Obama plans major patent shake up

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Presidential hopeful Barack Obama has unveiled his technology strategy and is calling for an overhaul of the US patent system and the appointment of a national chief technology officer..

The policy states that Obama wants to upgrade the national internet network to next-generation broadband and put in laws to encourage open access for all.

He has also made clear his commitment to network neutrality, but it is his policies on patents that will raise eyebrows in Silicon Valley.

"By improving predictability and clarity in our patent system, we will help foster an environment that encourages innovation," the policy document (PDF) states.

"Giving the Patent and Trademark Office [PTO] the resources to improve patent quality, and opening up the patent process to citizen review, will reduce the uncertainty and wasteful litigation that is currently a significant drag on innovation.

"With better informational resources, the PTO could offer patent applicants who know they have significant inventions the option of a rigorous and public peer review that would produce a 'gold-plated' patent much less vulnerable to court challenge."

The other controversial plan is to appoint a national chief technology officer as a cabinet-level role.

The CTO would oversee the opening up of government communications to voters and will have a specific responsibility to ensure that government communications are opened up as much as possible.

Other plans include a re-examination of the wireless spectrum to see whether it can be used more effectively, a $10bn programme to digitise medical records and a reassessment of the speed limits for broadband, currently 200Kbps.

Obama unveiled the policy document before an official visit to the Google campus, becoming the seventh presidential candidate to do so.

After greeting employees on the site and in 40 remote locations he settled down for a fireside chat with Google chief executive Eric Schmidt.

Andrew McLaughlin, director of public policy and government affairs at Google, quoted some of the conversation in his blog.

"After a particularly open-ended first question ('What is it that you're going to do that's exceptional?'), Obama looked out and asked 'Is this the kind of interview that you guys went through?'" McLaughlin wrote.

"(The answer is 'yes', except we went through eight of them, and they focused more on how to sort 32-bit integers and less on how to counter the threat of global terrorism).'"

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