Patent Law Reform and Government Contracts
Patent rights and protection of the invention for small business has always been a topic of discussion. Questions such as "who has the patent rights", "What does an unrestricted license to the government mean" to "When should I file and how much will it cost me" are constantly on the minds of small businesses, especially those who do product development partially or wholly funded by government grants. There is currently a bill in the house (H.R. 1260/S.515) which proposes significant change to the US patent law. Currently the rights are associated with establishing which applicant actually invented the claimed invention first. Most of the rest of the world, however, was operating under the "first-inventor- to-file" system. The new bill will more closely align the US law with international norms. The Small Business Administration, Office of Advocacy invited many small businesses, patent attorneys that work traditionally with small business and venture capitalists that typically fund technology driven small businesses to a round table in May to voice opinions of the proposed new law. There is definitely a feeling in this group that the law could penalize small businesses, many of which don't have the money to file the patent early. It was also believed that the new regulation would increase the number of filings as well as limit the current method of raising capital that involved limited disclosure during the invention process (but this is prior to the patent filing). There was a proposed compromise from the round table group that involved moving to a "first-inventor-to-file" system while retaining the current "grace period" that is part of the current system. Personally I think we need to make it easier for the small business to obtain a patent, not more difficult. We should not penalize small business. Compromises like those proposed at the SBA's round table meeting will be needed to make sure the interests of small business are maintained. I suggest voicing your opinion on this topic.