Letter from the Editor

bridges vol. 30, July 2011 / Letter from the Editor

Dear Reader,

The debate about a comprehensive reform of US patent law that began more than six years ago seems to have finally made some significant progress: H.R. 1249, or the America Invents Act, was approved by the US House of Representatives on June 23. Earlier this year, in March, the US Senate passed similar patent reform legislation. Since the House and the Senate bills differ slightly, their differences now need to be worked out in conference committee, or else a legislative ping-pong match between the two chambers might well continue. But assuming that the House and Senate are willing to pass a compromise bill in the weeks to come, this reform could reflect the single biggest change in US patent law in almost 60 years.

Optimists argue that it is merely a question of time until such a new patent bill reaches the desk of President Obama (who has already indicated that he will sign it into law). However, with every member of Congress currently being consumed with the contentious debt-ceiling controversy, which is likely to continue at least until August 2, there is no timetable as yet for when Congress would address patent reform again. Also, with Congress going into its annual summer hiatus on August 5, it is likely that patent law reform would only be picked up again in September, after Labor Day.

While the patent reform bills have enjoyed bipartisan support in both chambers, there are still significant differences in the present bills that need to be bridged. One major difference between the House and Senate bills is the means for allowing the overburdened US Patent and Trademarks Office (USPTO), also commonly referred to as the US Innovation Agency, to retain the fees it generates. Over the years, more than $900 million has been shunted away from the agency. At the same time, more than 700,000 applications are currently in USPTO’s pipeline, awaiting review and examination. Some people call the USPTO the greatest job creator no one has ever heard of.


{access view=guest}Access to the full article is free, but requires you to register. Registration is simple and quick - all we need is your name and a valid e-mail address. We appreciate your interest in bridges.{/access} {access view=!guest}The revenue generated by USPTO could be used to hire more examination officers and to update and improve its current review procedures. In a recent National Public Radio interview, David Kappos, director of USPTO, gave the example of Thomas Edison’s light bulb patent application, which took 2.5 months from filing to granting of the patent.  Now compare this with today, when the average wait time for only the first response from USPTO is 23 months. Kappos attributes this development to the dramatic escalation of patent applications, while no corresponding expansion of bandwidth occurred in his agency.

To better understand the ongoing discussions about patent reform, a bridges feature article by Prof. Bernard Carlson of the University of Virginia puts the current debate in historical perspective and offers some analysis of the different reform options that are on the table and how they would affect inventors and innovators.

Another effort that is likely to take more time before implementation is the creation of a global market for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions trading. The European Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme (EU-ETS) has been operational since 2005 and is, to date, the largest multi-country, multi-sector GHG emissions trading scheme worldwide. Given that the EU and the US together account for roughly 80 percent of global CO2 emissions, it seems logical that they should be at the core of any future global emissions trading regime. In his article, Andreas Tuerk, an expert on international energy and climate policy, analyzes the prospects of such a global market and what role a transatlantic link between Europe’s ETS and regional US schemes might play in its establishment.

As always, every issue of bridges features several portraits of successful Austrian scientists and scholars working in the United States in its section “News from the Network: Austrian Researchers Abroad.” Here, you can also find the recent professional moves & milestones of Austrian researchers in North America. Speaking of which: I’d particularly like to direct your attention to the next annual Austrian Science Talk, which will take place this year on September 10 at the New York Academy of Sciences in New York City.

Every year, the Austrian Science Talk provides Austrian scientists and researchers in North America with a unique opportunity to learn about recent R&D policy developments in Austria and Europe. The conference also informs participants about various career and funding opportunities and how to facilitate research collaborations between the two continents. The Science Talk attracts about 100 Austrian researchers and scientists from all disciplines and corners of North America, thus providing an ideal platform for discussion, interaction, and networking with peers. Experts from the Austrian government, universities, research institutes, and industry will discuss with the conference participants how Austria can best utilize its potential in the fields of human capital, basic research, venture capital markets, etc. in order to meet future social and economical challenges.

In addition to our mission of building bridges of knowledge and expertise between Austria and North America via our online quarterly bridges, we look forward to welcoming many Austrian researchers and scientists who are (currently) in North America to the Science Talk in New York.  With that, I wish you a pleasant reading experience and a relaxing summer break – and hope to see you in September in New York.

Caroline Adenberger