Monday, February 27, 2006

19th c. Patent Digests in Google Book Search

In December 2004, Google announced a partnership with four university libraries and the New York Public Library to scan and digitize millions of the books in their collections, many of them copyrighted. The goal of Google Book Search, as the project is called, is to make the full text of books owned by the world's leading libraries and publishing houses available on-line within a decade.

While publishers and copyright owners have been successful in curbing Google's efforts to scan works still protected by copyright, GBS is scanning older publications and materials not covered under copyright. This is a boon to researchers who want access to 19th and 20th century U.S. government documents, which are not copyrighted. For example, inventors, genealogists and historians can now access a few indexes and digest of patents published by the U.S. Patent Office in the mid-19th century. One example (bearing a Harvard Library bookplate) is:

A digest of patents issued by the United States including the years 1839, 1840, and 1841
to which is added the present laws relating to patents
Henry L. Ellsworth, Commissioner of Patents
Washington: William Greer, 1842

The digest list patents under the twelve classes of the U.S. patent classification system in alphabetical order by title. A separate section includes the text of patent laws up to August 1842.

As Google Book Search grows, more patent indexes and digests are sure to appear. In a short time it may be possible for anyone to browse by inventor name or subject the 19th century U.S. patent record. Of course, the USPTO web site already has a database of scanned images of U.S. patents back to 1790. However, patents prior to January 1976 can only be retrieved by patent number or current classification. Inventor name and title are not searchable. The presence of 19th century patent indexes in Google Book Search will make it easier for researchers to locate patents by inventor name, date and subject.

U.S. Patent Counts, Feb. 5-29

The number of issued patents continued to rise through the first three weeks in February, reaching a six-month high of 4,064 on February 21. A patent milestone was reached on February 14: the USPTO issued patent no. 7,000,000. The total number of patents issued in 2006 now stands at 25,032.

Published applications declined from 5,624 on February 2 to 4,862 on February 23. The total number of published applications in 2006 is 41,976, almost twice the number of patents.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

New USPTO Class Order: Classes 2, 57, 428

The USPTO has published Classification Order 1,854, dated February 7, 2006. The order affects subclasses in Class 2 - Apparel; Class 57 - Textiles: Spinning, Twisting, and Twining; and Class 428 - Stock Material or Misc. Articles.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

U.S. Patent 7,000,000

Early this morning the USPTO issued utility patent no. 7,000,000. (A total of 3,920 other patents were also issued.)

The patent, which is assigned to DuPont, is for a new type of polysaccharide fiber and the process for making it. According to the abstract, the new fibers have "cotton-like properties" and are useful in textile applications. The inventor is John P. O'Brien, the recipient of several other patents for artificial fibers and methods of making them.

Of course, milestone patents are significant for more than just their numbers. With the recent furor over low-cost Chinese textile products flooding the U.S. after the expiration of the 30-year old international agreement on textiles in January 2005, this patent may be symbolic of the pressing need to invest in U.S. technological innovation and development. Despite textile industry and union appeals to "buy American", American consumers are unlikely to pay top dollar for American-made underwear and golf shirts when they can buy similar goods at much lower prices on the world market. The U.S. economy needs technological innovation more than ever in order to compete in the global economy.

Critics of globalization often complain about the "race to the bottom", i.e. that workers in industrialized countries will be forced to accept increasing pay cuts that make them more competitive with workers in developing countries like India and China. The answer to low-cost textile goods manfactured in China, India and other developing countries is not reducing the pay of American textile workers, it's investing in technological innovation that produces new materials, products and markets. The future of the U.S. textile industry is not cheaper golf shirts produced in more efficient mills by lower paid workers, it's technological innovation, research and development that leads to patentable inventions like Dupont's
polysaccharide fibers.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

U.S. Patent 7,000,000 on Feb. 14?

If the USPTO issues 3,155 or more utility patents next Tuesday, Feb. 14, it is likely that they will include patent number 7,000,000. The UPSTO issued 3,040 utility patents on Feb. 7. The highest numbered utility patent is currently 6,996,845. Given the timing, one has to wonder what the subject of the milestone patent will be...

Perhaps a new formulation for fat-free chocolate? A method of identifying potential mates on-line? A recordable Valentine's Day card with a built-in video display and speakers?

