[Fsfe-ie] U.S. Office Joins an Effort to Improve Software Patents, by John Markoff, NY Times, 10 Jan 2006

Joseph Kiniry kiniry at acm.org
Tue Jan 10 11:25:26 CET 2006

Hi all,

I thought this would be of interest to list readers.

Has anyone tracked these proposed software projects?

Joseph Kiniry
School of Computer Science and Informatics
UCD Dublin


The New York Times
January 10, 2006
U.S. Office Joins an Effort to Improve Software Patents

The United States Patent and Trademark Office plans to announce today  
that it will cooperate with open-source software developers on three  
initiatives that it says will improve the quality of software patents.

The patent office has come under increasing pressure in recent years  
from critics who contend that it issues patents without adequate  
investigation of earlier inventions. As a result, conflicts over  
published patents have loosed an avalanche of intellectual property  

At a meeting last month with companies and organizations that support  
open-source software (software that can be distributed and modified  
freely), including I.B.M., Red Hat, Novell and some universities,  
officials of the patent office discussed how to give patent examiners  
access to better information and other ways to issue higher-quality  

Two of the initiatives would rely on recently developed Internet  
technologies. An open patent review program would set up a system on  
the patent office Web site where visitors could submit search  
criteria and subscribe to electronic alerts about patent applications  
in specific areas.

The third initiative is focused on the creation of a patent quality  
index that would serve as a tool for patent applicants to use in  
writing their applications. It is based on work done by R. Polk  
Wagner, an intellectual property expert at the University of  

"This is a great example of how the patent office can reach out to  
the community and how they can help us where we have difficulty  
getting prior art," said John J. Doll, the commissioner for patents.

The patent office has held similar discussions with other technology  
industries including biotechnology, nanotechnology and  
semiconductors, he said.

The open-source project, being led by I.B.M., aims to build an  
automated system for creating a series of categories to organize  
software written by open-source programmers. The system would then be  
made available to help patent examiners search for earlier examples  
in patent applications.

Mr. Doll said that Google had participated in the discussions and it  
was possible that its search technology would be used in the project.

Jim Stalling, vice president for intellectual property and standards  
at I.B.M., said, "We think that this initiative will lead to greater  
certainty in the patent system." He added that any improvement in the  
general quality of patents would lower the costs of defending  
patents, and that money could again be focused on financing research  
and development.

One frequent critic of the patent system, Gregory Aharonian,  
publisher of The Internet Patent News Service, said it was unlikely  
that the new initiatives would have a significant impact, because the  
patent office was not able to deal efficiently with the information  
it already had.

"If the patent office can't figure out how to use the resources they  
already have," he said, "what is the point?"

Diane Peters, general counsel for the Open Source Development  
Laboratories, a corporate consortium backed by Linux supporters, said  
that if the initiatives were successful it might lead the patent  
office to issue fewer but higher-quality patents.

Separately, the patent office plans to announce today that I.B.M.  
once again topped the list of private-sector patent recipients in  
2005. The company received 2,941 patents last year, compared with  
3,248 patents in 2004.

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