On June 4th, the Obama Adminstration announced executive orders designed to extract better behavior from non-practicing entities and help level the playing field between the trolls and the folks who receive their demand letters. Among the requirements will be for USPTO to enforce requirements that the true ownership of patents be disclosed. The White House is making the "real party in interest" the new default, requiring patent applicants and owners to regularly update ownership information when they are involved in proceedings before the Patent and Trademark Office or the courts vis-a-vis USPTO, since most ligitations involve seeking a reexamination of a patent. No more hiding who really owns the patents and who will benefit from the enforcement action.
While USPTO and the Obama Administration is focused on patents, it is a good time to fix the address problems too. USPTO needs to address to issues: 1) the use of real addresses; and 2) improving the quality of the address data that USPTO publishes. One would think getting the correct location and address information would be easy. It is not.
Each week USPTO publishes thousands of patent documents with geographic information and entries into the various databases used by the public. Every week there are addresses that have problems. Misspelled names (how many ways can you spell Baltimore hon?); location names that aren't real postal addresses (North Bethesda still doesn't have its own zip code.) and mismatched pairs of cities and states (Myrtle Beach, North Carolina (it's in South Carolina), patents that have different data for the same location on the same patent (see below) and abbreviations that do not conform to USPTO and/or WIPO published standards for this data (SFO, CA; PHX, AZ - it's supposed to have a geographic location not be a proxy for a luggage tag.) It isn't clear where the problem originaates — with the applicants providing bad data and USPTO just letting it flow through or data contractors at USPTO are doing a bad job. Or just a general we have enough to do here attitude that makes maintaining address data just too hard. We deal with them every week when the patents are granted but there's not much we can do about it since we have no standing at USPTO. Here are just a few bad addresses from last week's patents.
Then there is the matter of location data for real places. Meet the inventor from Spieden Island, Washington.
Spieden Island is part of the San Juan Islands archipelago. It is a sylvan place. "...three miles long and a half mile wide, a mysterious, wildlife sanctuary. Shrouded in strange and exotic tales of non-native wild animals and unconfirmed sightings of Sasquatch. Uninhabited, with around 550 acres, it is now home to Corsican big horn sheep and Fallow deer from Asia amongst others...there can be few experiences more amazing than sharing Spieden's coastal waters with the region's largest inhabitants: Orcas. Breaching, playfully, sociably and gracefully introducing their young to the aquatic lifestyle. In Haro Straight alone, there are at least 92 of these resident giants." according to a June 2012 article posted by Snowshoe Magazine. It looks like a spectacular place of amazing beauty but, no one lives there. According to the Census Bureau, "Spieden Island is a privately owned island in the San Juan Archipelago in the U.S. state of Washington. It has a land area of 516.4 acres and no permanent resident population." Spieden Island is ... UNINHABITED. It certainly isn't a place where you can find an inventor and negotiate a license for patented technology.
US Patent D456441 (and at least 50 others) are granted to inventor James H. Jannard the mad scientist, his term not ours, at Oakley and now at Red.com Inc. These inventions show Mr. Jannard as an inventor (usually the first named inventor) with Spieden Island, WA as his geographic information. Oakley is headquartered in Orange County, CA (not exactly a precise address) and Red.com is located in Irvine, CA.
Oakley's website highlights the importance of innovation and invention. The site notes that, "decades of Oakley innovation have been awarded more than 600 patents that elevate physics to the level of art...It's in our DNA to identify problems, create inventions and wrap those inventions in art. Some call it a relentless drive to make things better." (Or maybe it's 575 patents as another page on the site notes or more since we wrote this article..) Oakley's iconic sunglasses changed the way athletes protected their eyes and their vision from sunlight, sweat, and a host of projectiles. Red.com looks like it's making similar disruptive changes to the camera business. We love our Oakleys. And we love companies that innovate and invent and patent. The location data — not so much.
Mad Scientist (and very prolific inventor) Jannard owns Spieden Island.
So whether for vanity purposes or to obfuscate his real address to protect his privacy or to advertise that he is environmentally aware and is using his money in an environmentally friendly way, Mr. Jannard's patents are tied to an island without any permanent residents which doesn't have a zip code of its own and where, unless we missed it, has no mailing address or post office. So when regular people — business people, other innovators, and people who don't hang out with $500/hr plus patent attorneys, people who don't know what PAIR is for, would find a lot of patents assigned to an uninhabited island with no zip code. According to a quick look at the Manual of Patent Examination Procedures (MPEP), "Applicant's mailing address means that address at which he or she customarily receives his or her mail. Either applicant's home or business address is acceptable as the mailing address. The mailing address should include the ZIP Code designation." The use of a vanity city and state can't be found in the MPEP.
It's commendable that Mr. Jannard owns such a spectacular place and allows marine biologists and other nature lovers to explore this remote outpost and enjoy its beauty but is this location that should be used on a patent? Yes, he probably uses patent attorneys to handle these important matters and probably has plenty of smart IP cognoscente (Mr. Jannard included) at the corporate offices of his former and current firm. But the patent application (and the patent it creates) is supposed to have an address. And the most common repository where people look at patents (as opposed to the deep dive documents contained in the patent file wrappers in PAIR and other USPTO databases) show Spieden Island. Great for patent attorneys and "those active in the business" but not for innovators, entrepreneurs, and business people who grapple with the new world order of patents and the innovation economy every day.
This has another impact — Mr. Jannard's patents show up as innovations happening in Washington State not Calfornia. So the patent statistics on where innovation is taking place are not accurate. Ok, one group of patents among millions but how can you rely on the accuracy of the data from USPTO when you find this kind of stuff all the time. In the scheme of the patentsphere this is a small problem and nice piece of patent trivia but it's the kind of thing that give the folks screaming that the patent system is broken credibility and frankly, it makes the USPTO look bad. Solving this problem can be handled in a simple automated way and it will improve the quality of the patent data and the Office's credibility. (If you can't get the address right, how can we believe the rest of the information?) And it shouldn't be the Examiner's job or anyone else's for that matter — it's a job for a computer.
The US Patent and Trademark Office is part of the Department of Commerce. The US Census Bureau, perhaps the most data and accuracy obsessed collection of mathematician and statisticians and data quality experts on the planet earth is also part of the Department of Commerce. The Census Bureau with the help of the US Postal Service (and a few external data services) has the most comprehensive list of addresses in the US. (The Bureau also supports a range of international efforts to help others fix their address files around the world as part of their Census outreach efforts. ) USPTO should call the fine Census data folks at the Bureau'ss National Processing Center in Jeffersonville, Indiana and see if they can work together to fix the address problem. Use the address file from Census to compare the address data on the USPTO patent applications and patents (and anything else with an address.) If the address isn't valid, the patent (or application) isn't valid. (Tough but attention grabbing.) If the interagency approach isn't appropriate, reach out to industry, call the fine folks at UPS or FedEx.
Bad geo-location and address data just adds to the cacophony complaints that the system is broken and perpetuates the rampant level of asymmetric information in the patentsphere. While USPTO is fixing the ownership information, it can fix the address data too. It is time to work on leveling the playing field.