In 2016, IEEE surveyed our U.S.-based membership to help IEEE-USA understand members’ perceptions of U.S. patent law, and to what extent the IEEE membership uses the patent system. The survey results will guide IEEE-USA’s government relations activities on behalf of U.S. IEEE members.
Since 2005, when Congress first proposed a major overhaul of U.S. patent law, IEEE-USA has worked to ensure that our members’ interests were represented as Congress worked to rewrite the laws protecting the rights of inventors. We have worked in coalition with other stakeholders to promote the interests of individual inventors, small businesses and start-ups to shape legislative proposals favorable to the entrepreneurial community.
In 2011, Congress made major changes to American intellectual property law with the America Invents Act (AIA), a law that many feel did more to erode than strengthen inventors’ rights. Among its more dramatic provisions, for example, the AIA granted patent rights to the first inventor to file for a patent, rather than the first person to invent something. The consequences of shifting from a first-to-invent system to a first-to-file system are still being assessed.
Since the passage of the AIA, stakeholders and interest groups have continued to propose additional amendments to the law, some of which attempt to reverse the effects of the AIA. IEEE-USA and our allies have persisted in promoting pro-inventor legislation and fought efforts to further erode inventors’ rights. Congress has been unable to pass additional patent reform laws, and we expect to see same legislative proposals reintroduced in the 115th Congress that began 3 January 2017.
The IEEE survey found that respondents support the U.S. patent system as a vital element of our innovative economy. They also have strong opinions about the public policies IEEE-USA should pursue to achieve an ideal patent system.
Two-thirds of survey respondents are IEEE members who are named inventors on patent applications. Additionally, 83 percent were actively involved in efforts to create new intellectual property (IP), with an average of five owned patents per respondent that are licensed to other parties.
Overwhelmingly, the respondents expressed support for increased USPTO funding (81%) to enable improved quality (88%) and accelerate the examination of patents (82%). A majority of respondents also felt that the changes made by the 2012 American Invents Act were harmful overall to the US patent system (61%).
When asked for specific feedback about the patent system as it operates post-AIA, individual comments included:
“[The change from “first to invent” to “first to file” in US patent law] is clearly designed to benefit existing big companies and inhibit inventors from approaching big companies with their ideas for fear of losing the idea.”
“Need better technical experts at the USPTO. Too many patents are being granted for which prior art exists, causing a flood of litigation and IPR actions.”
“Restore first to invent; eliminate first to file.”
“Way too expensive for an individual to [apply for] a high tech patent.”
“Patents should have a much higher bar of “not obvious.”
“The America Invents Act has had the predictable consequence of creating major and in some cases insurmountable hurdles for small companies under the guise of improving patent quality. [The law] should be fundamentally amended to serve the full spectrum of goals for which the system was intended and it should be modernized to reflect the general nature and scope of technological innovation in our society.”
The survey was sent to 6,500 randomly-selected U.S. IEEE members, and is a statistically significant sampling of our American membership.
If you have any questions about the survey, or about IEEE-USA efforts to protect our patent system, please contact Erica Wissolik at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Erica Wissolik is a program manager for IEEE-USA's government activities, including staff liaison to IEEE-USA's Intellectual Property Committee.