IBM is overhauling its patent application procedures to reduce the number of patent disputes that end up in US courts, and is encouraging other companies to follow its lead.
Increased use of technological innovations in all aspects of business and day-to-day life has resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of patents filed with the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
Pharmaceutical innovation, especially in the field of gene research, has exacerbated the problem, and the USPTO is now swamped with patent applications.
A total of 17,962 patents were filed by the 10 most prolific companies and top 10 universities in 2005 alone.
Patent licensing has become a large part of many US firms' business and, as the financial rewards rise, an increasing number of companies resort to litigation to settle disputes, similarly inundating the courts.
IBM has led the world in the number of patents filed for the past 13 years, filing 2,941 in 2005. So the company's move to tackle the patent problem has as good a chance as any of making an impact.
One aspect of IBM's new patent procedure will be to publish innovations online that it plans to patent six months before filing.
Currently, the PTO publishes patent applications for two months, 18 months after they have been filed.
By providing a longer period of open public review, IBM hopes that many patents which are likely to be disputed in court are aborted by private negotiation.
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