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How to Protect Your Intellectual Property Rights Created as a pressure release for patent office overload, the controversial America Invents Act may give big business the edge in securing patents. Here's a guide to protecting your intellectual property rights in the post-act age.

By Jonathan Blum

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

No entrepreneur wants to be the next Robert Kearns, the stubborn, hard-working inventor Greg Kinnear played in the 2008 film Flash of Genius. Kearns unwisely--or, perhaps, just unluckily--lost control of his revolutionary idea, the intermittent windshield wiper.

Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs may soon be facing Kearns' fate.

In March, the U.S. Senate passed what lawyers and intellectual property experts call the most significant--and controversial--change in American patent law since the 1950s: The America Invents Act. America Invents is an attempt to streamline an imploding U.S. patent system. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office now takes an average of 34 months to approve or deny a patent, with an active backlog of 715,461 patents, making many obsolete before they are granted. Specific details of the legislation are still being ironed out, but it is clear that big changes are coming in the way small firms will have to manage their intellectual property. The new law changes what makes an idea patentable or not, and the way others can challenge a new patent during the "post-grant review" process. And, most important, the act moves from a first-to-invent basis to a first-to-file basis, which rewards the first person to file for a patent instead of the first person to think of the idea behind the patent.

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