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1/10/2006
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IBM In Drive To Improve Quality Of U.S. Patents

IBM said it is working with the Patent Office and others to improve the way patent applications are reviewed.

LONDON — For the thirteenth straight year, IBM has been awarded more U.S. patents than any other company. The computer services group also said it has started working with the U.S. Patent Office on several initiatives designed to improve patent quality.

IBM gained just over 2,900 U.S. patents last year, covering topics from microprocessors, semiconductor manufacturing technology, software and computer hardware, 1,100 more than any other company. The Patent and Trademark Office is due to announce the full list of awards later today (Jan.10).

IBM said it is working with the Patent Office and others, including the Open Source Development Labs (OSDL) organization that promotes Linux, as well as the wider open source software community and academia, on initiatives to improve the way patent applications are reviewed.

The US patent system, and the quality of patents, are increasingly high-profile issues in the technology industry, and Intellectual Property issues are leading to more and more lawsuits. One element of the initiative is the Open Patent Review, a program to allow academics and corporate technologists to easily view the contents of filed patents and provide feedback to patent examiners.

The system will be designed so people can sign up to receive e-mail or RSS alerts about patent applications filed with certain criteria. Professor Beth Noveck of New York Law School will lead a series of workshops on the subject.

In a related effort, the OSDL is hosting a Web site called the Open Source Software as Prior Art project, which will be designed as a way to search through existing open source code. As well as IBM, Novell, Red Hat and VA Software's SourceForge.net will also participate in the initiative.

The project will establish open source software — with its millions of lines of publicly available computer source code contributed by thousands of programmers — as potential prior art against patent applications.

"These important efforts among open source developers, vendors, end users and government to improve patent quality will reduce potential legal threats to open source developers and businesses," said Diane Peters, general counsel, OSDL. The third initiative, the Patent Quality Index, calls for a system to rank the quality of the patent application. IBM is supporting the work of University of Pennsylvania Professor Polk Wagner, who will direct the effort.

Commenting on the initiatives, John Kelly, IBM’s senior vice president of technology and IP, sad: “Raising the quality of patents will encourage continued investment in research and development by individual inventors, small businesses, corporations and academic institutions while helping to prevent over-protection that works against innovation and the public interest."

The Patent Office is encouraging full participation in the three initiatives and will hold a public meeting at its offices in Alexandria, Virginia, on February 16 2006.

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