Patent No. 6,000,000 was granted on December 7, 1999 to inventors Jeff Hawkins and Michael Albanese. Their invention was a system for synchronizing files on two computers, the core technology of the Palm Pilot PDA, the first commercially successful hand-held electronic organizer. Other million-milestone patents include:

5,000,000 (March 19, 1991)
Ethanol production by Escherichia coli strains co-expressing Zymomonas PDC and ADH genes

4,000,000 (Decembre 28, 1976)
Process for recycling asphalt-aggregate compositions

3,000,000 (September 12, 1961)
Automatic reading system (barcodes)

2,000,000 (April 30, 1935)
Vehicle wheel construction

1,000,000 (August 8, 1911)
Vehicle tire

Monday, February 06, 2006

Chinese Universities Increase Patent Filings

There have been many articles and opinion pieces in American business and engineering magazines in recent months warning of the threat of China overtaking the U.S. in technical education and innovation. A recent issue of ASEE Prism, the magazine of the American Society for Engineering Education, concludes that China is in the process of creating world-class engineering universities. One of the keynote speakers at ASEE's 2005 annual conference, Dwight Streit, VP of Foundation Technologies for Northrup-Grumman, warned that China is graduating some 325,000 new engineers per year compared to 70,000 in the U.S. A recent BusinessWeek article noted that Indian engineering firms are poised to capture more U.S. engineering and design work. It concludes that U.S. engineers need to be redeployed to higher-valued jobs.

Chinese universities are also making impressive progress in the realm of intellectual property. According to an article in the June issue of KnowledgeLink (Thomson Scientific), Chinese university patent activity is increasing at a faster rate than scholarly publications, a frequently cited measure of academic research output, because of intellectual property law reform and government policies encouraging domestic research and commercialziation. According to the 2004 annual report of China's State Intellectual Property Office, Chinese universities and research institutes accounted for 17 percent of the approximately 111,000 new patent applications filed in 2004. Tsinghua University accounted for 875 new patent applications alone, followed by Shanghai Jiaotong University with 829 and Zhejiang University with 762. In comparison, the University of California (all campuses) filed 424 new patent applications with the USPTO in 2004, followed by Cal Tech with 135, and MIT with 132, in 2004. The World Intellectual Property Organization reported recently that Chinese PCT filings increased by 43.7 percent in 2005.

USPTO Keeps Fees in President's 2007 Budget

President Bush's budget proposal for fiscal year 2007 recommends that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office keep all of the roughly $1.8 billion it collects in patent and trademark fees and supports additional increases for reducing application processing times and improving quality.

Inventors and intellectual property owners have long complained of Congress's habit of diverting USPTO fees to fund other federal programs. Funding for the USPTO, an agency of the Department of Commerce, is covered in the bill authorizing the budgets of the Departments of Commerce, State and Justice. President Bush has supported ending the practice of diversion in recent budget proposals.

The USTO will need access to all its funds in order to decrease its increasing backlog of patent applications and support e-government initiatives. Last year the USPTO hired some 970 patent examiners and received more than 400,000 new patent applications. The USPTO expects to hire approximately 1,000 more examiners per year throught fiscal year 2011, according to testimony before Congress by Jon Dudas, Undersecretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO. The number of pending patent applications could increase from approximately 600,000 today to 1,000,000 by 2010, according to Dudas.

The USPTO has a mixed record on implementing technological solutions to its workload problem. The USPTO's award-winning Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS), lauched in October, 1998 and its Trademark Electronic Search Search (TESS) have been very successful. More than 88 percent of new trademark applications are filed electronically, according to the USPTO's 2005 annual report. TESS includes all registered and pending trademark applications and expired trademarks since 1984. The USPTO's patent electronic filing system, EFS, despite significant investment, has not been successful. Less than 2 percent of new patent applications are filed electronically. Inventors and patent attorneys have complained of the system's difficult user interface, complexity and reliability. According to the annual report, a new, web-based version of EFS should be in full production mode by the end of 2006.

According to a report in Federal Computer Week, the USPTO plans to use much of the fiscal year budget authority to hire more patent and trademark examiners, and improve examiner traininng. The report also stated that the USPTO would budget $70.2 million to improve its patent automation system and an additional $18.2 million to enhance its trademark automation system. $10.1 million will be allocated for improvements to the USPTO's web-based information dissemination management system.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Japan, China, S. Korea Lead PCT Filings in 2005

The World Intellectual Property organization has reported a record 134,000 international patent application filings in 2005. China and the Republic of Korea were the countries with the largest increases in PCT filings, jumping to the 10th and 6th positions, respectively. Japan had the third largest growth in PCT filings. Together, the three Asian countries accounted for 24.1 precent of all international applications. In comparison, PCT filings from Canada numbered 2,315 and the United States 45,111.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

U.S. Patent Counts, Jan. 22-Feb. 2

The number of patents granted by the USPTO increased in the final week of January, jumping from about 2,500 on January 24 to 3,500 on January 31. This is one of only a few weeks since September 2005 that the USPTO has granted more than 3,000 patents in one week. Prior to October 1, 2005 the USPTO regularly granted 3,000-3,500 patents per week. The number of published applications increased slightly to 5,500.