Recently I went to USPTO.gov and like many others noticed that the United States Patent and Trademark Office has launched its new website. You may recall that on August 31, 2009, the beta test release of its new website design, which was redesigned to improve the look and feel, as well as to enhance the user experience with improved navigation. I have not really had a lot of time to go through the website, and as bad as the old site was at least over time I figured out where everything was, so it is to be expected that it will take time to familiarize myself with the new USPTO website. My initial reaction is that this is a positive step in the right direction, but it seems to be very much still a work in progress. I don’t say that to be critical, and having redesigned IPWatchdog.com several times over the years I know it is a daunting challenge.
Always looking for the latest news and information relative to the Patent Office for writing purposes, I started my investigative surfing by clicking on News at the top menu bar. Once on the News page one of the first things that caught my attention was the USPTO Videos page. The top video on that page is for “Suction Tire,” which when followed will take you through to an Ad Council page for Invent Now. This ad is from July 2008, so it is a bit old. Perhaps it was on the old site and simply unfindable, like so much of the information was. Not that this type of thing is critical or useful to the industry, but it is interesting/cool and the fact that it could be found suggests that maybe this new website is indeed going to make navigation and finding both useful and interesting information possible.
One thing I noticed that I didn’t like much was also on the News page. If you click on Federal Register Notices you are taken to a page that seems to have a long list of Notices published in the Federal Register, the top few are shown below in a screen shot.
As you can see, the most recent Federal Register Notice is from January 28, 2009, which is close to 9 months ago. There have been Federal Register Notices relating to the USPTO since then, but you would not know it by looking at this page. Similarly, on the Testimony and Speeches page there are currently none showing. I am sure in time these glitches will be worked out, hopefully sooner rather than later given that disseminating timely and accurate information should be of the utmost importance.
Finally, news of the launch of the new USPTO website does not seem to be findable through the News page. Presently it is accessible through a rotating series of the most recent news stories at the top of the USPTO homepage. When it comes up you can click on “Read More” and then you are taken to the launch announcement. This announcement does not appear to have the same indexing as do the press releases, it has no date and it does not seem to be accessible through any of the subpages of the News page. This is a relatively minor point really, but it makes me wonder if there are some categories of news or announcements that would not be findable by surfing the new USPTO website.
All and all I think the new USPTO website will be a big step forward, but in the meantime things may be hard to find, certainly until everyone becomes familiar with the new, friendlier navigation. Over time I suspect the pages will become more robust with information and glitches that have announcements and other information not present or not findable will be resolved. I also have great hope that this new mentality at the Patent Office, namely that information should be findable by the public, will continue to carry forward. There are already initial initiatives to investigate (see USPTO Data Dissemination Solution via Invent Blog) the feasibility of providing all of its data, perhaps as much as a 2 petabytes (i.e., 2000 terabytes or 2 million gigabytes – see Wisegeek.com). I have long wondered why issued patents were not available in searchable format. I mean if patent examiners are going to be able to use old patents should they be searchable? Just seems fair to me, and it seems like that would pretty much kill invention scams that use ridiculously fraudulent searches to dupe unsophisticated inventors into wasting upwards of $300 million per year.
In any event, kudos to the Obama Administration and the USPTO for moving forward on plans to make government more transparent. While I certainly do not agree with everything (or perhaps anything) going on in Washington, D.C. these days it is important to recognize good ideas and solid effort where it exists, and the Patent Office is certainly one of the bright spots.