PTO examiners to gain more access to open-source code

The Patent and Trademark Office has created a partnership with the open-source community to ensure that patent examiners have access to all available evidence relating to software code during the patent examination process.

Last month, representatives of PTO, an agency of the Commerce Department, and open-source software vendors'including the Open Source Development Labs, Red Hat, IBM and Novell'agreed to improve software code resources available to patent examiners to better determine whether an invention is new or not obvious. They will meet next on Feb. 16.

The partnership also plans to develop a system to alert the public when PTO publishes certain software-related applications so that interested parties can submit evidence and explore developing additional criteria for measuring the quality of software patents.

'It is important that those in the open-source community are joining PTO to provide resources that are key to examining software-related applications,' said Jon Dudas, PTO director and undersecretary of Commerce for intellectual property, in a statement today.

Last week, PTO proposed changes designed to reduce the amount of rework and time for the patent review process. PTO will prioritize the claims reviewed during the examination process to better focus the agency's examination of patent applications by requiring applicants to identify the most important claims to the invention.

The value of patents to innovation has led to enormous increases in the number of patent applications filed each year. Simply hiring more patent examiners will not shorten the time it takes to receive a patent or improve the quality of examination. Applicants need to facilitate more effective and efficient patent examination, PTO said.

In fiscal 2004, almost one-third of the 355,000 new patent applications were directed to inventions that PTO had already reviewed. Applicants resubmitted them mostly with only limited changes to the claims or sometimes with the same claims that the PTO had previously rejected. More than 40 percent of new applications in 2004 had more than 20 claims each.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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