Patent and Trademark

The Results


NY Times visits this site, writes article.


We get to work building our site just in case.

Patent Office faces reality, announce change in policy. NY Times picks up story, writes another article.

Patents and Trademarks go on-line.

The Internet Multicasting Service

[A Non-Profit Research Corporation]

To: Vice President Al Gore, The White House
Cc: The Hon. William M. Daley, Secretary of Commerce
Date: April 27, 1998
Subj: Patent and Trademark Databases On-Line

Dear Mr. Vice President:

I would like to congratulate you on the recent live Internet broadcasts of evenings from the White House. You may not remember, but in 1993, the Internet Multicasting Service ran a cable up to the roof of the National Press Building, then directed a high-speed wireless link to the White House lawn to allow the President to see his first live Internet broadcast. While live broadcasts are always fun, it's important not to forget the less glamorous Internet chores. I am writing to you today about such an issue, the lack of free Internet access to Patent and Trademark databases.

In January, 1994, over the very vocal objections of the SEC and the Patent Office, the Internet Multicasting Service posted the full text of all Patent and SEC documents for free Internet access. In addition, we provided the first Internet home for key databases from the General Services Administration, the Federal Election Commission, the Federal Reserve Board, and the Government Printing Office, as well as providing audio feeds from the floor of House and Senate. Your public support for the SEC project was key in allowing us to continue that database.

We ran the SEC and Patent services for 18 months and built up a user base of 50,000 users per day. We then gave our users 60 days notice that we were terminating the service. To make our case that this was a job for the government, we posted all our source code, cost estimates to run the service, profiles of the user base, and the email addresses of relevant government officials.

The results were very real-time. The Wall Street Journal, Associated Press, New York Times, and other media outlets ran daily stories on the developing issue. Tens of thousands of concerned users sent email to you, the Chairman of the SEC, the Commissioner of Patents, the Secretary of Commerce, and the Speaker of the House.

The Chairman of the SEC moved very quickly to deal with the situation. At his request, we loaned the SEC a computer, configured it, and had the SEC up and running with no break in service. The SEC is now an enthusiastic proponent of EDGAR on the Internet, and they receive over 500,000 hits per day, making it one of the government's largest servers. This relatively smooth technology transfer was, in your own words, "a big win for the American public."

The outcome with the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) was not as successful. Commissioner Lehman refused to budge from his position that these databases be provided exclusively by a few large, established retail information providers. We filed for an OMB A-130 review of the situation, but I believe that the request received only a cursory review. While we were able to convince IBM to step into the breach and serve the Patent data on the net, the situation is certainly not optimal as competing companies, such as Sun Microsystems, do not allow their employees to use the IBM service for fear of traffic analysis.

We believe that the PTO has a clear obligation under OMB A-130 and under the Paperwork Reduction Act (a law supported by you and the President along with a unanimous Congress), which mandates a "diversity of public and private sources" for on-line government information. We also believe the PTO has an obligation under the U.S. Constitution to make patent and trademark registries as broadly available as it can within the limits of budget realities. How can the PTO possibly promote the useful arts and sciences if the two key databases are only available at high fees from a few commercial sources? Perhaps in 1980 this was a wise policy. But, as we build a bridge to a new millennium and as the Internet continues to double, how can we possibly justify denying the broadest possible access to the Trademark and Patent databases?

We demonstrated with the SEC and Patent databases that free on-line access does not compete with the retail information providers. Rather, it reaches out to new groups of users, including college students, senior citizens, and young researchers. By assuring equal access to all for the basic data, we showed that a college student can take the Edgar data, figure out a new way to add value to the data, and set up shop and as a small business on the information highway. Previously, when the raw data cost $150,000 per year, the artificially high barriers to entry made this kind of rapid innovation impossible.

How can we treat these databases as government profit centers when they are the fuel that makes our intellectual property markets function properly? The United States is the leading producer of intellectual property in the world. Wouldn't even a slight increase in the billions of dollars our corporations make from licensing their intellectual property far outweigh the costs of running the database? Markets are based on information and we cannot have an efficient market for intellectual property on a global basis if we hide the documents that define that property.

We still think the best possible place to run this database is from the PTO itself. After all, they are the experts. Based on our two years of providing the full text of U.S. Patents, I can tell you that this is not rocket science. We did it with two part-time programmers working on top of a Chinese restaurant, using a computer borrowed from Sun.

Specifically, we think the PTO should announce their intention as a matter of policy to provide a production service for free access to Trademark and Patent data by the end of 1998. They do not need to provide a keyword search, but we believe it is essential that they provide the raw historical and current data on an FTP site in the form of a compressed archive files, such as the Federal Election Commission or the SEC provide.

The Internet Multicasting Service would very much like to focus our meager resources in rescuing databases in other countries, giving American businessmen access to information not available before. However, if this particular aspect of Reinventing Government has reached a stalemate, we feel we must offer a solution. Since we can't run these databases forever on our meager budget, we would pursue the same strategy as before, taking the Trademark database, running the service for a year and then terminating it. Somehow, that seems pointless when the government could just do it in the first place.

Your leadership in promoting promoting Internet II, in getting our children on-line, and government on-line has been inspirational. The reason I write to you today is the hope that this issue may have escaped your notice and that you and the Secretary of Commerce, after examining the facts, might come to the conclusion that the policy of the U.S. government should be to provide these databases free of charge. The costs are trivial (less than $250,000 for both databases), and the benefits to American business, students, and journalists would be immense. I hope you'll provide the leadership to finish this crucial component of your vision to Reinvent Government.


Carl Malamud
President, Internet Multicasting Service
Visiting Professor, MIT Media Laboratory

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