be consistently enforced"; and a review of the standards used when the International Trade Commission issues exclusion orders.

Source: Ars Technica

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