PTO tool will go international

A patent official is developing a tool to harmonize the Patent and Trademark Office's business processes with those of its counterparts in Europe and Japan.

Bruce B. Cox, PTO senior adviser for Extensible Markup Language technologies, demonstrated the pilot tool at a CIO Council workshop at the National Science Foundation in Arlington, Va.

In 2000 and 2001, PTO made a wide-scale transition to XML document publishing, starting by accepting patent applications in the markup language.

For 20 years PTO has cooperated with patent offices in Europe and Japan'they call themselves the Trilateral Offices''but only in the last few years has anything gotten done, and it's because of XML,' Cox said.

Under the Patent Cooperation Treaty three years ago, the three patent offices agreed on a single document type definition for patent applications, Cox said. The DTD governs how an XML-coded document should look when published.

'All patent offices do the same thing at a high level,' Cox said. Application processing, which PTO calls prosecution, starts with a search of existing patents, a so-called first action based on the search, examination and possible correspondence between PTO and the applicant, and a final decision on whether to grant the patent.

Cox said he wanted a high-level tool that would depict the agency's internal business processes with matching Web services.

PTO hired IBM Corp. consultants last year to describe the processes of the three patent offices, determine areas of commonality and look for places where a workload reduction would have the greatest impact.

To compare processes, the descriptions had to be rule- and culture-neutral, Cox said. He said he hopes to abstract the processes and link them to rules in the Code of Federal Regulations and the Federal Register.

Two IBM consultants and a PTO contractor from Leads Corp. of Arlington, Va., developed the pilot tool, which uses Business Process Execution Language to outline processes in text-based windows. Written in BPEL, which was co-developed by IBM, the tool could feed an IBM WebSphere application server and serve as a seed for full-blown workflow, Cox said.

Although the tool has come a long way in the past few months, Cox said, he doesn't yet have funding for personnel to finish and maintain it.

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