Thursday, June 02, 2011

Patent Reform Critics Say Legislation is 'Constitutionally Infirm'

The California stem cell agency yesterday posted its analysis of federal patent legislation that pits General Mills against the National Small Business Association, Merck against the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and, in California, SangamoBioSciences against CONNECT.

On Monday, the CIRM directors' Legislative Subcommittee will take up the wide-ranging and technical legislation with an eye to endorsing or opposing it.

The analysis was written by Scott Tocher, staff counsel to CIRM Chairman Robert Klein. It said,
"CIRM’s interest in the health and productivity of the patent system in general is clearly a vital interest of the agency. CIRM’s mission requires dual goals of academic openness and the need to bring scientific advances to the public via commercialization. A robust and fair patent system will ensure that the fruit of CIRM-funded research is propelled through the development process and reaches patients."
Tocher's analysis indicates the key point of the battle over the legislation involves a matter that critics say makes the legislation "constitutionally infirm."

Tocher wrote,
"For the first time since its genesis in 1790, U.S. patent law will award patents to the first person to file for a patent rather than to the first person to arrive at an invention. All other major patent offices in the world already award patents on a first-to-file basis. Though equitable, the first-to-invent system leads to disputes that the Patent Office has been forced to resolve through complicated Interference proceedings. Under the new system, filers will still have to show possession of the invention, and will still have to establish novelty. They will not, however, face concerns that others may have arrived at the invention first and simply not have filed yet. There will no longer be Interference proceedings, and applicants will no longer be able to 'swear behind' prior art cited against them by giving evidence that, despite their later filing date, they arrived at the invention first."
Tocher continued,
"This is by far the Act's most significant change, and will likely increase the pressure for all entities to file for patent rights as soon as an invention is made. This change will also increase the risk in electing to forego patent rights in favor of maintaining an invention as a trade secret."
Tocher wrote,
"If enacted, this provision almost certainly will face a legal challenge in light of the United States Constitution’s provision that 'Congress shall have power … To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.' To the extent that a first-to-file system awards a patent in some cases not to an 'inventor' in the common understanding of that word, but to a person who is first to file, critics argue the legislation is constitutionally infirm."
Tocher listed some of the enterprises for and against the measure. Backers include General Mills and Merck. Sangamo BioSciences, a CIRM grant recipient, is also in favor. One of the opponents is CONNECT, a San Diego business development organization, whose CEO is Duane Roth, co-vice chairman of the stem cell agency.

Also posted on the CIRM agenda yesterday was an item from the California Stem Cell Report dealing with the patent legislation.

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