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Patent System to Be Overhauled?

The Bush Administration wants to revamp the nation's patent system by requiring better information from applicants and allowing the public to review pending applications, Jon Dudas, the director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, told Congress and the New York Times. Patent reform would have a major impact on the device industry, which derives much of its value from intellectual property. Both houses of Congress are considering patent reform legislation.

The Bush Administration wants to reduce patent-related litigation and has several proposals to that end. One would standardize what supporting information is needed in an application. Another would require applicants to do a thorough search of related patents and technical journals. Dudas wants language that would make the requirements not too burdensome for small inventors, and implied that his office might be willing to do patent searches for those under a certain income threshold. Also, a pilot program of public peer reviews will soon get underway. The program applies only to information technology but if successful, it could be incorporated into legislation and reach the device industry. Reducing patent litigation is an admirable goal, but is it a realistic one? The device industry is one of many for which patent decisions often determine whether companies survive. A firm on the wrong end of a decision is going to use whatever means are at its disposal to get that decision reversed. If that means litigation, then it will litigate.

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