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Patent Reform, Take II

A bipartisan group today revived a plan to streamline and overhaul the U.S. patent process. Members of the House of Representatives and the Senate introduced matched bills to push the U.S. system toward a patent rationale used elsewhere in Europe—giving priority to the person who is first to file a claim of invention rather than to the one who argues successfully that he or she was the first to make the invention. The reason: It’s easier and cleaner to determine priority in filing than priority in discovery.

The would-be reformers include senators Patrick Leahy (D–VT) and Orrin Hatch (R–UT) and representatives John Conyers (D–MI) and Lamar Smith (R–TX). Their effort—which they claim is the first major attempt to fix the system in 50 years—got mired in a debate last year over how to assess penalties for breaking the rules and died. The reform also got bogged down in the competing interests of the drug and electronics industries. The first hearing on the 2009 version of patent reform will take place in the Senate Judiciary committee on 10 March.