The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is understaffed and overwhelmed. Could the answer to its problems lie in crowdsourcing the patent-review process? Could crowdsourcing result in better patents?

This week on the legal-affairs podcast Lawyer2Lawyer, we look at the Peer-to-Patent system, an innovative pilot project run jointly by the USPTO and the Center for Patent Innovations, a research and development arm of New York Law School’s Institute for Information Law and Policy. The project just completed its second year of operation and its future is now under review. It uses crowdsourcing and the power of the Internet at large to help vet applications for business-methods and software patents.

Joining us to discuss this experiment in crowdsourcing of patent review are two guests:

  • Prof. Mark Webbink, executive director of the Center for Patent Innovations and the former senior vice president and general counsel at Red Hat, the premier Linux and open source vendor.
  • Stephanie Scruggs, an intellectual-property partner in the Washington, D.C., office of Hanify & King, where she focuses on patent litigation, patent prosecution, and product clearance and patent validity opinions.

Listen to or download this week’s program at the Legal Talk Network.

Patents Online LLC, the company that operates the free patent-search site has launched a more feature-rich companion site targeted at law firms and IP professionals. Called SumoBrain, the new site is designed for professional users who need more features, including higher limits for PDFs, alerts and portfolios, as well as the ability to order documents in bulk. Features of SumoBrain include:

  • On-line search accounts with document downloads, collaboration tools, and other advanced features.
  • The ability to purchase whole data sets and data feeds, including custom analytics for inhouse data warehousing.
  • Custom projects to meet specific corporate/law firm demands.
  • Advanced search capabilities, including fielded searching, word stemming, proximity searching and search term weighting.

The company says its subscription pricing will be low as compared to competitors. A notice on the site’s subscription page says that it is currently accepting new sign-ups only by invitation, which can be requested through the site.

From an article I wrote for the newsletter of IMS Expertservices:

“Ronald A. Katz once predicted that he would someday become the wealthiest patent holder ever. By most estimates, he has achieved that goal – or will soon.

“He has arrived there through an aggressive strategy of patent litigation that has had him taking on many of the nation’s largest corporations in virtually every industry. His portfolio includes more than 50 patents and thousands of claims, all dealing with telephonic interactive voice applications.”

Read the rest.

I recently moderated a roundtable discussion by three top patent lawyers to assess the significance and impact of the Aug. 20 en banc decision of the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, In re Seagate Technology. The transcript of that roundtable is now available via IMS ExpertServices, which sponsored the event. The three panelists were:

  • Alison M. Tucher, a partner in the San Francisco office of Morrison & Foerster and author of the amicus brief filed in Seagate on behalf of Echostar Communications and BEA Systems.
  • Peter A. Sullivan, a partner in the New York office of Hughes Hubbard & Reed and author of the amicus brief filed in Seagate on behalf of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York.
  • William F. Heinze, patent procurement counsel for GE Energy in Atlanta and author of the popular blog I/P Updates.

Find out what they had to say here.

Today is the 131st anniversary of Alexander Graham Bell’s historic first telephone call to his assistant, Thomas A. Watson, during which he uttered the famous words, “Mr. Watson — come here — I want to see you.” It is interesting to note that just three days earlier, on March 7, 1876, Bell obtained his patent on the telephone, U.S. Patent 174,465. Even more interesting, as this Wikipedia entry describes, were it not for the intervention of Boston lawyer Gardiner Greene Hubbard, Bell might not have had a patent for his invention.

Two years earlier, Hubbard, a prominent lawyer and son of a Massachusetts Supreme Court justice, began providing financial support for Bell’s experiments. The two met when Bell was a teacher to Hubbard’s deaf daughter Mabel. According to Wikipedia, on Feb. 14, 1876, Hubbard told his patent lawyer Anthony Pollok to file an application with the U.S. Patent Office on Bell’s behalf. Reportedly, he beat another telephone patent application by two hours. The Patent Office issued Bell’s patent on March 7. On March 10, Bell made his groundbreaking “call” to Watson. A year later, on July 9, 1877, Bell and Hubbard formed the Bell Telephone Company. Two days after that, Bell married Mabel. By 1886, more than 150,000 people in the U.S. owned telephones. As for Hubbard, among his many subsequent achievements was founding the National Geographic Society.

A newly launched Web site, LegalForce, offers an online “marketplace” for buying, selling and licensing patents. Through July, listing patents for sale costs nothing. Interested buyers can view listings and post bids, which are non-binding as serve as invitations to negotiate. The site also provides a networking forum for inventors, attorneys and IP professionals, where they can participate in topical forums, post videos (illustrating their inventions, for example), post classified ads and list events.

According to the Web site, LegalForce also offers IP legal services, including patent preparation and prosecution, “through a network of U.S. patent attorneys using LegalForce intellectual property support services in India.” According to a white paper, this means that much of the patent work is outsourced through U.S. patent attorneys to patent engineers in India.

Some patent lawyers might consider the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals to be a circus, but a new Web site aims to tame the lion of patent caselaw. Called, the site is the latest and most ambitious project of the folks behind rethink(ip), patent attorneys and bloggers J. Matthew Buchanan, Stephen M. Nipper and Douglas Sorocco. The new site describes itself as a portal of patent caselaw built on a foundation of timely, accurate and considerate reviews of appellate decisions. Its central offering are reviews of all appellate patent decisions. These are summaries that digest and provide perspective on each case. Each review includes a case data box with a link to the full decision, citation and other information. Cases whose precedential value may be in question include “red flags” explaining the concern. Reviews can be searched or browsed by court, date or name. Key words are organized in a tag cloud. A feature called Gimme Ten! provides the most recent 10 reviews in a single page. Users can subscribe to receive updates by RSS or e-mail.

The site is clear that its goal of timely case reporting does not mean immediate case reporting. In general, it says, case reviews will be published “a couple weeks” behind a decision’s release. If the site has a weakness, this is it. But assuming the collection of reviews continues to grow and be comprehensive, the site should prove to be an essential resource for patent practitioners.

Meanwhile, watch for more to come as this trio of patent lawyers continues to develop the site. Coming soon, they say: a patent law podcast.

Google Patent Search is a new Google feature that searches the full text of more than 7 million U.S. patents. It covers the entire collection of USPTO patents, from the 1790s through the middle of 2006. It does not currently include patent applications, international patents, or U.S. patents issued over the last few months, but an explanatory note says that coverage will expand. Advanced searching allows you to search by patent number, inventor, classification and date.