Sunday, September 27, 2009

Data Dissemination Industry Day at PTO

John Owens, the CIO of USPTO, had a rough day on Thursday, the day he hosted USPTO's Data Dissemination Industry Day. But I suspect Mr. Owens has a rough day every day.

Mr. Owens is responsible for PTO's information infrastructure. He's got archaic technology, thousands if not millions of users internally, externally, locally and globally. There are gargantuan demands for his information. Now add to the mix that the Office of Management and Budget is asking Mr. Owens how he is going to make PTO's petabyte repository of data available to the public for free.

Mr. Owens was looking for a partner to help him solve this problem. There didn't seem to be many volunteers in the room on Thursday.

Oh, did I mention that he doesn't have any money.

PTO, or "The Office" as the IP legal community refers to it, is in the throws of a financial crisis just like the rest of us. They are a fee based agency. Filings are down, fees are down. PTO still has an daunting backlog of patents to examine. The average number of claims is up, the number of references that examiners have to review is skyrocketing. The explosion of digital information makes doing a comprehensive search for the most relevant prior art a nightmare even for those of us with multi-monitor displays and the fastest CPUs on the block that can navigate across huge repositories of articles, patents, thesis, dissertations, journal articles and product specifications in seconds. USPTO's staff doesn't have many of the resources at their disposal that we can get in our pajamas from home.

Speaking of homes, Mr. Owens shared that the routers in our homes are more powerful than some that power USPTO. His servers are seven years old. He has tons and tons of data that have privacy protected information buried in with the public data. He can't release it until he can protect the privacy data. Easier said than done. (Take it from us...we've done it.)

His vast network of telecommuting patent examiners share the same network with the internal system users and the general public and their ever more powerful data seeking, spidering bots. PTO uses CAPTCHA to try to make sure that preference in access to the data goes to people not to machines. This is easily circumvented by the savvy (maybe not so savvy) software engineers on the hunt for data.

Mr. Owens has big time security problems. His agency has to meet all of the same buzzword compliant, alphabet soup standards like FISMA, NIST, PPI, etc., etc. for information security as every other federal agency. From what we've seen, USPTO does a pretty good job at that. Mr. Owens has to worry that one of his systems might release the trade secrets or inventions that will create our next trillion dollar industry. In addition to worrying if the FBI might show up, he no doubt loses sleep wondering how his day would go if one of his systems got hacked and someone stole the latest unpublished patent applications from Intel, Apple, Merck, Johnson & Johnson, Ford, or for that matter any independent inventor, university, small company or biomedical firm. Imagine how that day would go.

Oh, did I mention that every week his systems support the publication of 10,000 new patents and published patent applications.

Oh, and his classification and search systems don't begin to deal with the convergence of technology and the simultaneous emergence of new science that drives even greater demand for information.

PTO's patent search system only supports 300 concurrent users according to the PatFT Operational Notices and Status Page of USPTO.GOV. The image above is what you get when you happen to be the unlucky 301st searcher.

Did I mention that USPTO has over 6,000 patent examiners trying to use the same 300 concurrent use licenses?

If you want a vibrant intellectual property marketplace, if you want to improve the patent system and bring an end to ridiculous patents, if you want to advance innovation by avoiding wheel reinvention because you simply can't figure out what innovations came before you, you need to have information and information transparency. If you want to have information transparency you need information systems that work. To have information systems that work you can't be tied to old systems run by the same guys who were running the systems when the place was using paper and nobody knew how to make a searchable PDF. Mr. Owens needs the money to build a new next generation cloud computing environment to support all this. But for now, that just doesn't seem to be in the cards.

And in the biggest irony of all times, Mr. Owens will probably be infringing someone's business methods and software patents as he tries to move his agency into the 21st century. How will USPTO handle the fees or, perish the thought, a patent infringement law suit? Mr. Owens is going to need some patent attorneys of his own.

I hope Mr. Owens has lots of Rolaids.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Patent Auctions Go Mainstream

Today's New York Times's article "Patent Auctions Offer Protections to Inventors" offers proof that patent auctions and the pejoratively named Patent Trolls are a force to be reckoned with. It is time to move to using the term Non-Practicing Entity (NPE) and accept the fact that these organizations will help shape the face of intellectual property monetization going forward. (They are going to need some better logos if we can't use the cute trolls any more.)

