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U.S. Patent No. 8 Million Signed, Reform Bill Action Urged

Robert Greenberg and Barbara Campbell hold U.S. patent no. 8 million (A. Kotok)

Inventor Robert Greenberg and device user Barbara Campbell with U.S. patent no. 8 million (A. Kotok)

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) held a ceremonial signing today of the eight millionth U.S. patent awarded in the agency’s history. The USPTO’s director and acting Secretary of Commerce used the occasion to urge the Senate to complete its work on patent reform legislation.

USPTO issued patent no. 8 million on 16 August to Second Sight Medical Products Inc. of Sylmar, California, a maker of retinal prosthesis devices for subjects blinded from outer retinal degeneration, such as from the disease retinitis pigmentosa. The company says it has another 180 patent applications pending.

Robert Greenberg, inventor of the patented device and company CEO, says Second Sight has prospered as a result of its patents, for which he credits being able to hire 90 highly skilled employees, such as Ph.D. scientists and engineers.

The patented device provides an alternative array of electronic photoreceptors to replace the eye’s natural photoreceptors disrupted by retinal damage.  A miniature video camera housed in the patient’s glasses sends information to a small computer worn by the patient where it is processed and transformed into instructions transmitted wirelessly to a receiver in an implanted stimulator.

The signals are then sent to the electrode array, attached to the retina, which emits small pulses of electricity. The electrical pulses then stimulate the retina’s remaining cells to transmit the visual information along the optic nerve to the brain. Barbara Campbell, one of the patients that tested the device and who attended the event, says it enables her to live her life in Manhattan in safety, including crossing busy city streets.

Acting Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank and USPTO director David Kappos, who both spoke at the event, encouraged the Senate to complete action on the America Invents Act, legislation to reform the USPTO’s procedures and resources. The bill that passed the House of Representatives in June, changes patent procedures to recognize parties who are first to file their applications, a procedure followed in most other industrialized countries. It also lets USPTO set its own fees and makes those fees more accessible for hiring examiners and upgrading its technology.

Kappos urged the Senate to quickly complete action on the bill. “Swiftly send the the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act to the president,” said Kappos. “‘Swiftly,'” added Kappos, “means today.”

UPDATE: The U.S. Senate passed the America Invents Act today, by a margin of 89 to 9.

Read more: 150+ Organizations Call for End to USPTO Fee Diversion

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