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US agrees overhaul of patent system

The US House of Representatives pass an update to the process for granting exclusive rights to inventors

On 7 September, the US House of Representatives passed an update to the process for granting exclusive rights to inventors.

Supporters said the legislation, which was approved by 220 votes to 175, would identify questionable patents and deter lawsuits which threatened US innovation.

The new bill would allow experts in a specific field for the first time to submit their views about pending patents before they were granted. The measure also sets up a new procedure for reviewing patents after they are granted as an alternative to legal action.

While IT companies, whose products change rapidly, supported the changes, pharma and biotech companies which depend on strong patent protections to justify their investment in the risk intensive and long-term drug development process, say that the system has served the country well for more than two centuries.

The bill's development was prompted by recent increases in patent applications, which has overwhelmed the US Patent and Trademark Office, slowing down the process considerably.

The Bush regime opposes some provisions of the legislation, particularly the proposal which would allow courts to calculate damages based on the value a patented component brings to a product, rather than on the product's entire value. The legislation also limits the ability of lawyers to file patent suits in locations which are unconnected to the case, but whose courts previously have awarded positive verdicts.

The bill will make it harder to prove that a patent was intentionally infringed, a designation that triples the damages awarded. Instead of awarding patents to the person who invents something first, which can be difficult to determine, the legislation follows the standard in most other countries and awards patents to the first person to file an application.

30th September 2008

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