September marks 10 years since signing of America Invents Act

Independent inventors want to have a voice in patent and trademark legislation. They want a process that is set up to make it easier and faster to get their products to market. They don’t want patent backlogs. They want a speedier and less-expensive alternative to district court legislation. They want the ability to grow globally. They want a patent and trademark office that encourages and supports American innovators.

These were all hallmarks of the 2011 Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (AIA), which celebrates its 10th anniversary on September 16. The legislation, signed into law by then-President Obama, included some of the most significant reforms to U.S. patent law since 1836.

It was no coincidence that several independent inventors were onstage with the president and in the audience as he signed the legislation. The AIA was a collaborative effort with input from the inventors it was designed to serve.

“The AIA is a great example of getting stakeholders, the agency and Congress all in the same place on ‘What are the meaningful changes to be made to improve the system?’” Dana Colarulli, executive director of Licensing Executive Society International (LESI), said on the fifth anniversary of the law.

Final provisions of the law were the result of years of careful consideration.

“Congress did not create the AIA in a vacuum. It sought significant stakeholder input,” Lisa K. Jorgenson, deputy director general at the World Intellectual Property Organization, recalled.

“It substantially changed our patent laws affecting many stakeholders. There was a lot of discussion and debate going on about what should be included and excluded from the final version of the bill but in a way that would maintain a healthy, robust, and really well-balanced patent system.”

The AIA’s signature accomplishment was changing the United States to a first-to-file patent system instead of first to invent, which standardized it with patent systems throughout the industrialized world. This aided in consistency between the filing processes of the United States and other countries, helping domestic inventors to grow globally.

The AIA also helped put patent applications on a faster track.

It permitted the USPTO fee setting authority and, working with Congress, the ability to retain all fees collected. That budgetary control allowed the agency to collect what it needed to hire more examiners and bring state-of-the-art IT resources to the agency, helping to reduce the patent application backlog of newly filed applications by 28 percent since its all-time high in January 2009.

The Patent Trial and Appeal Board was created by the AIA in an effort to save time and money by expediting disputes on patent validity. Its processes and results have drawn some criticism. But as Joseph Matal, former counsel of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said:

“The patent system is very complicated. The AIA touched on a number of sensitive issues, and a lot of those issues are very difficult. It just takes a long time to drill through them and figure out what’s the right solution—something that’s going to work going forward and that’s fair to everyone.”

Another AIA component intended to help independent inventors keep costs down is its Patent Pro Bono Program, which provides free attorney representation to help small businesses with limited resources that need help applying for a patent on an invention.

The AIA also helped expand recruitment and outreach efforts for the USPTO through the establishment of regional offices. Among other benefits to the agency, the offices provide useful resources to inventors and entrepreneurs and foster more innovation in local communities. They are located in Dallas, Texas; Denver, Colorado; Detroit, Michigan; and San Jose, California. Further expanding on these efforts, the USPTO also recently established their Eastern Regional Outreach Office, which operates out of USPTO headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia.