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Microsoft, IBM, ARM back open patent database

Industry consortium hopes to solve one of the most expensive issues for new businesses - who owns the patents?

The Open Register of Patent Ownership (ORoPO) seeks to tackle one of the more complex, convoluted, and often expensive issues facing new businesses: determining who owns the world's patents.

Voluntary and non-profit, ORoPO already offers online the details of patents owned by its founding members: ARM, BAE Systems, Conversant, Finjan, IBM, Microsoft, Patent Properties, and Shazam.

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Sir Nigel Shadbolt Photo: Wikipedia

Currently information as to who owns patents is recorded at 180 patent offices worldwide, ORoPO said. But it estimates that 25 percent of this information is inaccurate, incomplete, or out of date. This inaccuracy has "serious consequences for the exploitation of the intellectual property assets that now account for up to 70 percent of enterprise value".

One of the chief backers of ORoPO is Sir Nigel Shadbolt, the co-founder of the Open Data Institute. "Nobody is even close to having a good, robust way to deal with patents," Shadbolt told ZDNet.

"So we thought a good place to start with was with some of the key owners of patents like IBM, Microsoft, and BAE Systems," he said. "Now we have formed ORoPO, it is all about momentum and the network effect."

Another backer of the effort, Manny Schecter, chief patent cousel for IBM, pointed out that his company already has a track record in trying to organize a better way for recording patents.

"Ten years ago IBM made all its patents open, so you could see [ORoPO] as a continuation of that", he told ZDNet.

"You cannot centrally set something up and expect everybody to fall into line and follow it," said Schecter. "You cannot coerce, but you can set an example and show people that there is a better way of doing things so that companies can see the advantages of a system that works."

According to research by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), global cross-border patent licensing fees had reached a total of almost $200 billion in 2009. That compares to $2.8 billion in 1970, and $27 billion in 1990.

In addition, 96 percent of the corporate executives surveyed think it is important for there to be an accurate and accessible record of who owns which patents.

A study by the OECD and University of Tokyo in 2009 found that of 64 percent of European companies that license out their patents, less than 20 percent of those licensed patents go to entities located in a different country. Similarly, of the 85 percent of Japanese companies which licensed out patents, less than 20 percent went to foreign affiliated companies.

You can find more details of the research here.

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