Friday, September 16, 2011

Obama Signs Patent Law: Help to Real Estate?

President Obama signed into law today the most sweeping reforms to the U.S. patent system in decades, and it holds out hope for real estate. A number of REALTOR® associations and MLSs have been hit with patent infringement lawsuits in recent years, and this law aims to reduce the number and cost of these lawsuits. The “America Invents Act” is divided into three parts. First, it aims to keep the U.S. patent system attractive to global companies by aligning its processes with other countries’ processes. Second, it tries to align funding for the U.S. Patent Office with its needs by modifying its fee system. And third, it aims to raise the bar on the quality of the patents so only the most appropriate patent infringement lawsuits are filed. It’s this third part that’s of most interest to real estate. Right now, companies can obtain patents that are so broad that all sorts of applications fall under them. The new law aims to narrow the scope of patents so that just the truly innovative parts are protected. In doing that, the likelihood of broad-based patent lawsuits, like the CIVIX-DDI lawsuit that hit a number of REALTOR® associations and MLSs last year (and for which NAR negotiated a comprehensive settlement earlier this year), will be reduced. It will be years before we know whether the patent changes will have their intended effect and no doubt the law will be tweaked in the years ahead, but what’s clear is that lawmakers understand that the U.S. system needed modernization. NAR will be monitoring its implementation to make sure real estate interests remain protected. In this four-minute video, NAR Senior Legislative Analyst Melanie Wyne walks us though the law and how it might impact real estate. By Robert Freedman, Senior Editor, REALTOR® Magazine

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