Leading the way on patent transparency

On Thursday, the Administration issued a call to America’s innovation community to help strengthen the patent system by providing the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office the information, tools and resources it needs to perform its vital function.

Microsoft applauds and supports these efforts. The U.S. patent system is the engine for our economy, incentivizing the creation of new technologies that are essential to America’s ability to compete in markets around the world. All stakeholders, including those of us in the private sector, have a key role to play in keeping this system healthy.

Microsoft, for one, is ready to partner with others to ensure the PTO is equipped to perform its delicate and increasingly technologically complex role. One concrete way companies can do that is by making their patent-related information easily accessible to, and searchable by, patent examiners. That’s why a year ago, Microsoft launched its Patent Tracker Tool that puts our more than 37,000 issued patents worldwide in a publicly available, searchable online database. That same commitment to transparency and quality has driven our efforts to make prior art information more easily accessible to the USPTO.

The USPTO reviews thousands of applications, and part of that review includes a search to see if the idea is truly novel. Right now, though, the USPTO lacks easy access to an enormous amount of this ‘prior art’ information, some of which exists only on paper and optical media filed in libraries and corporate archives.

In the fall of 2013, Microsoft launched a prior art initiative to solve this problem. We began the process of uploading our extensive archive of information, not readily available to the public, that might serve as prior art. Already we have made the database of 1.8 million documents available to patent examiners – for free and in a searchable format – while the site is in the live-beta phase. In the coming months, the database will be customized with new features, functionalities and documents that will improve the utility of the service.

Today, we pledge to complete the beta testing, implement the USPTO’s feedback and make the service available to all patent examiners by May 2014. We will continue to add to the database with the goal of providing examiners access to more than 10 million archived Microsoft technical documents.

Taking steps like these is one important way industry can do its part to improve the patent system, and Microsoft is proud to be working on these efforts.

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