Coats & Bennett, Campbell University Law School, and Business Forward recently hosted a program featuring Dr. Stuart Graham and Janet Gongola from the US Patent and Trademark Office. The program featured presentations from both regarding the patent system and implementation of the America Invents Acts (AIA).

Dr. Stuart Graham, the Chief Economist of the Patent Office, spoke on innovation being a large driver in the health and growth of the US economy, with as much as 75% of the economic growth since WWII being attributable to innovation. The role of the Patent Office is to provide incentives for innovation to continue the economic growth, and provide jobs in the various innovation-laden technical fields.

To assist innovators and the innovation system, the Patent Office is implementing changes to the patent system. These changes focus on improving the examination process for filed patent applications through an updated examiner incentive system, better interfacing opportunities between patent applicants and examiners, and reform of the examination criteria. Further changes include a three-track examination system in which patent applicants can choose the timing of their examination (prioritized examination, normal examination, and delayed examination). The Patent Office is also opening regional satellite offices in Detroit, Denver, Dallas, and Silicon Valley to provide better geographic diversity. Multiple other changes have been and are in the process of being implemented as a result of the AIA.

Janet Gongola is the Patent Reform Coordinator for the Patent Office and responsible for implementing the procedural changes required for enactment of the AIA. Ms. Gongola summarized these changes as providing improvements in three separate aspects of the current system: giving certainty to patent rights sooner; removing/preventing poor quality patents; and building a 21st century patent system.

Giving certainty to patent rights sooner will be improved by changing from the current first-to-invent system to a first-to-file system. Another major change is the new supplemental examination procedures which strive to immunize an issued patent against allegations of inequitable conduct for the failure to disclose prior art during the examination process.

Changes to remove/prevent poor quality patents will include the option for third parties to submit to the Patent Office prior art that could affect the patentability of a claimed invention pending in a patent application. This new submission process will give examiners better prior art to provide for a better examination. New changes also include administrative trials that allow for post grant review and inter partes review available for certain time periods after issuance of a patent.

Efforts to build a long-term patent system include a new fee setting authority that authorizes the Patent Office to set or adjust patent fees. This will accelerate the reduction in the backlog of unexamined patent applications and reduce patent application pendency, realign the fee structure to add processing options during patent application pendency, and put the Patent Office on a path to financial sustainability.