Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Current Events: Important US Patent Law Change

For centuries the U.S. has defied the world with its First-to-Invent policy. Under the First-to-Invent policy, the U.S. awarded patents to whoever could prove they invented "it" first. This is why you kept good notebooks! To prove you invented something.

But March of 2013 this all changed. The U.S. has now aligned its policy with the rest of the world, to a First-to-File policy. This means patents are not given to those that invent first (and can prove it) but to those that file for the patent application first. A big change.

U.S. Patent office changes policy from 
First-to-Invent to First-to-File.

My Opinion on New Patent Law

This is scary for academic researchers,
who regularly share their budding research with colleagues and strangers alike at conferences. So how do you protect your work? Well, under the new First-to-File policy, you now have a year after your public disclosure to file for a patent.

A year may seem like a long time in the computer science world.  But as a former biomedical research who worked with biological models, a year is an extremely short period of time. Biological experiments that rely on animal models can move at glacial speeds.

Those darn mice just never breed when you need them to!  And if you have the misfortune of working with larger animals the breeding season may only come once a year. This can leave no time from the initial disclosure to repeat any experiments before you have to file a patent application. The result?  You need to keep your lips zipped, which hampers collaborations and funding opportunities; or risk losing your patents.

If you work with large animals that 
only breed once a year, you are at a disadvantage.
I also believe this new policy favors the "big guy". Big companies can afford to file numerous "just in case" patents. While little guys (read: academic researchers) are forced to wait until they are sure  the cost of filing a patent will be worth it. And with a growing population of patent trolls, waiting can be risky.

Awesome Patent Resource

Did you know that google has a patent search feature?  Well it does. The Google Patent search is a great, and free way, to find patents. Have fun with it.  

Did you know Google has a patent search feature?
For those unfamiliar with reading patents the important part is the claims (at the end). The claims tell you what the patent covers. The rest of the patent is background and descriptive stuff, which you may need to read to understand the claims. But the claims are the meat of the patent.

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