I tried to pose some questions to USPTO On-Line chat for Independent Inventors today, however the digichat java applet does not appear work with any combination of Linux Galeon/Mozilla/Firefox jdk1.5.0/j2re1.4.2_07 or MacOSX Firefox/Safari. Here is what I tried to ask:
I understand that the discovery of prior art and the evaluation of the obviousness of an invention are difficult tasks for the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) patent application examiners to perform. The percentage of patents being overturned under the scrutiny of the courts leads me to believe that the process is not quite as accurate as could be desired. In a few recent cases the existence of publicly accessible digital content has played a part in disclosing prior art. The public, technical and scientific communities use of Internet has to a large extent replaced printed media such as journals for the public disclosure of new ideas. To what extent does the current USPTO patent application examination process take into account public accessible website content? Do the patent examiners currently use Internet search engines such as Google ( http://www.google.com ) to locate instances of prior art? Is the changeable and unverifiable nature of some digital content a barrier to its being cited as prior art in the patent application examination process?
The USPTO patent application examiners task could be made more reliable if the examiners could consult one or more public online registries that document cases of prior art and public discoveries. The online registries could provide a means for the public to retroactively point to cases of preexisting prior art for pending patent applications and a means to proactively document publicly known ideas and concepts. Although websites and digitally stored content in general is changeable, individual entries and changes in an online registry could be legally authenticated by means of digital timestamping ( http://www.rsasecurity.com/rsalabs/node.asp?id=2347 ). An online registry could be hosted by the USPTO as an adjunct to the existing online public patent and patent pending databases. The USPTO could also publicly recognize other individual registries hosted by third parties such as a commercial entity or a non-profit community similar to Wikipedia ( http://www.wikipedia.org/ ). An individual adding an entry to such a publicly online registry does not involve granting that individual any form of monopoly, therefore the action need not have any artificial barrier involving fees or payments. Would the existence of digitally timestamped public content overcome any objections by the USPTO to its citing as prior art? Has the USPTO any plans to add some form of publicly accessible feedback mechanism to the patent application process?
It has been nine years since the USPTO updated the Guidelines for Computer-Related Inventions ( http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/com/hearings/software/analysis/computer.html ). Since that time has the USPTO undertaken, commissioned or evaluated any studies on the effects that granting software related patents has had on the progress of science, useful arts and the software industry in general? If no such study has been performed or evaluated, why not? Can the USPTO point to any instances where the granting of software related patents has been an actual benefit to the progress of science, useful arts and the software industry in general? In a similar vein, can the USPTO point to any instances where the granting of business method related patents has been an actual benefit to the progress of science, useful arts and industry in general?