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I joined the ABA Section of Intellectual Property Law (ABA-IPL) in 1999. I had been practicing as a patent attorney at Eli Lilly and Company for about six years. I was a member of the ABA as a law student but was not active. After graduating from law school, I had let my ABA membership lapse and was a member of the American Intellectual Property Law Association.
I was soon looking for more. There were significant ongoing debates in the patent bar at this time. Should the United States abandon first-to-invent in favor of first-inventor-to-file? Should accessibility be the linchpin to qualify as prior art? Should the United States adopt a post-grant “opposition” or other more expansive review than inter partes reexamination? How could the law be reformed to be more transparent and more predictable? Should there be a research exception in the patent law?
These and other questions were top of mind at the time. My engagement on these important issues was reading and occasionally speaking or writing, but I was largely on the sidelines. Then, I was invited to an ABA-IPL meeting to join a discussion on the merits of a first-inventor-to-file patent system. I was hooked. Not only was the meeting rich in content, but it was clear the ABA-IPL Section provided an opportunity to influence the debate. I volunteered for a committee leadership role—at that time, patent interferences—which soon thereafter led to an opportunity to serve on the Section task force on 21st Century Patent Reform. This task force was one of the most rewarding experiences for me professionally, and ultimately led to the work product of the task force, a paper entitled “A Section White Paper: Agenda for 21st Century Patent Reform,” which in turn led to the America Invents Act in 2011.
Twenty-four years later, I’m still active in ABA-IPL for the very same reason. The Intellectual Property Law Section of the ABA is an association rich in advocacy and content. With the power of the ABA, it has a history of making a difference. The Section was formed in 1894 and has been engaged in the dialogue on IP policy ever since, including the Patent Act of 1952, formation of the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, the Bayh-Dole Act, and more recently the America Invents Act. It continues to actively pursue policy to advance the ecosystem of innovation.
Some of the problems in the early 2000s remain. The patent system should be more transparent, predictable, and affordable. It should spur innovation, serve the independent inventor and the large entities, and work for all technologies from high-tech to life sciences. Perhaps now more than ever, the patent system is essential to an innovation-driven economy, global competitiveness, and American prosperity.
As my journey now takes me to lead the Section, this year I am forming a new Section task force to take on the mantle of continuous improvement in the patent system. This task force will have a unique and limited charter: to work closely with the patent division and committees to coordinate a monthly series of webinars. These “Chair’s Townhall: Planning a Better Patent System” webinars will provide a forum to discuss—and openly debate—with thought leaders from within and outside of the Section the vexing challenges facing the patent system. These webinars will not be slideshow presentations followed by a short question and answer session but rather a facilitated discussion seeking consensus on solutions. Ultimately, the output of each debate will be published. Following approval by Council, the output will also become Section policy so that it can form the basis for advocacy. The goal is to engage relatively narrow, discrete issues that collectively build a better patent system.
Roughly 20 years ago, I was asked to join a policy debate at the Section’s annual meeting. I’m now asking you to join the discussion. Be active in one or more of the Section committees, serve in leadership, attend Section meetings, and be part of the solution. Let’s all work together to help solve the vexing challenges facing the patent system.