Patent Transparency: Why it’s okay to show your cards

by: Innography

Categories: industry outlooks

Yesterday, Microsoft unveiled its Patent Tracker tool, as a sign of “responsible intellectual property management.” In the midst of today’s turbulent patent landscape and wars being waged from all directions, we commend Microsoft on its commitment to a healthy IP ecosystem.

According to Microsoft Executive VP and General Counsel Brad Smith, “We need greater transparency. The PTO is considering requirements for greater transparency. But I don’t think we need to wait. I think those of us in the industry can step forward. That’s why we as a company are announcing a pledge for transparency, and we’re announcing that by the first of April we will publish on the web all the information that anyone needs to identify all of the patents for which Microsoft is the owner and real party of interest.”

So being that the USPTO database is accessible and searchable by the general public, this might not seem like a big deal, however, as one of our clients poignantly pointed out, “Just because something is public information, does not mean it’s public knowledge.”

Not only is the USPTO database difficult to navigate, but not all of Microsoft’s patents are listed directly under Microsoft. There are several options, such as Microsoft Corp., Microsoft Corporation, or any other variation of the parent company name. Additionally, some of its patents may be listed under individual inventors. Innography has an entire team devoted to scrubbing this type of data to make sure your results in Innography are complete. Some companies count on this complexity to contribute to their secrecy. So the idea that Microsoft is taking information that usually involves strategic search and some elbow grease, and wrapping it up in a nice package for anyone who's interested is a bold move, indeed.

The Patent tracker is designed to address three main problems facing IP today:

  • Knowing who actually owns or controls a patent
  • Litigation abuse by non-practicing entities or patent trolls
  • Poor patent quality

There is no doubt that the current US Patent System needs some work, but we like what we see in Microsoft’s commitment to show its cards and play fair. Other companies that have also expressed willingness to work within the patent system are Google and Twitter. Although they’re not eager to be as open as Microsoft, they have both made good faith pledges to not sue for infringement unless they are first attacked.

Regardless of strategy, the message from these tech giants is loud and clear. Less litigation and more innovation. We look forward to seeing what’s to come.

What do you think of Microsoft’s patent tracker tool?

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