Zoltar Satellite Alarm Systems is about to auction off its hard won and battle hardened patents for personal alarm systems with GPS receivers. Aside from the usual rant that none of the articles on the subject included the patent numbers,(5,650,770 and 5,963,130, the Self-Locating Remote Monitoring System patents plus 3 more use patents and 15 interational patents), these patents may be the seminal technology for helping rescue people find you when you dial 911. The inventors convinced the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that they had already invented 911 locator services for cellphones when the FCC and others thought it couldn't be done.

The privately held Zoltar, its two inventors, and their investors are seeking a more cost effective way to monetize their intellectual property asset without having to do battle with every cellphone maker on the globe. The auction provides a way for them to get a reasonable return on their investment while turning the heavy lifting of patent enforcement over to firms with deeper pockets and the ability to get the companies that infringe the patents of small or individual inventor's to return their calls.

While there is still lots of discussion on where NPEs and transaction companies fit into the marketplace it's clear they are here to stay. Holders of intellectual property can no longer afford to ignore small inventors and small companies because they now have a new avenue to get the marketplace to pay attention to their investments and pay them for their work. The technology is out there to do deep dive searching into the content of patents so that everyone in the IP market space can find what's out there. You can no longer get away with just paying attention to the big patent holders. Some of the good stuff has been created by individual investors and small companies for whom patent auctions are a good thing.

There are many schools of thought on the emerging patent marketplace these days. One is the IP marketplace model like the stock market treating patents like stocks that can be traded freely in the marketplace. The downside here is that its not an asset that is easily traded or moved between owners. The other is the art gallery model where patents are treated like works of art - which is probably a more accurate reflection of the asset but a more benign view of the reality of how the transaction has to work to maximize value. The art gallery model has its flaws since its unlikely someone would pay the big bucks for patent and a just hang it in the hall for their personal enjoyment. Its value is in its monetization. (Unless of course your goal is to take it out of the market all together...we'll save that discussion for another day.)

At Coronado we like the transparency and transaction velocity model. In this model the more information you have about the patents, their use, the inventors, and how you can use the technology in new and serendipitous ways never contemplated by the inventors, the more you understand its value. If you know its value you understand why you need to pay for it. This creates transparency.

This knowledge is coupled with the ability to quickly determine who owns the patents so you can go out and get yourself a license. (Calling NPEs who hide their ownership of patent assets, and sit back in the tall grass waiting - hey, USPTO solved the problem of the submarine patent by publishing the applications. You guys have just recreated it in another form. And weren't you some of the biggest complainers when the submarine patents surfaced in the old days? We know how to find you...) This creates transaction velocity and a vibrant intellectual property marketplace.

At Coronado Group we focus on the transparency part with our Cognition IP work. We are committed to making patent information more accessible and more transparent to help advance the ball on the transaction velocity part.

The auction
is being lead by Pluritas, LLC, a patent transaction company. It will be held on October 14th. The titans of the cellular and smartphone universe are expected to show up for the party. It will be interesting to see if Pluritas or the purchaser release a price so that we will all understand the value that Zoltar's work has in the marketplace. That's part of getting to that vibrant intellectual property marketplace sooner rather than later.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Shine The Klieg Lights On The Patent System

In honor of tonight's Emmy's and the drama of the Troll Tracker case, it's time to drag out the klieg lights and shine the light of day on the whole patent system.

The Troll Tracker case revolves around one lawyer complaining that another lawyer defamed him after lawyer number 1 got the clerk of the court to change the date stamp on a filing because he filed it too early. This resulted in lawyer number 2 posting comments on his Troll Tracker web site. Lawyer number 1 said that the post questions the integrity of this behavior resulting in lawyer number 1's feelings getting hurt and filing a defamation suit against lawyer number 2, aka the Troll Tracker. There was intrigue as a bounty was offered seeking the true identify of the Troll Tracker. Once the identity was disclosed the defamation suit followed. One of the more interesting aspects of this whole adventure it that the parties seem to have forgotten was sought that free speech thing in the Constitution. The klieg light metaphor is about the need for more transparency in the entire patent system.

While getting ready to post my rant I needed to look up the spelling of klieg which lead me down another serrendipitous discovery about the Kliegl brothers.

The Kliegl brothers invented the Klieg light and a the accompanying new noun. Klieg lights are used to create day at night. There isn't a movie set or late night highway construction project that doesn't have Klieg lights. The Kliegl brother's earliest was a patent 708365 filed on August 26, 1901 and issued September 2, 1902 for an Electromedical device for treatment of disease. Like other biomedical engineers that came after them, they appear to have moved on to more profitable ventures inventing many of the advances in theatrical lighting we all take for granted. Aside from the famous spot light, there are footlights, and plugs, and electrical components. The phrase Klieg lights came from the merger of Kliegl and light according to several web citations.

