What You Should Know About the New Patent Law

Last Updated Sep 26, 2011 2:56 PM EDT

Businesses and inventors have been clamoring for reform in U.S. patent law for decades. A plague of abuses -- patent trolling, to name one -- have seriously hurt innovation. Fortunately, the recently signed America Invents Act overhauls parts of our patent law. Some things have improved; others haven't. Thanks to a summary of the law on PC World, here's what you need to know about our new patent infrastructure.

First, the good news. Here are three positive changes to U.S. patent law:

1. First to File. Traditionally, the U.S. awarded patents to the party that could prove -- through long, expensive, and protracted legal battles -- it was the first to invent something. Now, that honor goes to whoever files for the patent first. It's simpler, cleaner, and more in line with patent law in Europe and Asia.

2. Micro-Entity Status. If you're a small business or individual with fewer than five previous patents, you might be able to qualify for a new status that saves you about 75 percent of the patent filing fees.

3. New Post-Review Process. The last bit of good news is that, thanks to a new post-review process, it's far easier to challenge bad patents. To be clear, the process is still arcane and there are narrow restrictions on how and when these patents can be challenged. But it's a step in the right direction.

And here are a couple of things that haven't improved:

1. Patent trolling is still alive and well. The new act does not limit the damages that can be sought in a patent lawsuit, and it doesn't do anything to disarm companies like Lodsys which make their living by suing over patent cases.

2. Forum shopping is also alive and well. Look for the lion's share of patent cases to continue to be heard in patent-friendly courts like the Eastern District of Texas, since the law does nothing to limit patent trolls from shopping their cases around to find the best judges and venues.

Want to read the actual legislation? You can find it on the OpenCongress website.

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