In virtually all developed countries, patent rights are given to the first inventor to file a valid application. In the United States, the federal Patent and Trademark Office has awarded rights to the first to invent a new product, even if the inventor was not the first to file an application.

In March 2011, the Senate passed bipartisan legislation to switch to a “first to file” system. The House was also considering legislation with a first-to-file provision, but its bill was expected to differ in significant respects from the Senate’s.

The change in the application system was favored by the large technology and pharmaceutical companies, which argued that it would put the United States in sync with other national patent offices around the world and make it easier to settle disputes about who has the right to a certain innovation.

Many smaller companies and inventors opposed the change, however, arguing that it favored companies that could hire legions of lawyers to quickly file applications for new permutations in manufacturing or product design.

The bill also gives the director of the patent office the ability to set its fees and says Congress cannot siphon off that money for other purposes. The patent office pays for itself through assessments of applicants, with the average approved patent generating roughly $4,000 in fees.