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U.S. Patent Reform Survives a Shakedown in the House

A plan to make sweeping changes in the U.S. patent system passed the House of Representatives this afternoon by a vote of 304-117. The bill initially ran into trouble when House appropriations chiefs objected to its funding provisions, but backers came up with a compromise that enabled it to reach the House floor for a vote. Its approval improves the chances that Congress will approve patent reform legislation this year.

The Senate passed similar legislation in March, although its bill differs in many details. One dramatic change in both bills would shift the United States from a system that gives a patent to the person who is the first to conceive of an invention to a system that rewards the person who is first to file a successful patent application. Advocates say the change would simplify procedures and reduce litigation.

Republicans and Democrats voted for a compromise plan put forward by Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), chair of the House Judiciary Committee. It replaced his own committee's earlier bill, the America Invents Act (H.R. 1249), which would have fenced off part of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's budget. The aim of the earlier bill was to give the patent office more control over the fees it collects—and some fiscal stability. In the past, Congress has siphoned off fee revenues for other purposes, leaving the patent office short. Some argue that this is one reason why patent reviews take a long time—about 3 years, on average.

But leaders of the House Appropriations Committee complained that the America Invents Act would have infringed on their legal right to control the federal budget. The compromise proposed by Representative Smith, now approved by the House, would create a special fund to receive and manage patent fees; the fund would be dedicated to patent office work but would still be overseen by Congress.

Representative Smith issued a statement after the vote saying, "After 6 years of working towards patent reform, we are near the finish line."

This item has been corrected to reflect the final House vote.