Patent database up and running

U.S. Patent data that once carried a high access fee is now available for free online.

Just one year ago, I posted a piece on O’Reilly Radar about an unlikely group working happily together to vastly increase the amount of U.S. Patent information available at no charge on the Internet. I’ve done no heavy lifting whatsoever on this project, so it has been a pleasure to watch the U.S. Patent Office, the White House, and Jon Orwant at Google plow through this rather daunting task.

The system is now in full production including all the current feeds that were previously only available for big bucks by subscription. Also available for the first time is the Patent Application Information Retrieval (PAIR) data, which is the full “wrapper” for a patent application. PAIR data was only available previously on a rate-limited query-only service.

Richard Jefferson, one of the leading patent database experts in the world and the creator of Cambia, recently posted an open letter to Under Secretary Kappos explaining what a Big Deal this really is:

So imagine the courage and leadership necessary for David Kappos and his team to look at the revenue from selling these products, and to say ‘No, that’s wrong. The President’s Open Government Directive makes it clear that these should be public goods, available without fee or favor; bundle them into the bulk downloads’.

Breaking free from institutional capture by revenue stream is amongst the most difficult and bold leadership decisions anyone responsible for an enterprise can make.

So hats off to the whole team at USPTO, to Joey Hutcherson at Commerce and to the Deputy CTO in OSTP, Beth Noveck, and to Jon Orwant and his team at Google. Real good citizens!

Jefferson is no fan-boy of the Patent Office, and I must admit I’ve had my occasional skirmishes with them as well, and we’ve both seen how selling DVDs as a profit center had become part of the gestalt of the institution. It took some real prodding for Noveck in the White House and Kappos at PTO, with the help of CIO John Owens, to pull this off. Google now has 20 tbytes available for download, Jon Orwant tells me he has another 50 tbytes on the way. The Patent Database is the only database explicitly called out by the founding fathers in the U.S. Constitution and it is good to see that database finally become available.

tags: ,