Monday, March 9, 2015

Why Bother? Well, Because We Have To

USPTO is in the process of giving its website a facelift.  Modern fonts, the bootstrap framework, and lots of code in github.  We commend the new look.  The upgrade has not been without its own twists and turns.  We found tons of "differences" on the filed dates on the assignee pages vs. the full text database including dates like Jan 1, 0001 and our favorite patent number 12345678.

(It's usually a good idea to have data traps to catch bad data and to remove the test data before going live but we've had our own forgetting to remove the test deck fro the system when going live transgressions so we get it.)

There has also been more explaining of the goings-on in the patentsphere, giving the public some context about what it is that they are looking at.  Providing the public with more information on what the patent data means

One of the more interesting ones had to do with data on the assignee pages.  Our correspondent from Nebraska brought it to our attention being obsessed with all matters pertaining to who owns what.

"When relevant information is given to the USPTO to be recorded in the USPTO’s assignment database, the USPTO simply puts the information on the public record and does not verify the validity of the information. Recordation is a ministerial function--the USPTO neither makes a determination of the legality of the transaction nor the right of the submitting party to take the action."

You can see it for yourself here.  Right at the start screen of assignment search.

There are so many head exploding things going on here that it's hard to figure out where to start.

caveat emptor

USPTO is basically telling you the assignment data questionable and only as reliable as the reputation of the company providing it.  If you think Apple and IBM are reliable you might be happy with thinking their data is ok.  If you don't know who See Shell LLC is you might be suspicious.  

USPTO charges people fees and just put the information in their database and you people are on your own.  Which is worse - that USPTO can't rely on the information provided it by patent owners or that the impossible task of trying to figure out who owns what patent without spending a lot of time and money continues because the data from USPTO is "simply put on the public record and not verified."  

Then there is the odd phrase, "Recordation is a ministerial function..."  Or as our disgruntled Nebraska correspondent, data scientist and public records expert from Nebraska put it, 

"Can you imagine seeing a similar statement on the door of your local County clerk's office? The rotting respect for public records and government custodial integrity erodes..."
Get the pitchforks out.

this is a stick-up

USPTO is in the middle of the Attributable Ownership battle of the new century.  You can read all the gory details here.

The White House and just about anyone who believes that the exclusive right conveyed by a patent is based on disclosure of the invention including who owns it got tired of not being able to figure out who owned what patent.  A chorus of voices from the real world -- retailers, hoteliers, people who run businesses small and large, who got hit up by the patent monetization entities in extortion racket -- also have had it with how impossible it is to find out who is behind See Shell, LLC or other exotically named firms claiming infringement of their patents and demanding money, are also demanding better, easy to access, information.  So an executive order was drafted and signed that basically says you have to provide accurate and comprehensive information on the ownership and the real party in interest for a valid patent. Real party in interest basically says tell us EVERYBODY who stands to benefit from See Shell, LLC's ownership of the patent. 

USPTO's rule making requires that owners report ownership information every now and then --  when you get your patent, when you pay your maintenance fees or if something "material" in the ownership of the owner happens.  The Innovation Act making its way around the Capitol is much more stringent looking for updates within 90 days of something happening.

why bother?

Which brings us to the big question here, why bother?  Well, because they have to.  USPTO records and publishes what it gets because there is no meaningful or realistic way for them to put the hammer down and tell people to send in correct information with your fees or we'll invalidate your patent.  It's like all the other bad data they get from applicants.  

Patents are assets like deeds to your house or the title on your car, or those stock certificates stored somewhere.  It's time that patents are given the same level of scrutiny and respect as other types of property so that you don't have to wonder if the disclaimer on the new upgraded USPTO assignee page wouldn't make the fine people at the County Clerk's Office cringe.