Inventors, business people, and investors are faced with a variety of technology barriers when attempting to access and use USPTO systems like PAIR, the Assignment Database, the full text search tools for patents and pre-grant publications. Common browsers like Firefox, Chrome, and Safari frequently work with some of the USPTO systems and not work with others. Searchers must engage in browser roulette, shifting through different browsers based on their device or the USPTO system they are trying to access and then deal with user experiences that require them to learn different methods of searching and accessing information depending on which system they are using. Users are often frustrated when trying to figure out how to access to critical assets, most notably the TIFF images associated with patents, some of which are totally inaccessible without out plug-ins and add-ons and the right combination of browsers and operating system on their devices. These access barriers to use that occur before innovators can even begin their searching. More search fatigue and less access to meaningful results.
There are few other asset markets where the preliminary evaluation tools available to the public are so complex or hard to use. USPTO is making strides in improving these systems. To resolve the impact of asymmetric information between innovators and patent insiders, focus needs to be on the tools available for innovators to make their own initial assessment of freedom to operate, patentability, and build or license product decisions. Designing systems for internal constituents and designing for external users requires different design aesthetics. Resources are needed to build tools that support external users. USPTO needs to make their current systems more compatible with contemporary internet and mobile technology. This means that the user gets to pick the browser and USPTO makes sure that all of their software works in all of the browsers that a user might have. This is how contemporary web technology provides an expressive user experience.
Initiatives like transitioning images from TIFF to XML4IP, building new patent family technology, and standardizing data formats needs to be accelerated to give early stage innovators the capabilities to make initial assessments on where their innovations sit with respect to existing patents. And USPTO needs two vantage points in developing their systems — 1) an internal perspective to deliver expert systems to support patent examiners and internal USPTO business processes like search and classification; and 2) an external perspective to improve the user experience of external users who have a broad range of experience with the subject matter and the tools. Every business faces the same challenges. USPTO's users, internal and external, all deserve a better user experience. Is you want to fix the patent system, spend the money and improve the user experience.
The IE8/IE9 Advisory
On March 20, 2013 USPTO issued an advisory on using PAIR. Here is the full advisory:
Some customers using Internet Explorer 9 and 10 are reporting they are unable to download PDF documents provided by the USPTO. This includes forms listed on the forms web page, last 40 Acknowledgement Receipts from EFS-WEB, and Image File Wrapper documents from Private and Public PAIR. The following message is displayed when the error occurs: “Filename.pdf couldn’t be downloaded.”
Microsoft’s Knowledge Base has an article describing the issue and how to correct it. It can be found on the following page: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/2549423. Microsoft is the best source of information for questions related to the functioning of their software. The issue can also be circumvented by using another browser such as Mozilla Firefox.
Make a Shim
Everyone developing software for the web knows that you need to workaround the odd behavior of Internet Explorer. What is puzzling here is why USPTO doesn't do what most web developers do, add an IE8 IE9 shim — web developer talk for a work around — to make sure that users can access the data using their browser of choice rather than having to switch to a different browser? Same with making USPTO' publicly facing tools more mobile friendly so you can access the data on your device of choice using your browser of choice rather than through your old Win-Tel PC with an old browser. Even patent attorneys are mobile these days. And many innovators are digital natives having grown up with the internet and a desire to do their own research and searching and discovery.