Bring on the light of day...natural or of the klieg variety.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Future of Ideas

Dilbert's views on patents. Here's the link to the Dilbert site.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Comparative Effectiveness Research and Intelligent Search

Comparative effectiveness research (CER) and evidence-based medicine have been one of the boogeymen of the healthcare debates. Fear that, as a result of CER findings, your doctor will not be able to make his or her own decisions about what's best for you but will be forced through some chart of acceptable protocols. None of the physicians or researchers I know are that wimpy.

We don't know what the outcome of the healthcare debate will be but we subscribe to the belief that knowledge is power. The more you know, the better your decisions will be. CER has the potential to deliver for healthcare what nutritional labels did for groceries - information.

To that end, Coronado has been working on a novel intelligent search tool for answering clinical questions. At a high level this is what it does: When faced with a complex patient problem or when you are looking for information to address a research issue, you construct a single query by combining all of the text based information you have about the problem and using that as the search source. You copy and paste all the text-based information you have - clinical reports, image interpretation text, previous findings - and copy it into the search box. When you've entered all the text that you have you can add your own notes, words you are looking for, hunches, terminology that relates to the subject matter in your domain. The search box can handle gigabytes of data. Once that's done, you hit enter and the intelligent search tool evaluates all of the concepts in the search source and then finds and ranks results based on how conceptually and semantically close the documents are to your search source.

Our initial implementation uses the content of 13 of the top diagnostic imaging journals and RadLex, the radiology and diagnostic imaging ontology, to create the concept space and the searchable document set. We started here because two of the top radiology informatics experts from the University of Maryland School of Medicine have been gracious enough to provide us with guidance so we can make sure it works. It also offers us a platform where we can address some pressing search and retrieval issues - convergence. In physician speak this area is dealing with multidisciplinary/multimodality diagnosis, treatment, and monitoring. In regular guy speak what this means is that to answer a question it's not unusual for s clinician or researcher to need to do cross-domain searches covering radiology, chemist, molecular biology, pharmacology, chemotherapeutics and contract agents to get a comprehensive answer to a complex problem. It would be nice to be able to execute a search that gets it rather than having to keep searching and searching and searching.

We have been using this technology successfully in the patent and intellectual property space. Our work on the patent front resulted in our having a deep understanding of the nature and content of scientific, technical and medical documents and understanding how to authors writes these kind of documents, where the good information is buried. As a result of this work our concept space for scientific materials is excellent allowing IP searches that dig deep into the content of the patents and supporting documents. Since the patent space is so wide and the classifications so deep, we have refined the complex subject matter there with some of our own special sauce to help expedite complex searchers. We expect that we can leverage this framework to support a highly focused implementation for medical research. Especially with help from our colleagues.

This tool offers a lot of value in the comparative effectiveness arena. First, you can pose a complex search that will return the documents that are the closest to your topic. This lends itself to helping medical librarians and investigation collaborators on evidence-based medical evaluations assemble the information they need to do their work. At the risk of being corny, less time finding, more time working.

It also supports deep dive information harvesting. While a certain protocol or finding may be a very small part of one investigation it may be extremely critical to current searchers. Conventional search techniques, especially those on the internet, make finding these documents hard to do. Because the intelligent search tool searches on the conceptual and semantic content, it finds all the documents that embody a particular idea even if it's not the most important concept. It makes a whole new universe of information accessible to searchers. You can search the widest possible universe of documents and still get highly refined results.

One of the other areas we are exploring is the ability to do longitudinal searches. Or, as consultants like to call them, retrospective longitudinal searches. We do this in the patent world now. Basically what this means is that you can look back in time to see what evidence is available. Because the technology understands how the words used to describe something have changed over time as well as their context, this may enable searchers looking for evidence to look back in time. This has the potential to accelerate some of the work to establish meaningful comparative effectiveness work without having to wait for new evidence. It has its limitations, it's only as good as the old documents, but it might prove helpful as investigators look across older medical evidence or access deep repositories of reports. We're looking at all that "stuff" stored in the archival PACS systems.

And a final note. It's easier to search. You don't have to distill your search requirements into ands, ors, or nots. You simply write up what you are looking for, stream of consciousness works, or assemble the best scientific and medical documents that describe what it, or assemble a text document where you keep your research notes and use that for the search. It's more natural. It lends itself to serendipitous search - navigating through the information to see what's there, to see what you find. It lets you search the way you think...really.

We published a White Paper called Intelligent Search for Answering Clinical Questions. You can download it from our website. The image if our version of finding the needle in the haystack..just find all the needles.