Leahy column marking 5th anniv. of Leahy-Smith patent reforms

A Modern Patent System Helps Energize Vermont’s Economy, And The Nation’s

By Patrick Leahy

Five years ago, in front of an audience of school-aged inventors, President Obama signed into law the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act. That law contained the most extensive reforms of the U.S. patent system in 60 years, creating the foundation for an innovative patent system for the 21st Century. As we commemorate this legislative feat, six years in the making, it is important to reflect on how the America Invents Act has changed our patent system, and to look ahead to the work still to be done.

The story of innovation in Vermont is truly the American story. The first government-issued patent was granted by Thomas Jefferson, signed by George Washington, and given to Samuel Hopkins, from Pittsford, Vermont. Since that first patent was issued in 1790, Vermont inventors and small businesses have been taking chances on new ideas and changing the lives of Americans in the process. American innovation and creativity are vital engines of our economy, in the Green Mountain State, and across the land. Vermont has been at the top of the list of patents filed per-capita, among all the states.

While our nation’s Founders recognized the importance of promoting innovation in the Constitution, for too long our patent system — unlike the inventors who used it — remained stagnant. That’s why I set out a decade ago to work with Democrats and Republicans to begin drafting the America Invents Act. Like a determined inventor looking to achieve their vision, we worked together to update the patent system for the modern era.

The result was the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act, a new law enacted in 2011to improve patent quality and make our patent system even more competitive on the global stage. By giving the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) much-needed tools, including more control over the fees it collects, the America Invents Act ensures that high quality patents are issued by the PTO. The America Invents Act also corrected an anomaly of the U.S. patent system, harmonizing it with the rest of the world. Our system now grants patents to the first inventor to file an application, ensuring that American innovators are not at a competitive disadvantage in the global economy.

Enactment of the America Invents Act was more than a victory for American inventors; it was a demonstration that Congress could still work in a bipartisan, bicameral matter. It showed what we can achieve when we put aside rhetoric and negotiate in good faith. We held countless bipartisan, bicameral meetings, briefings, and discussions with all interested parties, over the span of multiple Congresses. We never gave up. The six-year process that resulted in enactment of this important law is one of which we can all be proud. In an increasingly partisan Congress, I embraced the opportunity to lead a legislative process that was, from start to finish, both bipartisan and bicameral. It is only in that spirit that we can continue to make progress that will support innovation for the next generation and beyond.

I have continued to work across the aisle to improve the patent system. Despite important reforms in the America Invents Act, there are too many bad actors misusing the system to target others and stifle innovation. Abusive conduct in our patent system is a threat to America’s innovation economy. It costs Vermont businesses and consumers billions of dollars each year. So I have continued to work over the last two Congresses to advance new legislation to curb abusive patent litigation.

The bipartisan Protecting American Talent and Entrepreneurship Act (PATENT Act), which I coauthored, would make necessary and commonsense reforms to curb abuses within the patent system. The bill would take concrete steps to deter abusive conduct and promote efficiency in the patent system, while preserving the strength of our patent laws that have made the United States one of the most dynamic and innovative countries in the world. While the bill has bipartisan support, Senate Republican leaders have decided not to bring it to the Senate floor for consideration and a vote. But the problems of abusive behavior are not going away, and I remain committed to working on these issues.

Our position as the leader of the world’s economy depends on the innovation of our most creative Americans. We need a streamlined, efficient patent system that produces high quality patents and limits counterproductive litigation. The Leahy-Smith America Invents Act made great strides to realize that goal five years ago and we must continue to build on that legacy in the years to come.

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[Patrick Leahy (D) represents Vermont in the U.S. Senate and is the author and Senate sponsor of the 2011 law that reformed and updated U.S. patent law, the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act.]

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