Acknowledging that the patent process could stand some improvement, IBM Corp is working with the US Patent and Trademark Office and open source groups to streamline several aspects of patent review.
One of the measures is the new Open Patent Review subscription service that allows interested members of the public to subscribe to alerts on relevant new patent applications via email or RSS feed.
Created by IBM for the USPTO, the goal is to alert interested parties who might be able to demonstrate prior art, one of the most contentious aspects of patenting.
Additionally, IBM is working with the Open Source Development Laboratory (OSDL) to help streamline the ability to search for prior art in open source software. It will employ use of tagging to enable developers to adds comments to their code, just as they frequently do with integrated development environment (IDE) tools used internally.
IBM is also working with Red Hat, Novell, and SourceForge to develop a searchable mark-up system.
According to Bob Sutor, an IBM vice president in charge of standards and intellectual property initiatives, it could leverage approaches similar to federated query, or information integration approaches, that blend the search of structured and unstructured data.
IBM is also looking to develop an index that would rate the technical quality of a patent application, using basic criteria such as how clearly it is written or how well it references prior art. Here, the systems would have to apply subjective criteria that could be open for multiple interpretations.
The patent system already has technology classification scheme. They want to build an index that understands this technology area and uses normalized view as to the quality of patent, said Sutor.
Sutor explained that the system would not be meant to evaluate the economic potential of patent ideas, just whether the patent applications are intelligible enough to provide a clue as to whether the application merits serious review.
IBM claims to speak with authority here, given that it has lead in the number of patents granted by the USPTO each year for the past 13 years.
These initiatives come on the heels of previous announcements over the past year to open a Patent Commons, offering 500 patents for royalty-free use by the open source community (a contribution that included meaningful technology and trivial patents covering items like set screws) and the opening of access to patents in health care and education.
IBM hopes to have the first tools available for beta-testing later this year or early 2007.