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US moves forward … Europe’s turn next?

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.

Benoît Battistelli
President

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Categories: Patents

3 comments on US moves forward … Europe’s turn next?

  1. Gary Lauder says:

    The USA made a mistake by changing its laws to FTF. It would be better for Europe and the USA to switch back to FTI. The European patent system does not work for small companies, and is therefore partly responsible for 10X more venture capital and angel capital invested per capita in the USA than in Europe. See:
    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-05-09/smeia-red-hat-google-adidas-pepsico-intellectual-property.html
    European study published in 2009: "Lost property: The European patent system and why it doesn’t work."
    http://www.bruegel.org/publications/publication-detail/publication/312-lost-property-the-european-patent-system-and-why-it-doesnt-work
    and my article: http://finance.fortune.cnn.com/2011/09/02/how-the-new-bid-to-reform-patent-law-will-kill-jobs

    -GML

  2. I guess that there will always be pro’s and con’s for both systems.

    Fact is that the US was the only large country using the FTI system. Now with this reform patent procedures have become more the same, which only improves predictablity and clarity of a patent procedure.

  3. Gerhard Woweries says:

    Das FTF Prinzip trägt, in vollkommener Weise, der Tatsache Rechnung, dass ein Patent für eine offengelegte Erfindung erteilt wird und nicht für die Erfindung als solche. Das FTI- Prinzip knüpft demgegenüber bekanntlich an den Zeitpunkt der Erfindung an, der nur unzureichend festlegbar ist und regelmäßig Handlungen betrifft die im nicht-öffentlichen Bereich stattfinden. Letztendlich wurde mit dem FTI-Prinzip versucht Probleme der Urheberschaft an einer Erfindung mit dem Patentrecht im Patentverfahren zu lösen. Es ist sehr lobenswert, dass solche Fragen konsequent aus dem Europäischen Verfahren ausgeklammert wurden (Vindikation/ Nationales deutsches Verfahren!).

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