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Rep. Steny Hoyer

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Speeding Up the Patent Process

Posted: 09/16/11 10:03 AM ET

The patent that led to the telephone was approved in one month. The patent that led to the cell phone, as former White House economic advisor Austan Goolsbee recently observed, was approved in three years. Today, patents are held up for even longer -- and jobs and growth are held up with them. At this moment, more than 700,000 patents are caught in the backlog. Could one of those 700,000 new ideas be the next iPhone, the next breakthrough drug, the key to the next great American industry? We'll have to wait a long time to find out.

With millions of Americans still out of work, Democrats are working to advance a plan to rebuild American industry and create the solid, middle-class jobs our country needs. We call it the Make It In America plan: it's a legislative program to help American businesses stay here, grow here, build more products here, and sell them to the world. And a crucial part of that effort is ensuring we are the world's leader in innovation, so that we can outpace our competitors and stay at the job-creating forefront of the world economy. America is still the world's most innovative country -- but it's a sobering fact that Japan has recently overtaken us in patent applications. China, too, is on pace to overtake us soon. If we want to regain our innovation edge, we have to make it easier for American inventors to patent new products here and manufacture them here.

That's why it's so important that President Obama will today sign into law the America Invents Act, the most significant patent reform in half a century. It's also the first Make It In America bill to become law this year. If we want to put more Americans back to work, it can't be the last.

The America Invents Act creates a markedly more efficient patent system. It significantly reduces the backlog of ideas by hiring more patent examiners, modernizing technology in the Patent and Trademark Office, and speeding up the review process. It also institutes a new, "first-to-file" system for resolving disputes over priority. Such disputes have often been bogged down in costly, time-consuming legal cases. But this new legislation cuts down on that litigation by asking a simple question: who filed for a patent first? While the old system was weighted in favor of the largest corporations with the biggest legal teams and the most money to burn, the new system levels the playing field for small businesses and individual inventors, the kind of people who gave us revolutionary ideas like the personal computer.

Speeding up the patent process will get American ideas to market faster, and that unlocks tremendous opportunities for our economy to grow. But a wealth of other innovation-promoting ideas are also part of Democrats' Make It In America plan, and Congress should build on this success by passing more of the plan into law.

We should expand and make permanent the research and development tax credit, so that companies have stronger incentives to invest in new technologies here at home.

We should promote high-tech, advanced manufacturing by passing the JOBS Act, which builds job-training partnerships between colleges and advanced manufacturing businesses. These partnerships will help more Americans find job opportunities in fast-growing fields -- and help American businesses satisfy their demand for workers without looking overseas.

We should create a more efficient corporate tax code, with lower rates and fewer loopholes. That would help businesses make decisions based on their best economic judgment, not based on maximizing their tax deductions.

And we should keep pace with international competitors by creating a National Infrastructure Development Bank. It would leverage private investment in much-needed projects from energy delivery systems to broadband networks to modern ports, projects that would create jobs in the short term while laying the foundation for long-term growth.

There's no doubt that America still has the qualities that made its economy the strongest in the world -- the work ethic, the competitive drive, and the innovative spirit that have made this country great. I believe in the Make It In America plan because it's the best way of putting those qualities to work, so that we can out-build, out-educate, and out-innovate our competitors. Today's far-reaching patent reform is a big step in the right direction. And I can't wait to see the American innovations that come to market faster as a result.