President Barack Obama said a law overhauling the U.S. patent system will clear the way for inventors and entrepreneurs to attract investment and create jobs, making the U.S. more competitive.
“We should be making it easier to turn new ideas into new jobs and into new businesses,” Obama said today before signing the legislation at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Virginia.
Obama, who is confronting opposition from congressional Republicans on his latest jobs package, has repeatedly cited the revamping of the patent law as an example of bipartisan action on measures to boost the economy. He also used the occasion to promote the $447 billion proposal he unveiled last week, saying it’s a needed response to a short-term economic crisis.
“This bill answers the urgent need to create jobs right away,” Obama said.
The patent law will help generate growth over the long- term, he said. The measure gives the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office more control over its funding and makes fundamental changes in how patents are processed and reviewed. It passed the House in June and won final approval Sept. 9 on an 89-9 vote in the Senate.
The patent office, which is funded entirely by user fees, will be able to set its own fees, with any money in excess of the budgeted amount going to a fund that can only be used by the agency. The office plans to hire as many as 2,000 more examiners in the coming fiscal year, revamp an outdated information technology system and open satellite offices across the country to tap into local workforces.
The goal is to address a backlog of almost 700,000 applications awaiting first review and decrease the average 34 months it takes to issue a patent. Reducing the time it takes to give inventions legal protection will speed new products to the market, helping economic growth, according to the bill’s supporters.
The Washington suburb where Obama signed the legislation is home to the patent office headquarters and the school where it took place is named for the third U.S. president who, as secretary of state under George Washington, signed the nation’s first patent law in 1790.
The signing ceremony combined several of Obama’s economic themes: innovation, public-private partnerships and education. The public school’s curriculum is developed with input from business and industry and admission is competitive. To graduate, students must complete an original engineering or experimental research project.
“I could not be more impressed by what you guys are doing,” Obama told students.
The president also announced new programs to promote the commercial use of work done by scientists at universities and government research labs. The National Institutes of Health will help companies cut the time and cost for developing new drugs and the National Science Foundation will establish a prize to reward the university that makes the most progress in accelerating job growth.
The patent office already has been working to speed up the application process, including giving green technology fast- track reviews. DuPont Co., the Wilmington, Delaware-based chemical company, used the program to obtain patents on biofuels, said DuPont Chief Executive Ellen Kullman, who is a member of the president’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.
“Pace is really critical here,” she said. “If you can get the pace of the patents going, you can accelerate the pilot launch; you can accelerate the production.”
The legislation is the culmination of more than a decade of discussions and six years of negotiations and lobbying by every industry. It covers each step of the patent process, setting new procedures to review issued patents while curtailing some litigation. It has the support of companies including Microsoft Corp. (MSFT), International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) and a group that represents Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), Eli Lilly & Co. (LLY), 3M Co. (MMM) and General Electric Co. (GE)
Some small business have criticized the legislation as giving big companies an unfair advantage in obtaining patents and creating new hurdles to enforcing patent rights against companies that copy inventions without compensation.
Supporters have expressed reservation on the funding issue, saying it doesn’t go far enough to protect the patent office from having funds siphoned off to other priorities. Congress has diverted almost $1 billion from the agency since a 1990 law required the patent office to pay for itself.