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Letter to the President of the Senate and to the Speaker of the House Transmitting a Proposal To Modernize the Patent System.

February 21, 1967

Dear Mr. President: (Dear Mr. Speaker:)

I have the honor to transmit the Patent Reform Act of 1967. This important measure is designed to aid America's economic growth by strengthening the U.S. Patent System.

From the earliest days of our Republic, the patent system has played an indispensable role in stimulating the Nation's progress and prosperity. It has spurred the creative work of inventors and scientists. It has fostered the most far-reaching technological advances in the history of civilization. It has helped American businesses to translate "the fire of genius" into the products and processes that have enriched the lives of all of us.

But we have learned that institutions must change to meet the demands of the times.

Modernization of the patent system is long overdue. This nation which has reached unparalleled industrial and technological heights is still operating under a patent system that has remained unchanged for the past 130 years.

That system is not equipped to deal with today's problems and tomorrow's challenges. Consider the following:

--It sometimes takes an inventor 2 1/2 years and more often much longer to receive a patent.

--The inventor is often faced with time consuming, costly and unnecessary legal action to enforce his rights.

--The expense of securing a patent is needlessly high, particularly when there are competing claims to the same invention.

--New technological advances take far too long before they benefit the public.

--International trade is hindered by inconsistent patent practices from one country to another which increase costs to American businessmen.

America's patent system must be strengthened so that it can serve the technological advances it was designed to foster. I recommend the Patent Reform Act of 1967. Its purposes are threefold:

1. To raise the quality and reliability of U.S. patents.

2. To reduce the time and expense of obtaining and protecting a patent.

3. To speed public disclosure of scientific and technological information.

These changes will accomplish another important objective--they will bring the U.S. patent system more closely into harmony with those of offer nations.

This Act was shaped from the recommendations of the Commission on the Patent System. I appointed this Commission of leading American citizens in July 1965 to study ways "to insure that the patent system will be more effective in serving the public interest." When I received the Commission's report last December, I directed the Commerce Department, the Justice Department and my Science Advisor to consider it carefully and, if necessary, to develop legislative proposals to carry out its objectives. The Patent Reform Act of 1967 is the result of that intensive review.


Today, inventors and businessmen alike are faced with uncertain and conflicting standards in obtaining and enforcing a patent. Under the Patent Reform Act the standards would be clarified and in every case the inventor would be required to show that his invention is really new.

In addition, we should take action to reduce the likelihood of issuing patents which are later declared invalid by the courts. This would eliminate needless expense by the public, the business community, and the inventor. For the first time, under the Act, third parties will be permitted to prove--before a patent is issued--that an invention does not meet the required standards.

The Patent Office's information and retrieval systems are at the heart of the patent examination process. They supply the vital technical background against which inventions must be judged before a patent can be issued. As the world's library of scientific and engineering information increases and as inventions become more complex, conventional information retrieval systems are becoming roadblocks to rapid and effective patent searches. These roadblocks must be eliminated through expanded research and development and increased international cooperation.


One of the most burdensome aspects of the present patent system lies in the resolution of a dispute between two persons who claim that they have invented the same product or process. These disputes are costly and protracted. They are judged against standards that are often vague and sometimes unfair.

Most nations resolve those disputes by a simple and clear standard: "the first to file." Under this standard the inventor who first recognizes the worth of the invention and files a patent application is awarded a patent. It is now time to apply the "first to file" rule to the U.S. patent system.

But more can be done to streamline our patent procedures. An inventor should be able to file an informal disclosure of his invention and establish an early legal filing date. This new "preliminary application" can help the small inventor by giving him time to test and perfect his ideas.


Patent applications are now kept secret until the patent is granted. This may take up to five years or more. As a result:

--Public disclosure of new technology is delayed.

--Businessmen are unaware of new inventions and may invest substantial sums in developing a product that has already been patented by a competitor.

The legislation I am proposing provides that most pending patent applications must be published no later than 14 months after they are filed, regardless of how long it takes to issue the patent.

The Patent Reform Act contains a series of far-reaching and fundamental proposals. They will benefit businessmen, scientists and inventors. They will bring our patent system into harmony with those of other nations. But more important, they will serve the interest of all Americans, as the Constitution mandates, by promoting "the progress of science and the useful arts" in the decades ahead.

The Congress, I believe, will want to give favorable and prompt consideration to this important and long overdue legislation.



Note: This is the text of identical letters addressed to the Honorable Hubert H. Humphrey, President of the Senate, and to the Honorable John W. McCormack, Speaker of the House of Representatives.

For a statement by the President on releasing the report of the President's Commission on the Patent System, see 1966 volume, this series, Book H, Item 637.

The proposed Patent Reform Act of 1967 was not enacted during the first session of the 90th Congress.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Letter to the President of the Senate and to the Speaker of the House Transmitting a Proposal To Modernize the Patent System. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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