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Judiciary committee passes US inventor protection bill

But will it improve the quality of patents? Probably not...

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The US Senate Judiciary Committee has approved the proposed American Inventors Protection Act unanimously and is passing it to the full Senate. The House of Representatives passed a similar bill in August, but unless a compromise can be agreed by both houses, it may not be approved before the recess. The Senate proposal gives 17 years of protection after a patent is granted, compared with 20 years from the filing date at present. A provision that is likely to prove very difficult is the possibility of patenting business processes, although a "first inventor defence" is included apparently to give some rights to the developer of innovative ideas, rather than to the quickest filer. It is hoped that the legislation would be successful in stamping out invention promotion problems that are, according to the American Intellectual Property Law Association, a "$200 million-a-year scam". The most worrisome provision for most American inventors is that patent applications would have to be published for all to see after 18 months, so making the system closer to the European one. In the view of Greg Aharonian, the scourge of the US PTO (patent and trademark office), the proposed legislation "will do nothing to improve the quality of issued patents" -- except perhaps to maintain the flow of fees to patents lawyers. Aharonian also comments in Patnews on the revival of asserting some of the absurd Y2K patents that were granted by the US Patent Office, without what might be described as due care and attention. One patent that is being asserted is the so-called "century windowing" whereby years expressed in a certain double-digit range (eg 00 to 39) are regarded as 2030-2039 whereas 40 to 99 are regarded as 20th century. Amazingly, this common-sense approach was thought by patent examiners to be worthy of US patent 5,806,063. 'Inventor' Bruce Dickens is trying to get $50,000 licence fees and royalties of $1000/month for those who have used software incorporating this idea. Aharonian reported on the change from WordPerfect-based ActionWriter to MS Word-based OACS (Office Action Correspondence Subsystem) that is taking place at the PTO. One examiner wanted a CD drive for storage, since the WordPerfect-based product required about one floppy a month for backup, whereas the Word-based product needs around 100 floppies a month for the same work load. It's unlikely that the request will be granted, since the situation is so bad that only PTO supervisors may have a three-holed punch. As a result of Aharonian's many revelations, the PTO public relations office has even spent time dreaming up insulting ways to refer to him to the press (his favourite is 'Greg Erroneous'). He sounds like a Register kind of guy. ®

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