Patent Reform Bill Restricts Patents on Tax Strategies

Oct 10, 2011   

On September 16, 2011, President Obama signed into law the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (the “Act”) (H.R. 1249) which drastically reforms the U.S. patent system. Among other effects that the Act will have on the patent system, the Act prevents the granting of tax strategy patents. Since 1998, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has granted more than 160 tax strategy patents in the areas of real estate, charitable giving, retirement planning, and stock options.

Pursuant to the Act, “strateg[ies] for reducing, avoiding, or deferring tax liability” are considered to be a “prior art” and are thus not patentable. Applicants can no longer rely on the novelty or non-obviousness of a tax strategy to distinguish their claims over prior art pursuant to 35 U.S.C. § 101. The Act defines “tax liability” as any liability for a tax under any Federal, State, or local law imposed by statute, rule, regulation, or ordinance. However, the Act excludes methods, apparatus, technology, and computer programs that are used solely for tax preparation. The Act further states that existing tax strategy patents will not be affected yet, pending applications will be deemed prior art.

Proponents of the Act claim that it will bring fairness to the patent system and deter the use of tax shelters. Opponents, however, state that the ability to patent tax strategies creates an incentive to interpret existing tax law and disseminate it among the government and taxpayers as public knowledge. Opponents further say that the Act will force developers to keep new tax strategies as trade secrets.

If you have any questions or concerns related to this or any other tax issue, feel free to email an attorney at Fuerst Ittleman at contact@fidjlaw.com.