Have an invention you want to patent, or are you about to file a patent application? Change may be in the works at the USPTO.
Today, the Senate reached a “tentative agreement” over a patent reform bill that has been working its way through Congress. The bill would change a number of things in patent law, many of which don’t affect the way you think about patents now. However, one major change concerns the system we have in the US that awards a patent only to the person who invented it first. This change attempts to bring the US more in line with the rest of the world, where the inventor who files the application first is awarded the patent.
The Patent Office calls the proposal a “First Inventor to File” system, where the first person who files an application and who is also truly an inventor is awarded the patent. While the bill does modify the law to only give a patent to the inventor who filed first, there is also a provision that allows an inventor who files second to claim that the inventor who filed first effectively stole from him.
What does this mean to you? At present, nothing. But if this law passes before you file a patent application, it may have significance: an unscrupulous manufacturer, for example, to whom you send design drawings could try to beat you to the Patent Office and claim they invented your product. Then, you would have to file your own patent application and argue it was derived or taken from you. No fun.