If you've recently invented (or improved) a device or process and are researching whether it may be worthwhile to seek a patent, a potential change in the federal laws governing the patent process may affect you. Read on to learn more about these changes and what you may need to do to improve the chances of a quick approval for your patent application.
What changes may be coming to the patent process?
In 2011, amid complaints of "patent trolls" (patent-holding individuals or corporations who file lawsuits to attempt to stifle the potential marketing of a new item, even if the connection to the patented item or process is only tenuous), Congress passed the "America Invents Act" (AIA). This significantly changed the patent process, giving patent rights to the "first to file," rather than the first to invent.
This meant that if someone else stole your invention or idea and filed a patent for it, they would hold all rights to profits from this patent -- even if you could prove that this person stole their patent idea from you. As a result, many small inventors could find themselves out of luck after having an invention stolen and marketed by a larger corporation with more resources to fight for the rights to your invention.
New legislation is attempting to solve some of the perceived problems with the AIA. The Protecting American Talent And Entrepreneurship Act (PATENT Act) will, among other changes, require a heightened pleading standard for those who argue patent infringement and will require those alleging infringement to provide extensive proof of infringement before a claim will be entertained.
How can these changes affect your ability to patent a device or procedure?
If you're concerned that your invention will be stolen or co-opted, it's in your best interest to file for a patent as soon as possible. Even if you'll eventually need to amend your patent application (or apply for an additional patent for another part of the process or device), having a patent on file will give you a leg up if you find yourself fighting against someone who has stolen your invention.
On the other hand, the PATENT Act will help you if you find yourself on the receiving end of a patent infringement lawsuit. While the AIA established fairly loose pleading standards for patent infringement (causing many to spend thousands in legal fees to defend against bogus claims), the PATENT Act now requires similar standards as those seen in civil court, although these are administrative (not legal) proceedings.
It may be wise to consult a patent attorney when considering filing for a patent. They can give advice about how to navigate these new patent acts.