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What Is the First-to-File Rule?

Law Office of Julie Scott LLC June 20, 2023

Woman holding light bulb, concept of new ideaIf you’re an inventor or innovator in your field, you know how important it is to protect your intellectual property so you can continue doing the work you love and be able to rightfully profit off of what you’ve created. However, filing for a patent isn’t always an easy process and many people find it helpful to work with a patent attorney.  

Specifically, you may run into concerns about something called the “First-to-File” rule which can dramatically affect your timeline for filing. But what is the First-to-File rule? And how does the First-to-File rule affect inventors?  

For more information about this or for answers to your patent law questions, reach out to me at the Law Office of Julie Scott LLC. I’m proud to represent clients in and around the Kansas City, Missouri area including Columbia, Springfield, and Rolla. Call today to schedule a consultation.  

What Is the First-to-File Rule?

The First-to-File rule was brought into law in the U.S. in 2013, so it’s relatively new legislation as far as patent and copyright laws go. Essentially, it states that whoever files for a patent with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) first is the one whom it will be awarded to. Before this law passed, the patent went to the first person who created the invention, even if they weren't actually the first to file. 

This change to the country’s patent law was made for a couple of key reasons, and it has both supporters and opposers. The first reason was to move the U.S. in line with the rest of the world (in terms of patent law). In almost every other developed nation, patents are awarded to those who are the first to file. By aligning the U.S. with these other nations, the rule made the process simpler and more predictable for those inventors who wish to compete in a global market. 

The other reason the First-to-File rule was implemented was that it made it easier for the USPTO to regulate the application process and award patents. In the past, this often meant that the USPTO had to hold hearings where inventors would have to present arguments and evidence as to why they should be awarded the patent. Now, instead of trying to determine and prove which inventor was the first to come up with an idea, they can simply pay attention to the order of the filing dates for the applications instead.  

How Does the First-to-File Rule Affect Inventors?

The First-to-File rule has both positive and negative effects on the invention owner’s rights. The advantages include: 

  • A system that’s more in line with other countries around the world, creating a level playing field for inventors no matter where they live. 

  • Inventors no longer have to attend hearings to argue their patent applications with the USPTO. 

  • It may speed up the rate of inventions because individuals and companies want to be the first to file.   

  • Inventors are still able to file for a “provisional patent” which is an easier, quicker process that allows them to protect their work while it’s still being finalized and to use the term, “patent pending,” which can help with sales or to raise new funds. 

Downsides of the First-to-File System

Of course, any law will come with its own set of disadvantages and the First-to-File rule is no different. 

One downside is that individual inventors or those with fewer resources may feel like larger corporations with more money are able to pursue patents faster and easier. This could discourage smaller inventors from taking risks and putting the time and effort into innovative ideas if they think a large company will eventually win the patent over them. 

Another is the growing concern over people and organizations who are commonly referred to as “patent trolls.” These individuals try to buy up as many patents as they can just so they’ll have the legal standing to sue for infringement. Historically, patent trolls are unconcerned with the usefulness of the invention and instead are simply out to make money off of it. This has two negative effects:  

  1. It creates an environment where certain valuable patents may be hidden from the public and not made available.  

  1. Over time, it can discourage new inventions for fear that a patent troll will come along swiftly to buy them up.  

Turn to an Experienced Patent Attorney

If you’re an individual who has an invention or a company that wants to apply for a patent for an innovation that’s been done at your organization, it’s almost always in your best interest to connect with an experienced patent attorney. These newer patent laws have both benefits and drawbacks, but that doesn't mean you should stop your efforts to protect your work. At the Law Office of Julie Scott LLC in Kansas City, Missouri, I can help with any and all of your patent law needs. Call me today.