Patent Reform Bill Receives Final Approval In Congress, Will Help Spur Innovation, Create Jobs in Colorado

Includes Bennet and Udall Measure for New Patent Satellite Offices

Washington, DC – Colorado U.S. Senators Michael Bennet and Mark Udall today applauded final passage of the America Invents Act, a bill that will create jobs, promote innovation and improve our ability to compete economically with countries across the globe. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 89 to 9 and, having passed the House in June, will be sent to the President for his signature into law.

The America Invents Act includes several Bennet-led measures to make the patent process more effective and affordable for small entities; create satellite U.S. Patent and Trademark Offices (USPTO) as a means to relieve the logjam of patents awaiting approval; and to make patent litigation less imposing and more predictable for our innovators.  

“Colorado has abundant creativity and entrepreneurial spirit, but our current patent process has become a barrier to new inventions, new businesses and new jobs,” said Bennet. “Making the U.S. patent process more efficient and decreasing patent costs will help spur our economy, encourage innovation and create high-paying jobs here at home. Now our patent process will be a catalyst for innovative minds and help our entrepreneurs thrive.”

On his amendment to create satellite U.S. Patent and Trademark offices, Bennet said, “Patent offices should be great resources for innovators and inventors, not a place where new ideas go to languish. More patent offices will give us the means to speed up and streamline the process and unleash a new wave of innovation that creates jobs and grows our economy. We can’t expect to compete with the rest of the world if we don’t have the infrastructure necessary to support the inventors and entrepreneurs who will help create the jobs of tomorrow.  As a gateway of the West, Colorado is an ideal location for a new office.  It is perfectly situated to connect innovators and businesses across the country.”

Udall, who cosponsored the satellite office amendment, said, “A satellite patent office in Denver would put to good use our skilled workforce and create immediate jobs that ripple out into our communities,” Udall said. “It would also put our state on the map as a hub for entrepreneurship and attract the start-up companies and quality researchers who further spur job growth in our state."

Earlier this year, Bennet and Udall sent President Obama a letter expressing their support for multiple satellite offices and calling for a new Western satellite office in Denver, which would provide a boost to industries already based in Colorado that are dependent on the patent process, as well as create patent examiner positions and other good paying jobs in Denver.

The USPTO currently has 1.2 million patent applications pending and more than 700,000 of these have not yet been provided even a preliminary evaluation.  The patent approval process now averages 36 months and can sometimes go as a long as a decade if a patent is disputed. 

Also, the USPTO has significant recruitment and retention issues, as it is unable to hire and retain over 6,000 examiners at its single location.  This has resulted in a third of patent examiners having been with the USPTO for less than three years.  New patent examiners require five years of training and supervision needed to meet proficiency and quality goals.  The lack of proficiency expertise coupled with outdated technology at USPTO has led to significant structural problems that inhibit the ability of the PTO to review patents.

A number of Colorado industries are heavily reliant on the patent system.  This includes large biomedical and technology corporations, as well as smaller entities and start-ups that are driving the clean energy industry.  In 2009, 1,716 patents were granted to applicants based in Colorado.  This figure does not include those applications where Coloradans were involved in developing the concept, but the application was ultimately filed from a separate corporate headquarters. 

Earlier this year, Bennet spoke on the floor urging the Senate to pass patent reform.  For a video of his speech, click here

The America Invents Act is the product of six years of consideration in Congress and would make the first significant reforms to the nation’s patent system in nearly 60 years.  Enactment of this legislation will bolster economic development, sustain American innovation, and protect American jobs.  Through a number of reforms, this bill will streamline the application process, establish new rules to protect inventors and eliminate unworthy patents, and create consistency for all applicants and patent owners in the application and litigation processes.

Highlights of the America Invents Act:

  • Transitions the U.S. to a first-inventor-to-file system in order to simplify the application system and bring it in line with international trading partners;
  • Establishes the opportunity for third parties to submit information related to a pending patent application for consideration by a patent examiner;
  • Creates a supplemental examination process to incentivize patent owners to commercialize their invention;
  • Improves administrative obstacles for individuals and small businesses to protect their inventions by providing a meaningful alternative to litigation in the patent challenge system;
  • Prohibits patents on tax strategies, which often lead to additional fees on taxpayers who are simply complying with the tax laws

Bennet successfully fought to include several amendments that will improve the bill for Colorado, including:

Establishing Regional Satellite Patent Offices

Bennet, along with Senator Mark Udall, led an amendment that empowers the Director of the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to create three or more additional regional satellite offices across the country over the next three years. Regional offices would draw local scientists, engineers and patent attorneys into the USPTO, which add real-world expertise to the patent review process.  New satellite offices would also improve outreach activities and connection to patent filers; enhance the ability of the USPTO to recruit and retain patent examiners; and reduce the duration of patent applications.  

Making Patent Process More Affordable for Small Entities

In a bid to help small businesses get innovative technologies to market more quickly, Bennet authored an amendment, with Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire that would give the USPTO the authority to provide a 50% discount for small entities to participate in its expedited patent examination program (Track I).  This fast track program for examination will make it easier for Colorado inventors and entrepreneurs to secure capital and create high-paying jobs.  Under Bennet’s amendment, which comes at no cost to taxpayers, the most valuable patents produced by small inventors and entrepreneurs will enter the market at a faster rate, which will help them secure investment money more quickly and create high-paying jobs in Colorado and across the country.

Track I is a part of the USPTO’s new accelerated program for patent review announced earlier this month.  Track I will give applicants the opportunity for prioritized examination of a patent within 12 months of its filing date for a proposed fee of $4,000.  In its budget request, the USPTO estimates that there will be 6,500 filers filing under Track I this year.  According to the USPTO, 1,800 applications for Track I will come from small entities. 

Allowing the Courts to Continue Recent Progress in Removing Uncertainty in Patent Litigation

Another Bennet amendment strikes language in the bill on damages and venue, which would have created uncertainty for those involved in patent infringement lawsuits.  This amendment supports the progress that has been made by the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals in clarifying the law on damages and venue.  The federal courts are moving in the right direction and the Bennet amendment seeks to allow this process to run its course rather than add a new layer of laws that could only serve to confuse patent litigants.  The Bennet amendment on damages and venue was cosponsored by Senators Scott Brown of Massachusetts, James Risch of Idaho, Mike Crapo of Idaho, Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico and Christopher Coons of Delaware.

Providing a Fast-Track Process for Patents Important to National Competitiveness

Bennet joined Senator Robert Menendez to cosponsor an amendment to help prioritize patents for cutting-edge technology important to national competitiveness.  The amendment allows the Patent Office to process patents of vital national economic importance, such as green technology and energy efficiency patents, more quickly.  Currently, the Patent Office has a program to expedite green technology patents, and this amendment would allow them to expand that program to include all technologies of vital importance to the country’s economy.