Microsoft is backing the White House in its efforts to revamp a patent system that has become the source of litigation between technology companies and IP holding firms.
On Feb. 20, the Obama administration announced new executive actions, including an initiative to crowdsource prior art and expand the United States Patent and Trademark Office's (USPTO) Patent Examiner Technical Training Program to "help patent examiners keep up with fast-changing technological fields by making it easier for technologists, engineers, and other experts to provide relevant technical training and guidance to patent examiners," said the White House in a statement.
"Microsoft applauds and supports these efforts," Horacio Gutierrez, deputy general counsel and corporate vice president of legal and corporate affairs at Microsoft, wrote in a blog post. "All stakeholders, including those of us in the private sector, have a key role to play in keeping this system healthy."
Microsoft is providing visibility into its own patent portfolio through its Patent Tracker Tool, a searchable online database that was launched last year. The tool enables users to examine more than 37,000 patents issued to the company worldwide. "That same commitment to transparency and quality has driven our efforts to make prior art information more easily accessible to the USPTO."
One of the major challenges the USPTO faces is the agency's lack of "easy access to an enormous amount" of prior art information as it reviews thousands of applications to determine if they contain truly novel ideas, said Gutierrez. Microsoft is working on that front as well with a prior art initiative that the company kicked off in the fall of 2013.
"We began the process of uploading our extensive archive of information, not readily available to the public, that might serve as prior art," Gutierrez said. The site, currently in beta, contains 1.8 million documents that patent examiners can reference during the patent application review process. "In the coming months, the database will be customized with new features, functionalities and documents that will improve the utility of the service," he said.
Microsoft expects to have the site completely up and running by the spring, complete with 10 million technical documents. "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," said Gutierrez.
The patent wars are taking a toll on the IT industry.
On Dec. 23, Google filed suit in California against the Rockstar patent consortium in a bid to shield its Android mobile operating system from lawsuits. Rockstar is owned by Microsoft, Apple, BlackBerry (formerly Research In Motion), Sony, EMC and Ericsson.
Earlier this month, computer networking giant Cisco inked a $2.7 million settlement with Innovatio IP Ventures. As a reputed WiFi "patent troll" in possession of old Broadcom patents, Innovatio had sent out more than 14,000 letters to businesses and organizations that use Cisco WiFi equipment demanding thousands of dollars in licensing fees from each.