The US Senate [official website] Thursday voted 89-9 to approve legislation [roll call vote] to amend the US patent system for the first time since 1952. The America Invents Act [HR 1249 materials], sponsored by Congressman Lamar Smith (R) [official website], proposes significant changes to the current US patent system. One of these would result in the conversion from a system of "first to invent" to a system of "first to file", a change which Congress supports because of its belief that it will "promote the progress of science" as well as promote the "harmonization" of the US patent system with those used in nearly all other countries. Additionally, the Act would alter the way funds are allocated to the Patent Office and the way patents that are granted, but later contested, are handled in an attempt to cut down on costly legal disputes. The US House of Representatives [official website] approved the bill [JURIST report] in June. The bill will proceed to President Barack Obama, who has indicated that he will sign it into law [CNN report].
There have been several significant legal decisions in patent law in the last few months. In June, the US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] unanimously ruled against Microsoft [corporate website], holding that a patent will be invalidated only if the challenging party meets the "clear and convincing evidence" standard [JURIST report]. The court also held in a separate decision [JURIST report] that the Bayh-Doyle Act [35 USC §§ 200-212], which vests patent rights to universities for inventions from federally funded research, did not give Stanford University [academic website] superior rights to the invention of its employee and thus, the employee could transfer his invention rights to a third party. In May, the Supreme Court ruled that induced patent infringement requires knowledge [JURIST report] that the induced acts constitute patent infringement. Also in May, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit [official website] restricted the use of the "inequitable conduct" defense [JURIST report] for invalidating patents.