Reforming the U.S. patent system is key to creating long-term job growth in the United States, President Obama said on Friday as he signed legislation enacting sweeping changes to the way patents are handled.
"These are jobs and businesses of the future, just waiting to be created,” Obama said in a speech at Thomas Jefferson High School in Alexandria, Va. "We should be making it easier and faster to turn new jobs into new ideas and new businesses."
After an introduction by a high school senior who already holds a patent for a household storage system, Obama said the new law will allow patent applications to be processed three times faster than the current average of almost three years. That will allow the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to greatly reduce the backlog of nearly 700,000 patents awaiting action, Obama said.
A tire-stacking robot and a wheelchair controlled by brain signals were a few of the students’ projects that Obama viewed before the signing ceremony.
"You guys are unbelievable ... exactly what America needs,” he told the students.
Obama used the students’ innovation and the patent legislation to argue for more government efforts to jump-start job growth in America. He cited the bipartisan support for the America Invents Act and repeated his call for Congress to pass his jobs proposal.
“I've got another bill I want to get passed to help the economy right away," Obama said. "It's called the American Jobs Act."
The bill’s sponsors, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, were on hand, as well as CEOs from Eli Lilly, DuPont, and other companies, as well as White House chief technology officer Aneesh Chopra, and David Kappos, director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
“Our outdated patent system has been a barrier to innovation, unnecessarily delaying American inventors from marketing new products and creating jobs for American workers," Smith said in a statement.
Before Obama signed the bill, Leahy leaned over and took a picture of the document that he shepherded through Congress after it had been bogged down for six years.
“The America Invents Act is a bipartisan jobs initiative at a time when we need it the most,” Leahy said. “The reforms included in this law will have a meaningful impact on American entrepreneurs and inventors for generations to come.”
"It's about turning American ingenuity into American jobs," Kappos said in a conference call with reporters on Thursday.
The new law will enact wide-ranging changes to the U.S. patent system, including a new fast-tracked application process, reducing litigation, and increasing patent quality. The law also give the patent office more resources to process patent applications, and it transitions the U.S. to a “first-to-file” patent system, under which inventors must be the first to file a patent application for a specific invention in order to receive a patent.
“America’s future will be based on the inventions stimulated by the patent system and the jobs they create,” the Coalition for 21st Century Patent Reform, which includes companies like 3M, Eli Lilly, and General Electric, said in a statement. “This new law will give inventors greater confidence in the patents they receive and give companies stronger incentives to invest in the research and development necessary to ensure that our nation maintains its leadership in innovation.”
Smaller companies were more muted in their praise. Critics say the compromise bill favored larger corporations over small businesses or individual inventors, and failed to give the patent office all the resources it needs.
The White House also announced efforts to help research institutions and universities monetize their inventions.
This article appears in the September 16, 2011 edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.