IBM tackles US patent chaos

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IBM tackles US patent chaos

Big Blue promotes transparent applications.

IBM is overhauling its patent application procedures to reduce the number of patent disputes that end up in US courts, and is encouraging other companies to follow its lead. 

Increased use of technological innovations in all aspects of business and day-to-day life has resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of patents filed with the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). 

Pharmaceutical innovation, especially in the field of gene research, has exacerbated the problem, and the USPTO is now swamped with patent applications.

A total of 17,962 patents were filed by the 10 most prolific companies and top 10 universities in 2005 alone.

Patent licensing has become a large part of many US firms' business and, as the financial rewards rise, an increasing number of companies resort to litigation to settle disputes, similarly inundating the courts.

IBM has led the world in the number of patents filed for the past 13 years, filing 2,941 in 2005. So the company's move to tackle the patent problem has as good a chance as any of making an impact.

One aspect of IBM's new patent procedure will be to publish innovations online that it plans to patent six months before filing.

Currently, the PTO publishes patent applications for two months, 18 months after they have been filed.

By providing a longer period of open public review, IBM hopes that many patents which are likely to be disputed in court are aborted by private negotiation.

IBM has also announced that it will reduce the number of business-method patents it files unless they have a substantial technological content.

Furthermore the company has promised to lend many of its patent specialists to the USPTO to help it clear the backlog of applications.

Economists at the World Economic Forum in January said that they expect IBM soon to be overtaken in patent filing by companies in China and India.

Big Blue's move to overhaul its own patent procedures, and encourage others to do the same, is seen as anticipating this eventuality. 

"The centrepiece of this policy, and our actions to support it, is based on the principles that patent quality is a responsibility of the applicant," said Dr John Kelly, senior vice president for technology and intellectual property at IBM.

"These principles are as relevant in emerging regions of the world as they are in more mature economies.

"IBM is holding itself to a higher standard than any law requires because it is urgent that patent quality is improved, to stimulate innovation and provide greater clarity for the protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights."
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