Saturday, January 14, 2006

U.S. Patent Office Goes High-Tech

An update from MIT Technology Review describes how the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is harnessing the power of metatags and social networks to deal with an onslaught of patents to be reviewed, particularly for software.

According to the article, the USPTO aims to:
1. Create a centralized, searchable repository of all open-source code and related documentation in existence;
2. Create an indexing system to rank the viability of patent applications;
3. Tap into the greater community's intelligence when reviewing patent applications.

The idea of tapping into a collective community of scholars and experts to review patent applications is fantastic (in all senses of the word, unfortunately, because it carries with it serious legal implications).

I'm all for speeding up the process of granting patents, particularly software patents. The lead time for the development of new software applications is rather short. The up-to-2-year waiting times for the USPTO to process applications meant that many independent inventors who were counting on intellectual property (IP) protection as a gateway to secure market protection would be delayed in business development. Although in the U.S. inventors can sue infringers retroactively, small companies and independent inventors may not be able to afford the costs of litigation.

Faster patent processing = faster pace of innovation = keeping up with the 21st century = a boon for small companies and independent inventors with IP as a competitive advantage

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