Rep. Massie Introduces New Legislation to Restore America’s Patent System

Yesterday, Representative Thomas Massie introduced the Restoring America’s Leadership in Innovation Act of 2018 (H.R. 6264). This legislation would reverse many of the harms that have been caused by recent changes to the patent laws from all three branches of government. Patents are an important part of our innovation economy, providing an incentive for inventors to invent and protecting those creations for commercialization and investment.

Unfortunately, the past decade has witnessed the gradual weakening of our patent system. The America Invents Act (AIA) created new post-issuance methods for reviewing patent validity on top of the review that already occurred in federal courts. The Supreme Court has handed down case after case weakening patents and excluding broad swaths of innovation from the patent system entirely. The USPTO, through the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB), has been systematically invalidating worthwhile patents based on flawed procedures that are easily abused. Together, these changes have done substantial damage to our innovation economy.,

This new bill will reverse many of these recent changes. Although some of the proposals are new, most are merely the codification of what had long been the law for the patent system. The following provides a breakdown of the most important sections of this legislation:

  • Section 3 (the first substantive section), returns the United States to a first to invent patent system. As noted by CPIP Founder Adam Mossoff, giving patents to the first inventor rewards the intellectual labor that results in the invention. This conception of patents as private property rights protecting the innovator’s creation is arguably required by the Patent Clause of the Constitution, and thus, this Act will bring patent laws back within constitutional limits. Conversely, a first to file system merely rewards those who can win a race to the Patent Office.
  • Section 4 abolishes Inter Partes Review (IPR) and Post-Grant Review (PGR). In addition to covered business method review, which was created with a sunset provision, these procedures allow the Patent Office to cancel at patent it has previously issued. Numerous scholars have identified the substantial harms caused by the PTAB. The problems have been so extensive that other legislation focused on trying to fix these procedures has been introduced. This bill goes the necessary next step. Because these procedures fundamentally undermine the status of patents as private property, the bill eliminates IPR and PGR entirely.
  • Section 5 abolishes the PTAB. The PTAB is a terrible example of regulatory overreach. In light of the elimination of IPR and PGR and the return to a first to file system, the creation of the PTAB by the AIA to administer these systems serves no purpose. The legislation instead recreates the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences, which existed prior to the AIA and handled the administrative appeals and trials that occurred under the prior system. This change also overrules the holding of Oil States v. Greene’s Energy and accomplishes legislatively the outcome of a CPIP led amicus brief in that case.
  • Section 6 eliminates fee diversion and provides for full funding of the USPTO. Innovators and the public alike count on the USPTO to perform timely, quality examinations of patent applications in the first instance. Ensuring that adequate resources are available for this purpose is essential, particularly given that applicants pay fees to the USPTO for precisely this purpose.
  • Section 7 confirms the patentability of scientific discoveries and software. Although not explicitly stated, it will also allow for the patentability of medical diagnostics and innovative pharmaceuticals, which have been threatened by broad interpretations of Mayo and Myriad. The legislation largely adopts the language of recent proposals by the Intellectual Property Owners Association and American Intellectual Property Lawyers Association. It explicitly states that it “effectively abrogates” Alice and related Supreme Court opinions on patent eligibility. This is a change advocated by many scholars, including those at CPIP and elsewhere, and will restore the United States to the “gold standard” of patent systems.
  • Section 8 is mainly technical to assure that the restored § 102 retains the one-year grace period and that certain disclosures by the inventor do not become prior art.
  • Section 9 reestablishes the previously long-held status of patents as a property right. The Constitution secures a patent as a property right and many scholars have noted the important implications of treating patents as property. This section not only states that a patent is a property right, but confirms that a patent may only be revoked in a judicial proceeding, which has substantial benefits, unless the patent owner consents to another procedure. This reverses the broad reasoning in Oil States. The parts of this section returning to patent owners the right to control their property also largely overturn Impression Products v. Lexmark International, now allowing patent owners to exclude unlicensed users from their supply chains.
  • Section 10 ends the automatic publication of patent applications. This change will allow applicants to keep their inventions secret until they have the security that comes with an issued patent.
  • Section 11 codifies the details of the presumption of validity and available defenses to patent infringement. For the first time, this will enshrine in statute that the “clear and convincing standard” must be used to invalidate a patent. Additionally, this section provides for tolling of the patent term during litigation challenging the patent’s validity.
  • Section 12 confirms that injunctions are available to protect the patent property. Although not explicit, the new statutory presumption that infringement of patent causes irreparable harm largely abrogates the Supreme Court’s decision in eBay, which dramatically limited the availability of injunctions. Furthermore, having this rule placed into the statute will limit the inter-court variability that has led to inconsistent outcomes.
  • Section 13 restores the possibility of invalidating a patent for failure to comply with the best mode requirement.