Inventing our way out of a recession

The U.S. has built the world’s greatest economy through the hard work and creativity of its people. Our ideas and innovations have been protected by a patent system that is second to none. Grounded in the Constitution, our patent system has been successful at promoting the advancement of products and ideas that drive the American economy.

While necessity may be the mother of invention, invention is the mother of recovery. It is through the development of new products and the expansion of new technologies that we will find our way out of the current economic crisis. Now, more than at any time in living memory, we stand in need of an effective and efficient patent system that will help us invent our way out of a recession.

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But to continue leading the world in innovation and new invention, our patent system must be updated. That’s why I have worked so hard with a bipartisan and bicameral group of legislators to enact comprehensive patent reform. Some of these changes include:

• Permitting effective third-party submission of relevant prior art during examination.

• Giving the patent office full fee-setting authority.

• Establishing a post-grant opposition system.

• Providing the foundation of a first-inventor-to-file system.

For over five years and three Congresses, we have negotiated, compromised and debated these and other issues surrounding patent reform. Our goal is to enact the most significant and comprehensive reform to patent law since 1952 to ensure the economic future of this country.

Our actions have their foundation in a number of reports that identify significant problems in our patent system and posit specific concrete solutions to those problems. What is clear to most who have studied these problems is that Congress must act expeditiously to increase the quality of patents and to curb abusive patent litigation practices.

The global marketplace has become very competitive. In order for our country to repair and build our economic standing, we must effectively protect innovations and ideas. Moreover, the realities of the current global economic downturn may mandate bold new action to shore up the Patent Office. It is very important that we get this balance exactly right.

Last Congress, there were heated battles concerning what form patent reform legislation should take. Clear progress was made toward developing a workable solution but time ran out. More progress has been made this Congress.

While I can see the finish line, we’re not quite there. A number of court decisions in recent months have addressed issues that are part of the proposed legislation. These may have altered the steps that Congress needs to take.

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For that reason, all stakeholders should understand that the House patent reform bill, H.R. 1260, will undergo further changes. I assure you that whatever changes we put forward will not be designed to harm or help any particular industry, but to preserve a patent system that all inventors and companies, no matter their size, can use and rely on.

I am also pleased that President Obama has nominated David Kappos for director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. This is welcome news because it is a sign that the administration will soon engage in the further development of patent reform legislation, and that efforts can finally be made to address the growing crises at the patent office concerning declining revenues and the unacceptable backlog in patent applications.

America needs Congress to address the crisis in our patent system. Reform is crucial to our economic recovery, prosperity and continued technological advancement today, tomorrow and long into the future.


Conyers is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.