As we head into the heart of the entry period for the 2012 Housewares Design Awards, the industry should take note of the first major revisions to U.S. patent law in more than half a century.
The Housewares Design Awards program is all about encouraging and recognizing proprietary design innovation as a primary value additive. For a business built on basics, the housewares industry brims with creative, unique design solutions year after year.
So, any patent law change impacts the business profoundly.
Among the most important revisions involves how patents are awarded. Patents in the U.S. previously were awarded on a “first to invent” basis whereby patent applicants had to demonstrate they were original inventors of a product within a year of the application. The revised law invokes a “first to file” standard that recognizes the first to apply (which might not be the original inventor) and is in harmony with the system by which patents are issued throughout the world.
On The Fast Track
The changes aim to expedite the patent review process— fast-tracking some reviews to about a year compared to the nearly three years it could have taken under the old system— while giving the patent office additional resources to clear its application backlog and minimize future backups.
Anything that can help bring patent-protected innovations to market faster in this swift global marketplace should be applauded.
But not everyone is applauding, especially independent inventors and entrepreneurs who feel the new law favors corporations with the resources to file frequently for patents at will. Individuals and smaller companies accustomed to a grace period to line up investors or refine inventions before filing might be forced to shell out earlier to avoid getting beat to a filing with no guarantee a patent will be awarded.
Critics say the first-to-file system will increase the number of preemptive filings. Advocates say the law change will discourage frivolous patent applications.
Critics say the new law disregards actual inventors of new solutions and technologies to the benefit of the fastest, deepest-pocket filers. Advocates say patent defense should be more clear cut compared to a prior system prone to dispute and litigation because it increased the chance for unscrupulous manufacturers and competitors to stake their claims to leaked ideas before actual inventors filed patent applications.
Critics say the revised law will muffle invention by American dreamers. Advocates say it will elevate patent quality.
Some things about the new patent legislation can’t be debated. It should allow the U.S. patent office to catch up to a speeding global design, manufacturing and consumer marketplace. Also, international harmonization of the patent system isn’t only appealing to large companies with established worldwide operations; it is also positive for entrepreneurs and smaller companies that must spread their development and sales goals across the world to remain competitive.
Law Is Law
The new patent law can’t prevent knock-offs and the cumbersome, costly legal disputes they cause.
But the law is the law. Like it or not, you have no choice but to follow it. If it helps bring securely protected innovation to an increasingly global market sooner, do everything possible to make it your best choice.