Seal of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
Seal of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office - 
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Steve Chiotakis: Tomorrow, members of the National Small Business Association are hosting a forum on patent reform. Now, these days patents go to the person who can prove they invented an idea. But, under legislation working its way through Congress, patents could go to the first person to file.

Marketplace's Jennifer Collins reports.

Jennifer Collins: If the patent bill becomes law, the new rule of thumb will be: File Fast. File Frequently.

Gene Quinn: So I think the small companies are going to need to start filing on innovations no matter how small they are.

Gene Quinn is a patent attorney.

Quinn: In order to make sure that if the one that they're working on does pan out, they've got the basic coverage locked in.

That can get very expensive. Quinn says legal fees are in the thousands to file each application. Some products can have hundreds of patents, and entrepreneurs may not know which to protect.

Ron Katznelson runs a startup called Bi-Level Technologies.

Ron Katznelson: A lot of times, it takes eight months or a year to actually figure out that the specific aspect of the invention is not worth protecting. So you don't file it, you don't go through the expense.

But Gene Quinn says there is an upside: It could push companies to be more proactive about their inventions.

I'm Jennifer Collins for Marketplace.