I wrote several times, that inventions rarely come from a stroke of genius. We are pack animals, and science is a common understanding of the physical world around us, not the physical world itself. Researchers work hard to further our understanding of the world and to uncover new synergies, creating sort of an ether of knowledge. This also includes tools and technologies to further this knowledge.
From time to time, in this ether local areas condensate and great insights are born. When considered in retrospect, these insights look like strokes of genius, but they would not have been possible without a maturity attained in a certain context, or the availability of new tools.
Because of this, I like to say that ideas and inventions reach a point in time when they are ripe, and the first to recognize them is the inventor. This perspective instills a sense of urgency, because if you dither with your invention, somebody else will beat you.
In the old era of big science and large industrial laboratories, only an elite had sufficient exposure to this ether to make groundbreaking inventions. Through conferences and journals it was more or less known who works on what, and it was possible to time the filing of patents, for example so that an application is laid open the day the Tokyo Data Show opens, where a new product is unveiled.
Today, when due to the disappearance of advanced research there is less differentiation from vendor to vendor, product introductions are rarely timed to industrial fairs, but released as soon as they are ready. In computer technology for example, there are no longer a few thousand R&D personnel, but hundreds of thousands if not millions; Apple alone claims to have created 210,000 iOS app economy jobs in the US.
This huge number of technologists, combined with the increased litigation for patent infringements and the proliferation of non-practicing entities (NPE) and other patent trolls, impinges an even greater sense of urgency on protecting one's intellectual assets as fast as possible. National patent agencies support this urgency through the introduction of new processes for accelerated protection mechanisms.
Patents are not necessarily the only form of protection for one's research investment. In Switzerland, the Swiss National Science Foundation encourages patent protection mostly for inventions that are either very fundamental, or are easy to replicate. For all other inventions the recommendation is to save the money that would be spent in patent application and maintenance fees and spend it instead on the salaries for additional researchers. The reasoning is that an agile well-managed enterprise can generate new products faster than the competition can copy them, hence a defensive publication is more efficient than a patent.
In the US, the law protected the first to invent, not the first to file, so in general companies were sometimes a little slower than Swiss companies. However, this has recently changed. This picture taken September 16, 2011 at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Virginia, shows President Obama signing the America Invents Act, historic patent reform legislation that is helping American entrepreneurs and businesses bring their inventions to market sooner.
The America Invents Act helps businesses, inventors, and entrepreneurs in five immediate ways:
A fast track option for Patent Processing within 12 Months: Instead of an average wait time of almost three years, the Patent and Trademark Office will be able to offer startups and growing companies an opportunity to have important patents reviewed in one-third the time – with a new fast track option that has a guaranteed 12-month turnaround. Patent ownership is a critical factor venture capital companies consider when investing in entrepreneurs hoping to grow their business.
Reducing the current patent backlog: Under the Obama Administration, the patent backlog has already been reduced from over 750,000 patent applications to 680,000, despite a 4% increase in filings. The additional resources provided in the law will allow the Patent and Trademark Office to continue to combat the backlog of nearly 700,000 patent applications and will significantly reduce wait times.
Reducing litigation: The Patent and Trademark Office will offer entrepreneurs new ways to avoid litigation regarding patent validity, at costs significantly less expensive than going to court.
Increasing patent quality: The Patent and Trademark Office has re-engineered its quality management processes to increase the quality of the examinations and has issued guidelines that clarify and tighten its standards for the issuance of patents. The legislation gives the USPTO additional tools and resources to further improve patent quality, and allows patent challenges to be resolved in-house through expedited post-grant processes.
Increasing the ability of American Inventors to protect their IP abroad: The new law harmonizes the American patent process with the rest of the world to make it more efficient and predictable, and make it easier for entrepreneurs to simultaneously market products in the U.S. and for exporting abroad. The Patent and Trademark Office has also expanded work-sharing with other patent offices around the world to increase efficiency and speed patent processing for applicants seeking protection in multiple jurisdictions.