The US Patent and Trademark Office should switch from documents to data by Justin Duncan.
From the post:
The debate over patent reform — one of Silicon Valley’s top legislative priorities — is once again in focus with last week’s introduction of the Innovation Act (H.R. 9) by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Ranking Member Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), and 15 other original cosponsors.
The Innovation Act largely takes aim at patent trolls (formally “non-practicing entities”), who use patent litigation as a business strategy and make money by threatening lawsuits against other companies. While cracking down on litigious patent trolls is important, that challenge is only one facet of what should be a larger context for patent reform.
The need to transform patent information into open data deserves some attention, too.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), the agency within the Department of Commerce that grants patents and registers trademarks, plays a crucial role in empowering American innovators and entrepreneurs to create new technologies. Ironically, many of the PTO’s own systems and technologies are out of date.
Last summer, Data Transparency Coalition advisor Joel Gurin and his colleagues organized an Open Data Roundtable with the Department of Commerce, co-hosted by the Governance Lab at New York University (GovLab) and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). The roundtable focused on ways to improve data management, dissemination, and use at the Department of Commerce. It shed some light on problems faced by the PTO.
According to GovLab’s report of the day’s findings and recommendations, the PTO is currently working to improve the use and availability of some patent data by putting it in a more centralized, easily searchable form.
To make patent applications easier to navigate – for inventors, investors, the public, and the agency itself – the PTO should more fully embrace the use of structured data formats, like XML, to express the information currently collected as PDFs or text documents.
Justin’s post is a brief history of efforts to improve access to patent and trademark information, mostly focusing on the need for the USPTO (US Patent and Trademark Office) to stop relying on PDF as its default format.
Other potential improvements:
Additional GovLab recommendations included:
- PTO [should] make more information available about the scope of patent rights, including expiration dates, or decisions by the agency and/or courts about patent claims.
- PTO should add more context to its data to make it usable by non-experts – e.g. trademark transaction data and trademark assignment.
- Provide Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to enable third parties to build better interfaces for the existing legacy systems. Access to Patent Application Information Retrieval (PAIR) and Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) data are most important here.
- Improve access to Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC)/U.S. Patent Classification (USPC) harmonization data; tie this data more closely to economic data to facilitate analysis.
Tying in related information, the first and last recommendations on the GovLab list is another step in the right direction.
But only a step.
If you have ever searched the USPTO patent database you know making the data “searchable” is only a nod and wink towards accessibility. Making the data is nothing to sneeze at but USPTO reform should have a higher target than simple being “searchable.”
Outside of patent search specialists (and not all of them), what ordinary citizen is going to be able to navigate the terms of art across domains when searching patents?
The USPTO should go beyond making patents literally “searchable” and instead make patents “reliably” searchable. By “reliable” searching I mean searching that returns all the relevant patents. A safe harbor if you will that protects inventors, investors and implementers from costly suits arising out of the murky wood filled with traps, intellectual quicksand and formulaic chants that are the USPTO patent database.
I first saw this in a tweet by Joel Gurin.