This was a vote on an amendment by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) that would have prohibited the U.S. from adopting a “first-to-file” patent system (which grants patent protection to the first person to file an application for a patent for an invention—regardless of whether that person is the actual inventor) until other nations agree to adopt a one-year patent “grace period” (which would give inventors one year to file an application for a patent after publishing an invention, and effectively prevent that inventor’s idea from being stolen).
Specifically, the underlying patent bill would require the U.S. to move from a “first to invent” patent system—in which the inventor always receives patent protection regardless of who files the first application for patent protection—to a “first to file” patent system. The underlying bill also imposed a one-year grace period in between the publication of an invention and the application for patent protection. Conyers’ amendment would have prevented the U.S. from a adopting a first-to-file patent system until other nations agree to abide by a one-year grace period intended to prevent an invention from being stolen before its inventor files an application for a patent.
Conyers urged support for his amendment: “Ladies and gentlemen, this bipartisan amendment adds an important provision to H.R. 1249 [the underlying patent bill]. It would permit the conversion of the United States to a first-to-file system only upon a Presidential finding that other nations have adopted a similar one-year grace period. This one-year grace period protects the ability of an inventor to discuss or write about his or her ideas for a patent up to a year before he or she actually files for patent protection. And without this grace period, an inventor could lose his or her own patent. This grace period provision within H.R. 1249 would grant an inventor a one-year period between the time he first publishes his invention to the time when he's required to file a patent. During this time, this would prohibit anyone else from seeing this publication, stealing the idea, and quickly filing a patent behind the inventor's back. Yet the only way for American inventors to benefit from the grace period provision contained in 1249 is to ensure that the foreign countries adopt a similar grace period as well.…If the first-to-file provision in the bill is implemented, we must ensure that American inventors are not disadvantaged. Small American inventors and universities are disadvantaged abroad in those nations where there is no grace period.”
Rep. Lamar Smith opposed Conyers’ amendment: “…The Conyers amendment to tie the changes proposed in the America Invents Act [the underlying patent bill] to future changes that would be made in foreign law is unworkable. I oppose providing a trigger in U.S. law that leaves our patent system at the mercy of actions to be taken at a future date by the Chinese, Russians, French, or any other country. It is our constitutional duty to write the laws for this great land. We cannot delegate that responsibility to the whims of foreign powers….The move to a first-inventor-to-file system creates a more efficient and reliable patent system that benefits all inventors, including independent inventors. The bill provides a more transparent and certain grace period, a key feature of U.S. law, and a more definite filing date that enables inventors to promote, fund, and market their technology, while making them less vulnerable to costly patent challenges that disadvantage independent inventors.”
The House rejected Conyers’ amendment by a vote of 105-316. Voting “yea” were 68 Democrats—including a majority of progressives—and 37 Republicans. 198 Republicans and 118 Democrats voted “nay.” As a result, the House rejected an amendment that would have effectively required the U.S to maintain its first-to-invent patent system (rather than adopting a first-to file system as required by the underlying bill) until other countries adopt a one-year grace period for patent protection.