Legislation approved that could dramatically raise cost of patenting chemical reactions

The US House of Representatives has approved legislation that could dramatically raise the cost of patenting chemical reactions, discouraging researchers from presenting or publishing their work, lawyers have warned. 

The bill, passed by the House on 7 September, would be the biggest shake-up of the US patent system since the 1950s if it is enacted into law. But there are concerns over a last minute change to the bill, which could require all applicants to provide details of why their invention is patentable. That work, currently performed by US Patent and Trademark Office staff free of charge, could add $10,000 to $20,000 to the cost of a patent application, says Harry Shubin, a former PTO examiner now teaching at George Mason University, Virginia, US. A patent for a simple chemical invention already costs between $7,000 and $20,000. Chemists would be among those hardest hit if the legislation were to become law because the complexity of the field, Shubin says. The steeper costs of protecting intellectual property could also discourage spin-outs. ’This will increase the amount of start-up money you need to get to a point where we have something to sell,’ Shubin told Chemistry World

The bill aims to bring US patent law into line with that of other countries by switching it from a ’first-to-invent’ to a ’first-inventor-to-file’ system. Although the proposal has garnered some industry support, universities fear it could discourage academics from writing about or discussing their findings.  

But there is a long way to go before the bill can become law. The US Senate is set to adopt its own version of the legislation in autumn and it will then have to iron out any differences over the bill with the House. President Bush has also expressed concern that the bill could ’reduce incentives to innovate.’ 

Rebecca Trager, US correspondent for Research Day USA