Strategic CIO // Executive Insights & Innovation
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9/10/2007
07:37 PM
Chris Murphy
Chris Murphy
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CIOs Better Check With Legal Before Touting This Tool

LexisNexis has a powerful new tool that IT execs can give their companies' researchers, letting them search some 65 million patent records from countries around the world. But in today's patent litigation minefield, some companies consider the best strategy is to keep researchers ignorant of what's been patented.

LexisNexis has a powerful new tool that IT execs can give their companies' researchers, letting them search some 65 million patent records from countries around the world. But in today's patent litigation minefield, some companies consider the best strategy is to keep researchers ignorant of what's been patented.LexisNexis' new service is TotalPatent. It's a Web-based system that allows searches on patents from 22 patent-granting authorities, in either the original published language or English translations. Most powerfully, LexisNexis is providing full text records for filings with all those patent authorities, not just the easier-to-get top-line information such as inventor, date, and description. It's a tech-driven information product on an impressive scale.

But should researchers use it? As IBM's top patent lawyer, David Kappos, noted in a BusinessWeek column in March arguing for U.S. patent reform:

... patent award damages are often ratcheted up if the courts find the infringer to have intentionally ignored existing patent protections. So the system actually rewards those who haven't checked to see whether a patent already exists. Rules that lead companies to place blinders on their developers is a startling sign that patent law has lost touch with the concept of teaching the public about new inventions ...

That approach of keeping researchers in the dark is losing favor, says Peter Vanderheyden, VP of global intellectual property for LexisNexis. For one, it could lead to tens of thousands of dollars in wasted research, if a company pursues a path only to reach a conclusion someone else has patented. "They're finding ignorance isn't quite as blissful as they past thought," Vanderheyden says.

U.S. patent reform, which passed the House last week, also could ramp up the need for companies to collect better patent information, Vanderheyden says, since it'll put pressure on applicants to provide more information about related, previous inventions. "It definitely would put more pressure on the applicants," he says. "The bottom line is the government realizes somehow, someway, they need to have better prior art delivered with the application, so [examiners] can do their jobs better."

Which gets back to the new TotalPatent product. The IT department isn't necessarily going to get called in on whether this gets used, since it's a Web-based tool that people can buy in pay-per-use mode with a credit card, as well as with per-seat and enterprise licenses.

But we know the best IT execs are on the lookout for tools to help their colleagues work better. This could be one of them. But it might be worth checking with the company's lawyers, just in case yours is one of those that would rather have blinders on its researchers.

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