Friday, November 9, 2012

Level The Playing Field - Archipelago Edition

Welcome to Patent Data  Archipelago Edition  

A Patent Data Adventure

There are many interesting "features" about the data on US patents.   Begin with patent being the basic container used to define the parts of the entire spectrum of the scientific and technical innovation universe.  (The US patent database is one of the world's largest and most comprehensive catalogs of technical and scientific information.)  Then add inventors who make up their own words to explain new things we've never seen before which are hard to understand in the context of current knowledge. (Inventors are allowed to be their on lexicographers making up the words needed to describe their inventions.) Then add a writing style, the patent argot, which is designed to be broad enough to cover products even further into the future while at the same time teaching us about a new invention the inventor seeks to protect now.  The patent is a complex animal.  

In the bigger scheme of patent things you would think getting the location for an inventor, which appears on the face of the patent, would be easy.  Take the inventor city and state, and country from the patent and put it on a map so you can see where the inventions are coming from.  How hard can that be?

Each week about 5,000 are patents granted (and the number is rising) and the number of published patents is going up exponentially too.  So this means each week over 10,000+ new inventions enter the patent domain.  Each has the address data for all of the inventors and the address data of the Assignee if there is one (new patent obfuscation strategy is to not put an assignee on the patent until after it's published to that it doesn't show up for on the most commonly searched patent repositories.)

Each week there are addresses that have problems.  Misspelled names (how many ways can you spell Baltimore hon?); location names that aren't real postal addresses but swank gated community names (hey, North Bethesda is still Rockville people) and mismatched pairs of cities and states (Myrtle Beach, North Carolina (it's in South Carolina), and abbreviations (SF, CA; PHX, AZ - it's supposed to have a geographic location not be a proxy for a luggage tag.)  Now comes the inventor from Spieden Island, Washington.

Spieden Island is part of the San Juan Islands archipelago.  It's a sylvan place described as, ...three miles long and a half mile wide,  a mysterious, wildlife sanctuary. Shrouded in strange and exotic tales of non-native wild animals and unconfirmed sightings of Sasquatch. Uninhabited, with around 550 acres, it is now home to Corsican big horn sheep and Fallow deer from Asia amongst others...there can be few experiences more amazing than sharing Spieden’s coastal waters with the region’s largest inhabitants: Orcas. Breaching, playfully, sociably and gracefully introducing their young to the aquatic lifestyle. In Haro Straight alone, there are at least 92 of these resident giants" according to a June 2012 article posted by Snowshoe Magazine.  It looks like a spectacular place of amazing beauty but, no one lives there.  According to the Census Bureau, "Spieden Island is a privately owned island in the San Juan Archipelago in the U.S. state of Washington. It has a land area of 516.4 acres and no permanent resident population."  Spieden Island is ... UNINHABITED.

US Patent D456441 (or at least 50 others) granted to inventor James H. Jannard the mad scientist, his term not ours, at Oakley and now at Inc.  These inventions  show Mr. Jannard as an inventor (usually the first named inventor) with Spieden Island, WA as his geographic information.  Oakley is headquartered in Orange County, CA (not exactly a precise address) and is located in Irvine, CA.

Oakley's website highlights the importance of innovation and invention.  The site notes that, "decades of Oakley innovation have been awarded more than 600 patents that elevate physics to the level of art...It’s in our DNA to identify problems, create inventions and wrap those inventions in art. Some call it a relentless drive to make things better. "  (Or maybe it's 575 patents as another page on the site notes.)  Oakley's iconic sunglasses changed the way athletes protected their eyes and their vision from sunlight, sweat, and a host of projectiles. looks like it's making similar disruptive changes to the camera business.  We love our Oakleys.

Mad Scientist (and very prolific inventor) Jannard owns Spieden Island.

So whether for vanity purposes or to obfuscate his real address to protect his privacy or to advertise that he is environmentally aware and is using his money in an environmentally friendly way, Mr. Jannard's patents are tied to an island without any permanent residents which doesn't have a zip code of its own and where, unless we missed it, has no mailing address or post office.  According to a quick look at the Manual of Patent Examination Procedures (MPEP), "Applicant’s mailing address means that address at which he or she customarily receives his or her mail. Either applicant’s home or business address is acceptable as the mailing address. The mailing address should include the ZIP Code designation.  The use of a vanity city and state can't be found in the MPEP.

It's commendable that Mr. Jannard owns such a spectacular place and from the limited information available on the internet allows marine biologists and other nature lovers to explore this remote outpost and enjoy its beauty but is this location that should be used on a patent?

Yes, we know that he probably uses patent attorneys to handle these important matters and probably has plenty of smart IP cognoscente (Mr. Jannard included) at the corporate offices of his former and current firm.  But the patent application (and the patent it creates) is supposed to have an address.  And the most common repository where people look at patents (as opposed to the deep dive documents contained in the patent file wrappers and other USPTO databases) show Spieden Island.

In the scheme of the patentsphere this is a small problem and nice piece of patent trivia but it's the kind of thing that give the folks screaming that the patent system is broken credibility and frankly, it makes the USPTO look bad.  Solving this problem can be handled in a simple automated way and it will improve the quality of the patent data and the Office's credibility.  (If you can't get the address right, how can we believe the rest of the information?)  And it shouldn't be the Examiner's job or anyone else's for that matter - it's a job for a computer.

The US Patent and Trademark Office is part of the Department of Commerce.  The US Census Bureau, perhaps the most data obsessed collection of math/stats and data quality experts on the planet earth, is also part of the Department of Commerce. 

The Census Bureau is the data obsessed wing of the government.  The Census Bureau with the help of the US Postal Service (an a few external data services) has the most comprehensive list of addresses in the US.  (The Bureau also supports a range of international efforts to help others fix their address files around the world. )  How hard would it be to use the address file from Census to compare the address data on the USPTO patent applications and patents (and anything else with an address.)  If that doesn't work for whatever governmental issue, perhaps USPTO can chat up UPS or FedEx.  It worked on making the bulk patent downloads available via Google.

It's not that Mr. Jannard is doing anything wrong here, it's that the USPTO data systems let this kind of stuff get through.  Bad geo-location and address data  just adds to the cacophony complaints that the system is broken and perpetuates the rampant level of asymmetric information in the patentsphere.  It's time to work on leveling the playing field.

Let us know what you think -

We've been publishing our reading list entries on Friday.  More from the Way Better Patents Reading List Next Week.  You can see the complete Reading List here.