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STEVE CHIOTAKIS: The Senate is likely to vote by tomorrow on an overhaul of U.S. patent laws. The measure is sponsored by Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont. It makes big changes to how patents are reviewed at the Patent and Trademark Office, including giving priority to those inventors who pay a bigger fee.
Dan Burk is a law professor at the University of California in Irvine. He’s with us from Orange County this morning. Hi Dan.
DAN BURK: Hi there.
CHIOTAKIS: What’s the bottom line here? What kind of changes are we talking about?
BURK: Well, it’s a big mix of changes running all the way from administrative changes in the way the patent office gets to manage its budget to this really big change that you just mentioned with regard to who gets a patent to a fundamental change in what we call going to a “first-to-file” system, where rather the first inventor to develop a technology — instead the first person to get to the patent office would get the patent.
CHIOTAKIS: First to file. What are the complaints against the ways things are right now?
BURK: Well, business have a variety of complaints, but the big one with regard to first-to-file is everybody else in the world does first-to-file, the United States is sort of the lone hold-out with first-to-invent, and it would be cheaper and easier for a lot of businesses to be able to do the same thing all over the world.
CHIOTAKIS: Cheaper and easier, all right. But there are arguments that this gives inventors with big pockets — right, a lot of money — a big advantage. What do you say to those people who say that?
BURK: Well, that’s a serious concern. Some people have suggested that maybe you could make it easier for small business entities to file a patent if we went to this kind of a first-to-file system. But mostly a lot of people are saying that the majority of technologies are developed by big businesses in large R&D operations, and so maybe we shouldn’t be so worried about small businesses.
CHIOTAKIS: Why has it taken so long to get here?
BURK: Well, this has been the clash of the titans. The chemical and pharmaceutical industries view the patent system in one way, they think it works pretty well the way it is. The electronics and software industries view it as being broken and not working well, and so there’s been a seven-year stand off between these two big groups of industries as to what we ought to do.
CHIOTAKIS: Dan Burke, U.C. Irvine law professor, thanks.
BURK: You bet.
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