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Patent Office Altering Approach to Technology Rights

March 30, 2000|From Bloomberg News

SAN FRANCISCO — The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is changing the way it examines technology-related patent applications amid growing concern about granting exclusive rights for basic Internet business methods.

The changes unveiled by Q. Todd Dickinson, the agency's commissioner, include requiring patent examiners to conduct online searches of technical databases and creating a second layer of examiners to ensure soon-to-be-issued patents are not too broad.

"These steps are extremely important ones to make sure we not only meet customers' expectations, but do a good job in an area that is expanding rapidly," said Dickinson, who announced the changes at a luncheon before an intellectual property law group in San Francisco.

The changes follow criticism over granting patents for exclusive rights on basic Web techniques, such as Amazon.com Inc.'s "one-click" ordering and Priceline.com Inc.'s "name your own price" model for buying airline tickets, hotel rooms and other products.

"The patent office has been criticized for issuing patents that may not be properly granted because they protect technology that had already existed," said Joshua Bressler, an intellectual property attorney at Schulte Roth & Zabel in New York. "The changes are designed, in part, to find and more appropriately consider prior inventions and technologies so that the invention's ability to be patented can be better evaluated."

In addition to changing how applications are reviewed, Dickinson said, training of examiners will be enhanced and software examination guidelines will be revised.

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