In one of his final executive acts before Christmas, President Obama signed a new law which could have a range of implications for the international patent community. While several provisions are expected to boost administrative efficiency and strengthen protection, critics worry that extending the scope and term of design patents could have unintended consequences.
The primary intention of the law is to align American regulations with those enforced by patent systems around the world. Specifically, inventors will be able to claim international intellectual property rights from a single application filed almost anywhere in the world. But perhaps more importantly, design patent terms will be extended from 14 years to 15 years and applicants can list up to 100 unique invention designs within a single application.
According to GigaOM, this could be a significant boon to businesses that are accustomed to seeing "knock-off" versions of their protected products appear in foreign markets. Combined with the fact that design patents often have a higher perceived and real value than utility patents, inventors from around the world could flood the U.S. patent system with new registrations.
Some fear this could quickly become too much of a good thing, however. Although progress has been made in recent years, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is still paring down a considerable application backlog. According to GigaOM, some also fear an uptick in frivolous litigation as the details of design patents are dissected with greater interest.