On March 16th, 2013 the U.S. will be joining the ranks of the majority of countries by switching from the first-to-invent to the first-to-file patent system.
If one party (Inventor A) comes up with an invention but a second party (Inventor B) reduces it to practice before Inventor A does so, then Inventor A is still awarded the patent so long as reasonable diligence is exercised in reducing the invention to practice up to the date when Inventor B achieves reduction.

Diana Marina Cooper

On March 16th, 2013 the U.S. will be joining the ranks of the majority of countries by switching from the first-to-invent to the first-to-file patent system.  The change is part of a broader set of patent system reforms comprising the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act that was signed into law in 2011.

Under the outgoing first-to-invent system, patent protection is awarded to the party that first conceives of the invention and reduces it to practice (by filing a patent application or building a working prototype).  If one party (Inventor A) comes up with an invention but a second party (Inventor B) reduces it to practice before Inventor A does so, then Inventor A is still awarded the patent so long as reasonable diligence is exercised in reducing the invention to practice up to the date when Inventor B achieves reduction.

Under the new first-to-file system, patent rights are awarded…

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