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Senators offer sweeping patent system changes

The U.S. patent system could be inching closer to an overhaul long desired by the technology industry.

Just before departing for their summer recess on Thursday, Utah Republican Orrin Hatch and Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy,who serve as chairmen of the U.S. Senate's intellectual-property panel, introduced a 45-page bill that proposes a number of changes to the way American patents are awarded and challenged.

Called the Patent Reform Act of 2006, the measure would shift to a "first to file" method of awarding patents instead of the existing "first to invent" standard, which has been criticized as complicated to prove. The bill would also establish a "postgrant opposition" system that would allow outsiders to dispute the validity of a patent before aboard of administrative judges within the Patent Office, rather than in the traditional court system. The idea behind such a proceeding is to stave off excessive litigation.

The Leahy-Hatch bill won immediate praise from a recently formed group of mostly technology-oriented companies and trade associations, the Coalition for Patent Fairness. Its members include the Business Software Alliance, the Information Technology Industry Council, Apple Computer, Comcast, Dell, Intel, Time Warner, Visa and Microsoft.

News source: CNET News.com

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