New Patent Law Offers Few Pros, Many Cons

The America Invents Act has been widely described as the biggest reform of American patent law in some 50 years, and that's certainly true. An overhaul of our patent system was long overdue, and there have been high hopes as to what it could accomplish.

Now that the Act has been , however, there's growing realization that it doesn't do nearly enough. Some provisions are a step in the right direction, to be sure, but on the whole the legislation is a pale shadow of what it should have been, and with some potentially harmful inclusions to boot--particularly for small businesses.

How will it affect you? You can be sure it will, at least indirectly. Here's a summary of some of the key points you should be aware of.

1. 'First to File'

Certainly the most obvious change made by this new legislation is that from now on patents will be granted to whichever party files for the patent first. This is in contrast with our former "first to invent" system, whereby inventors had to prove--often via a protracted legal battle--that they were the first one to come up with the idea.

Pro: This will certainly make it quicker and simpler to decide who should get the patent; it's also more in accordance with the way things work in many other parts of the world. For those unable to file a full application quickly, there's also the possibility of filing a more limited "provisional application" that can serve as a placeholder for up to 12 months, as Washington and Lee University economics professor Alan C. Marco recently .