Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has announced that he won’t be seeking re-election to the Senate for a ninth term. First elected in 1974, Senator Leahy has spent nearly 50 years in the Senate, focused on a wide variety of issues. Intellectual property is one of those issues, and it’s an issue where he’s been a leader in the Senate, addressing issues in patent, copyright, and trademark law, and even creating the semiconductor mask protection system. (He also helped out with a couple Batman movies in between.)
But perhaps most importantly, Senator Leahy sponsored the most significant reform of the patent system in the past 50 years—the bill bearing his name, the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act. The AIA created the post-grant review system, including inter partes review, updated litigation rules to limit the ability of non-practicing entities to engage in abusive litigation, changed the U.S. to a first-inventor-to-file system, and updated the law of prior art to reflect an increasingly global innovation environment.
And it worked—it worked extremely well. NPE patent litigation cost and frequency began to drop significantly, even while operating companies litigated at roughly the same rates. Chilling effects on startups were reduced as they found a mechanism to defend themselves without the huge expense of full-scale litigation.
But then something changed. The PTAB implemented discretionary denials, among other changes that made it harder to access IPR and made IPR a more expensive and complex procedure. And, unsurprisingly, the AIA’s benefits began to reverse—mostly to the benefit of NPEs.
Earlier this year, reviewing the damage done to one of his signature achievements, Sen. Leahy—alongside Sen. Cornyn (R-TX)—introduced the Restoring the America Invents Act to repair the scuttled vessel of IPR. That leaves a little over a year for Congress to consider passing RAIA before Sen. Leahy takes a well-deserved retirement.
Restoring the America Invents Act to the vision Leahy intended by passing his final patent bill would be a fitting closing act in Leahy’s story as America’s chief patent legislator.