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.

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