Mr. President, first, I commend Chairman Leahy and the entire Judiciary Committee for their work on this bill. The chairman has endured so many ups and downs and different versions, and we would not be here today if not for him.
I rise to speak in support of the America Invents Act, a bill to overhaul our patent system, which plays such a critical role in our economy. It is one of the main reasons America has been able to maintain its competitive edge.
The Commerce Department estimates that up to 75 percent of the economic growth in our Nation since World War II is due to technological innovation--innovation made possible by a patent system that protects the rights to that innovation.
I have seen the importance and success of the patent system firsthand in Minnesota, which has brought the world everything from the pacemaker to the Post-it note. In Minnesota, we know how important the patent system is to our economy. We rank sixth in the Nation in patents per capita and have the second highest number of medical device patents over the last 5 years. Companies such as 3M, Ecolab, and Medtronic are well-known leaders in innovation, but Minnesota also supports innovative small businesses such as NVE Corporation and Arizant Healthcare. We are now first per capita, in fact, for Fortune 500 companies in our State, and that is in large part because of innovation. So many of these companies started small, invented products, and got patents which were protected. People weren't copying their products, and they were able to grow and produce jobs in our country.
Having a patent system that works for small business is particularly critical to creating jobs in America. But our patent laws haven't had a major update since 1952. The system is outdated and has become a burden on our innovators and entrepreneurs. Because of these outdated laws, the Patent and Trademark Office faces a backlog of over 700,000 patent applications and too often issues low-quality patents. One of these 700,000 patents may be the next implantable pacemaker or new therapy for fighting cancer, but it just sits in that backlog.
Our current system also seems stacked against small entrepreneurs. I have spoken to small business owners and entrepreneurs across our State of Minnesota who are concerned with the high cost and uncertainty of protecting their inventions. For example, under the current system, when two patents are filed around the same time for the same invention, the applicants must go through an arduous and expensive process called an interference to determine which applicant will be awarded the patent. Small inventors rarely, if ever, win interference proceedings because the rules for interference are often stacked in favor of companies with deep pockets. This needs to change.
Our current patent system also ignores the realities of the information age in which we live.
In 1952, back when the patent bill came about, the world wasn't as interconnected as it is today. There was no Internet. People didn't share information the way they do in this modern age. They had party telephone lines then. In 1952, most publicly available information about technology could be found in either patents or scientific publications. So patent examiners only had to look to a few sources to determine if the technology described in a patent application was both novel and nonobvious.
Today, as we all know, there is a vast amount of information readily available everywhere you look.
It is unrealistic to believe a patent examiner would know all of the places to look for this information, and even if the examiner knew where to look, it is unlikely he or she would have the time to search all of these nooks and crannies. The people who know where to look are the other scientists and innovators who also work in the field. But current law doesn't allow participation by third parties in the patent application process despite the fact that third parties are often in the best position to challenge a patent application. Without the benefit of this outside expertise, an examiner might grant a patent for technology that simply isn't a true invention--it is simply not an actual invention--and these low-quality patents clog the system and hinder true innovation.
Our Nation can't afford to slow innovation anymore. While China is investing billions in its medical technology sector, we are still bickering about regulations. While India encourages invention and entrepreneurship, we are still giving our innovators the runaround, playing a game of red light/green light with the R&D tax credit.
America can no longer afford to be a country that churns money and shuffles paper, a country that consumes, imports, and spends its way through huge trade deficits. We need to be a nation that makes things again, that invents stuff, that exports to the world, a country where you can walk into any store on any street in any neighborhood, purchase the best goods, and be able to turn it over and see the words "Made in the USA."
In the words of New York Times columnist and Minnesota native Tom Friedman, we need to be focusing on "nation building in our own Nation." Well, as innovators and entrepreneurs across Minnesota have told me, our country needs to spawn more of them. The America Invents Act would do just that.
First, the American Invents Act increases the speed and certainty of the patent application process by transitioning our patent system from a first-to-invent system to a first-inventor-to-file system. This change to a first-inventor-to-file system will increase predictability by creating brighter lines to guide patent applicants and Patent Office examiners. By simply using the filing date of an application to determine the true inventor, the bill increases the speed of the patent application process, while rewarding novel, cutting-edge innovations.
To help guide investors and inventors, this bill allows them to search the public record to discover with more certainty whether their idea is patentable, helping eliminate duplication and streamlining the system. At the same time, the bill still provides a safe harbor of a year for inventors to go out and market their inventions before having to file for their patents. This grace period is one of the reasons our Nation's top research universities, such as the University of Minnesota, support this bill. The grace period protects professors who discuss their inventions with colleagues or publish them in journals before filing their patent application. The grace period will encourage cross-pollination of ideas and eliminate concerns about discussing inventions with others before a patent application is actually filed.
Moreover, this legislation helps to ensure that only true inventions receive protection under our laws. By allowing third parties to provide information to the patent examiner, the America Invents Act helps bridge the information gap between the patent application and existing knowledge.
The legislation also provides a modernized, streamlined mechanism for third parties who want to challenge recently issued, low-quality patents that should never have been issued in the first place. Eliminating these potentially trivial patents will help the entire patent system by improving certainty for both users and inventors.
The legislation will also improve the patent system by granting the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office the authority to set and adjust its own fees. Allowing the Office to set its own fees will give it the resources to reduce the current backlog and devote greater resources to each patent that is reviewed to ensure higher quality patents.
The fee-setting authority is why IBM, one of the most innovative companies around--by the way, the host of the "Jeopardy" - winning Watson - well, the IBM facility there that actually developed Watson was in Rochester, MN. In fact, IBM, which has its facilities in Rochester and the Twin Cities, as well as many other places in this country, was granted a record 5,896 patents in 2010. IBM supports this bill. It allows the Patent Office to set its own fees and run itself like a business, and that is good for companies such as IBM, as well as for small entrepreneurs.
Mr. President, as chair of the Subcommittee on Competitiveness, Innovation, and Export Promotion, I have been focused on ways to promote innovation and growth in the 21st century. Stakeholders from across the spectrum agree that this bill is a necessary step to ensure that the United States remains a world leader in developing innovative products that bring prosperity and happiness to those in our country. Globalization and technological advancement have changed our economy. This legislation will ensure that our patent system truly rewards innovation in the 21st century. Our patent system has to be as sophisticated as those who are inventing these products and those who at times are trying to steal their ideas. That is what this is about.
I yield the floor.