The new Patent Reform Act, included in the Omnibus Budget Act
signed by President Clinton last November, includes several key
provisions that impact inventors:
1. Invention-promotion firms that advertise in mass media, such as radio, TV, magazines and newspapers, must disclose their success rate to all potential customers.
2. Inventors can now bring complaints to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) regarding problems with invention-promotion firms. While the PTO lacks enforcement powers, it does maintain a register of complaints and periodically publishes those complaints. (Note: The PTO does have enforcement powers over patent attorneys and patent agents.)
3. Patent-application fees for utility patents have dropped to $345 for inventors, and first patent maintenance fees (due 3 1/2 years after the patent is awarded) have dropped to $415.
4. The PTO will now publish patent applications 18 months after submission unless a patent has been issued or the inventor didn't apply for any international patents. This will allow inventors to conduct more thorough patent searches before taking on the major expense of applying for one.
5. All patent fees will now be kept by the PTO; the funds will allow the agency to improve both service and inventor education programs. In years past, as much as $100 million per year had been diverted from the PTO to other government agencies.
Don Debelak is a new-business marketing consultant and the author of Bringing Your Product to Market (John Wiley & Sons). Send him your invention questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.