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US government approves patent bill in effort to reform system

The U.S. Senate has approved the most substantial changes to the nation's patent system in over 50 years in the form of the America Invents Act, a measure supported by tech titans such as Microsoft, Google and Apple.

The bill received an 89-9 vote on Thursday and will head to the White House to receive President Barack Obama's signature, Bloomberg reports. The legislation would allow the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to set its own fees and give it greater influence over its budget.

“The creativity that drives our economic engine has made America the global leader in invention and innovation,” Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Ver.), who sponsored the measure, said in a statement. “The America Invents Act will ensure that inventors large and small maintain the competitive edge that has put America at the pinnacle of global innovation.”

The measure is the result of over six years of negotiations and lobbying as legislators have scrutinized the patent system. Microsoft, IBM, and the Coalition for Patent Fairness, which includes tech giants such as Apple, Google and Intel, were in support of the act.

“The America Invents Act, coupled with recent court decisions that provide more clarity and confidence for inventors, puts our patent system in a much better position to spur innovation and economic growth in the 21st century,” said IBM General Counsel Robert Weber.

Even as the Obama administration faces pressure to create jobs, the bill has been touted as "one of the most significant jobs creation bills enacted by Congress this year," according to Representative Lamar Smith, who sponsored the House version of the bill.

Obama referred to the legislation during a speech to a joint session of Congress on Thursday. “You passed reform that will speed up the outdated patent process, so that entrepreneurs can turn a new idea into a new business as quickly as possible,” he said. “That’s the kind of action we need.”

However, a group of technology companies had also come out in opposition to the bill. The group, which includes InterDigital, a company known for its wireless-related patents, had said the measure didn't go far enough in guarantee more funding for the patent office. The National Small Business Association has also asserted that the bill will "irreversibly damage" small-business owners and entrepreneurs.

According to the report, the new bill will grant patents to the first inventor to file an application, eliminating a time-intensive process used to determine who came up with an idea first.

Mountain View, Calif.-based Google has been increasingly vocal in its calls for patent reform. In July, General Counsel Kent Walker called patents "government-granted monopolies" that block innovation. Chairman and former CEO Eric Schmidt said last week that the U.S. patent situation is "terrible" and bad for innovation.

Apple has been more low key in its efforts to effect change in the patent system, though it has spent money lobbying for the cause. Recent filings by Apple reveal that it has dedicated a portion of its lobbying funds to urging the government to enact patent reforms. The company spent $560,000 on lobbying in the first quarter of this year and increased the amount to $790,000 in the second quarter, more than double what it spent in the same period last year, according to the Associated Press.

The iPhone maker is currently locked in several high-profile patent disputes with its competitors, including Samsung, HTC and Motorola.