USPTO SealOn Friday (June 24, 2011), the U.S. House of Representatives passed the ‘America Invents Act,’  a version of which already has passed the U.S. Senate.  The Senate and House bills now will move to a conference committee to iron out the differences between the two versions.  The ‘America Invents Act’ soon will become law and will be profoundly important for all U.S. inventors.  In general, the Act was supported by frequent infringement defendants and those who do not wish to be troubled by other people’s patents.  In general, the Act was opposed by individual and small business inventors and those whose who believe that American innovation is built on a strong patent system.

The major difference between the House and Senate versions relates to ‘fee diversion.’  For the last several years, Congress has taken monies paid by patent applicants and patent owners and used those monies to fund other programs.  As a result, the Patent and Trademark Office is starved for resources.  The funding shortfall at the PTO results in shortages of personnel and infrastructure, causing long review times for patent applicants.  The Act as passed by the Senate would end ‘fee diversion’ and ensured that fees collected by the PTO would be available to the PTO.  House committee leaders objected that dedicated funding would largely remove the PTO from House budget oversight.  The debate took on partisan overtones, with some Republican leaders arguing that the end of fee diversion would hand a Democratic administration a blank check.

Fee diversion is important, but is much less important to inventors than the other provisions of the Act.  The ‘America Invents Act’ will change fundamentally how inventors protect their inventions.  Stay tuned for further developments.

— Robert Yarbrough, Esq.