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U.S. joins effort to improve software patents

The Department of Commerce’s United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has created a partnership with the open source community to help ensure that patent examiners have access to all available prior art relating to software code during the patent examination process.

Last month, USPTO representatives met with members of the open source software community, which provided an opportunity for members to discuss with the USPTO issues related to software patent quality. The meeting focused on getting the best prior art references to the examiner during the initial examination process.

The New York Times reported that the patent office has come under increasing pressure in recent years from critics who contend that it issues patents without adequate investigation of earlier inventions. As a result, conflicts over published patents have loosed an avalanche of intellectual property litigation.

The group agreed to improve prior art resources available to the USPTO; to develop a system to alert the public when USPTO publishes certain software-related applications so that interested parties can submit related prior art in accordance with relevant rules and law; and, to explore developing additional criteria for measuring the quality of software patents.

A followup meeting on the new initiatives will be held at the USPTO headquarters in Alexandria, VA, on February 16. The session will be open to the public and devoted to working on details of the three initiatives and the development of additional proposals.

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