WASHINGTON -- Overhauling the nation's creaky patent system isn't a step that economists believe will solve the jobs crisis. But in a gridlocked Washington, speeding up patent approvals was one of the few areas where both parties were willing to take action.
President Barack Obama marked the bipartisan agreement by signing into law Friday the "America Invents Act," a measure that he pushed repeatedly over the summer as necessary to create jobs.
The patent reforms are considered the most sweeping in the past 60 years, analysts say, the resolution of an issue Congress has kicked around for eight years. Yet even as Obama hailed its passage, he recognized its negligible short-term impact on what voters care most about -- jobs.
"This change in our patent laws is part of our agenda for making us competitive over the long term," he said. Obama used the signing ceremony to tout his new jobs bill.
"I have to take this opportunity while I've got some members of Congress here, to say I've got another bill that I want them to get passed to help the economy right away. It's called the American Jobs Act," he said, referring to his $447 billion proposal to Congress.
Business interests also welcomed the patent overhaul, though the new law isn't likely to unleash a wave of hiring. The payoff might be years down the road, economists said.
Applying for a U.S. patent is a bureaucratic slog: the patent office has a backlog of 689,000 applications, and approval of a new patent takes nearly three years.
The law aims to streamline the process so that entrepreneurs develop products more quickly. It would change the system by awarding patents to the first person to submit an application -- not to the original inventor. Proponents hope this step will reduce lawsuits and thus expedite patent approvals. Opponents worried that the law favored large corporations over small inventors because well-staffed companies are better positioned to quickly file patent applications.