13 September 2011
On 8 September 2011, the US Senate passed a patent reform bill known as the America Invents Act. It makes some of the biggest changes to US patent law seen in the last 60 years; for one thing, it enshrines the switch from “first-to-invent” to “first-to-file”. The bill should be signed into law by President Obama this week and enter into force over the coming months. Considering the magnitude of the changes, I can well imagine the difficulties that must have faced the bill’s proponents during its passage, even if it was adopted by a large majority in the end.
In the late 18th century, the Americans set up the world’s first modern patent system – an achievement of which they can be very proud. It has been continuously improved over the years, but a gap had opened up as the world’s other patent systems evolved. That is why the US authorities have been trying to reform it, especially during the last 15 years. There may have been a variety of different reasons behind this move, but certainly one of the main ones was the need to adapt the national framework to new global economic conditions, in order to foster the country’s innovative capacity and thereby stimulate its economy. Indeed, this reform was expressly mentioned in President Obama’s recent speech on the American Jobs Act.
Turning to Europe, our own continent too has its projects, challenges and resistance to change. I recently went to Cracow in Poland to take part in a seminar organised by the Polish EU presidency. It was a great opportunity to renew my acquaintance not only with European IP specialists but also with representatives of academia and small businesses. They all had the same message: Europe urgently needs to adopt and implement the two major projects currently under discussion – the unitary patent and the European patent court.
The Polish EU presidency and the European Parliament seem keen to press on with the discussions and bring the process to a conclusion. It is high time indeed! In my view, there are no arguments for holding up these much-needed reforms. I firmly believe that Europe is primarily the result of common political will, so the onus now is on our political leaders.
For our part, the EPO as an independent technical organisation will continue actively to bring its expertise to bear wherever possible. Europe can be a powerful force when it acts in unison, so let’s hope we can show the way.