The original idea of a patent was to offer the inventor exclusive rights to their invention for a fixed period of time in exchange for sharing the details with everyone else. In the times before the internet took off, this was more or less a community of other tinkerers, scientists, and geeks. Over time, however, information distributors settled in with this community: patents are searchable online (but only if you pay a hefty fee), just as research journals are mostly available online (at a similar hefty fee).
And that's the problem: In the modern era, we have the DIY community that doesn't fit the hefty-fee-paradigm: there are people who are just as creative and innovative now sharing their inventions, but they do not necessarily belong to the exclusive research club and don't necessarily have the resources to patent all their inventions. The current patent search system, instead of encouraging these people to innovate and share from the knowledge wealth that comes out of patent disclosure, instead acts as a roadblock preventing them from participating in the exclusive research club. Thus this step, of making a large amount of patent information public, brings patents one small step closer towards being what they should have been – however, does not fix the largest problems plaguing the patent system as it stands today.
A History of Online Patent Search
Last week IBM announced that it has taken chemical data from various patents and made this information available to researchers online. It is just the latest in an ever widening of publically available information concerning patents and intellectual property. But online patent access has had an interesting history, and even though it dates to the early days of the Web, it was a difficult path and an interesting story in public access to informati…