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ARMONK, NY - 11 Jan 2007: IBM (NYSE: IBM) announced today that it will develop and host the "Inventors’ Forum," an online initiative to share and debate ideas on how smaller enterprises view patent systems and can contribute to reform efforts such as improved patent quality.
IBM made the announcement as IFI Claims released the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) annual list of the top patentees. With 3,621, IBM surpassed its own record and earned more U.S. patents than any other company for the fourteenth consecutive year, exceeding the next closest patentee by 1,170.*
A number of individuals and small and mid-sized companies have already agreed to participate in the forum, including inventor Lonnie Johnson, patent holder of many inventions in thermodynamics and best known as the inventor of the Super Soaker® water gun. The company also has reached out to venture capitalists and others who play a role in the evolution of smaller businesses, to join the forum in the second quarter of the year and share their views on the issues affecting their participation in the intellectual property marketplace. IBM believes this dialog with a group whose needs often are underserved can help accelerate successful patent reform efforts.
"Meaningful patent reform must address the needs of all constituents. This Inventors’ Forum can help accelerate patent reform efforts by bringing a diverse spectrum of opinions together to collaboratively develop solutions for a robust intellectual property marketplace," said Herbert Wamsley, executive director of the Washington, DC-based Intellectual Property Owners Association.
With companies and governments focused on innovation to create economic growth, the number of patent applications from individuals and companies of all sizes is skyrocketing. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, small companies earn nearly 15 times the number of patents per employee as large enterprises. Patents have become a principal means of establishing value for the creators and users of knowledge-based assets. As vital as patents are to large companies such as IBM, they are just as vital to smaller entities whose businesses or aspirations are built around a smaller number of patents.
"Smaller companies long have been the 'silent majority' in the invention community,” said Andy Gibbs, CEO of PatentCafe, a publisher of IP management software solutions. “The sheer number of patents they generate obscures the fact that they do not have a means to actually collaborate and participate with one voice in the invention system. The Inventors’ Forum will empower these companies to voice their ideas for improving the patent system and brainstorm with peers around the world."
These small companies often lack the resources to help them effectively and productively navigate the process and rules for obtaining a patent, maintaining ownership, and then converting patents into marketable products and services. In addition, because individual inventors and small business are a heterogeneous group in geography, technology and industry, there are few opportunities for them to collaborate on these and other IP interests and issues.
"With individuals and smaller companies comprising a significant percentage of the invention that occurs around the world, it is important that we provide a forum to understand their concerns and issues if we want to improve the overall health of our patent systems," said John E. Kelly III, IBM senior vice president of Technology and Intellectual Property. "The goal of this initiative is to enable representatives of a broad segment of the invention community to voice new ideas for improving how they participate in the system and become part of the solution to the challenges our patent systems face."
IP Marketplace discussions
The Inventors’ Forum follows on the "Building a New IP Marketplace" project from a year ago, which focused on issues affecting primarily larger enterprises. In the IP Marketplace project, wiki technology was used to enable a forum of worldwide intellectual property experts to develop consensus around several thorny issues such as quality, transparency and the validity of business method patents.
The collaboratively developed document resulting from that effort led to the adoption by IBM of a new patent policy. Key tenets of the policy are that patent quality is the responsibility of the applicant; that patent applications should be open to public examination and that patent ownership should be transparent; and that business methods without technical content should not be patentable.
Momentum in patent quality initiatives
The Inventors' Forum will help further advance the goals of the patent quality initiatives IBM announced a year ago. The prevalence of patent applications that are of low quality or poorly written have led to backlogs of historic proportions, and the granting of patents protecting ideas that are not new, are overly broad, or obvious. IBM believes raising patent quality will encourage continued investment in innovation by individuals, academic institutions and companies of all sizes, while preventing the over-protection that works against the public interest.
Last January, IBM launched a series of patent quality initiatives including Community Patent Review and Open Source as Prior Art. Both of the initiatives are intended to augment the relevant information available to patent examiners. The USPTO featured these initiatives in their recently announced strategic plan. In addition, the USPTO will participate in a pilot of Community Patent Review starting in 2007.
Professor Beth Noveck of New York Law School is leading Community Patent Review and several companies have lent their support to the project since it was announced.
Open Source Development Labs continues to lead a team from the open source software community working with the USPTO on Open Source as Prior Art. This initiative has already yielded benefits to the USPTO in the form of the identification of new tools and sources of prior art.
The final initiative is the Patent Quality Index which seeks to define a quantitative metric for the quality of patents. Professor Ronald Mann of the University of Texas Law School is leading the project.
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1 *Results and ranking were reported today by IFI CLAIMS Patent Services, which compiles the CLAIMS© patent database and annually reports the number of U.S. patents issued to companies. According to IFI CLAIMS, IBM inventors were listed on 30 additional patents awarded to other primary assignees for a total of 3,651 patents.