On March 8 the Senate passed a bill intended to reform the patent system. S. 23, the Patent Reform Act of 2011, would take steps to harmonize the U.S. patent system with those in the rest of the world. The most notable change amongst them is to make the U.S. system based on the first to file rather than the first to invent. The bill also allows for relevant third parties to file information with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). This information would assist USPTO examiners with the evaluation of the patent. And perhaps most importantly, the bill makes necessary changes to the USPTO that allow it greater control over the fee money that it collects and the ability to establish satellite offices (the first one is planned for Detroit).
The full text of the bill is available online. How quickly the House will address the bill is unclear.