Heading Toward the Finish Line

On July 4, the U.S. will mark two big anniversaries. One you already know: 235 years of independence.

The second is a little more obscure, but certainly important to anyone who cares about intellectual property in our country: it will be 175 years since the Patent Act of 1836 was signed into law. And while the Act certainly has served us well for more than 17 decades, a dose of modernization is in order. Innovation has advanced. It's become more competitive. And, importantly, innovation means jobs. Hundreds of thousands of patent applications are backlogged at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Other patent applications have been clouded by ambiguity.

We are inching closer to big changes, however. The U.S. House of Representatives is working on patent reform legislation that would modernize our intellectual property laws for the first time since 1836. Debate in the House follows overwhelming support for patent reform last March in the Senate. If the two chambers eventually agree on language, innovators will follow an updated series of laws -- including, we hope, a provision called "first-to-file" that would require a patent be awarded to the first successful filer. The provision would replace the current "first-to-invent" law, a provision frought with ambiguity about the rightful patent owner of a new innovation.

Public interest has increased over the last few days. As reported Tuesday in The Hill, a large group of university professors earlier this week sent a letter to Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) underscoring the constitutionality of the "first-to-file" provision. And two Congressmen -- including Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-Indiana) -- sent a letter to House colleagues encouraging their support of the bill. On Tuesday, several Indiana organizations (including Lilly, Cummins, BioCrossroads, and Indiana University) sent a letter to Rep. Mike Pence (R-Indiana) encouraging his support of the bill, including a provision that would end fee-diversion from the self-funded office -- thereby, addressing the 700,000 applications in waiting.

The patent reform debate has experienced fits and starts for the last six years. Never before have we been this close. By securing the fees with the Patent and Trademark Office, and clarifying patent ownership with a "first-to-file" system, jobs will be created and innovations enhanced. Stay tuned.