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Patent overhaul signed into law by Obama

President Barack Obama today signed into law the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act, the first major reform to the U.S. patent system since the 1950s.

The Leahy-Smith America Invents Act, also known as the latest version of the patent reform bill, was signed into law today by President Barack Obama.

President Obama signed the legislation following a tour of the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Va., where he also stumped for the American Jobs Act of 2011, the Associated Press reports.

The bill is the first success in a series of attempts at reforming patent legislation in the U.S., following similar proposals in 2005, 2007, and 2009. The act was approved by the House in late June, then approved by the U.S. Senate last week.

Among the major changes in the legislation is turning the U.S. patent system into a first-to-file patent system as opposed to a first-to-invent system. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's current use of the first-to-invent system awards a patent based on the conception of the invention, not necessarily when it's filed. The first-to-file system, as the name suggests, awards a patent to the first person who files for it.

Proponents, including technology companies like Microsoft, Google, and Apple have rallied for the first-to-file system, saying it makes our intellectual-property system more competitive with those in foreign countries. While smaller businesses have said the change in filing standards puts them at a disadvantage.

Among the other changes in the bill is the capability for the USPTO to set and collect its own fees for new patent filings. The bill also introduces a review process for challenging granted patents, and a change to the grace period wherein the inventor has time to file for a patent after disclosing it.

Patents and intellectual-property protection have become an increasingly important topic in technology, with companies building up massive patent collections to fend off, as well as go on the offensive against, other companies. Most recently there's been the high-profile feud between Apple and Samsung, with the two companies suing each other in courts around the world for patent infringement. There have also been the spats between Google and Oracle, and Apple and HTC.