The Mission statement
The Patent Committee, “PatCom”, is an organisation of commercial intellectual property (IP) information providers. All PatCom members individually strive to obtain accurate, up to date and high quality global IP information, in bulk, which they can distribute and licence to their own customers for commercial usage. “High quality” incorporates timeliness, completeness, consistent formatting and accuracy of data.
PatCom exists to further these aims collectively, by maintaining an open dialogue with leading national and regional Intellectual Property Offices (IP Offices), which make data available commercially. Discussions cover issues such as data quality, licensing, availability, currency, historic data and development of intellectual property information. Through these discussions, PatCom is able to learn at an early stage of forthcoming legal and procedural changes which will have implications for services they provide to their customers, and plan accordingly. In addition, PatCom seeks to widen the availability of patent data, by establishing relationships with further IP Offices and to encourage the provision of data on a commercial basis.
PatCom members are competitors. Nonetheless, sharing the common goal of obtaining highest quality, original patent and other intellectual property information at a fair price from the IP Offices, they find it beneficial to work together on issues which lie at the heart of the IP information profession.
PatCom’s discussions with the Offices help keep information interests high on the Office agenda and enable PatCom member organisations to secure, expand and grow provision of IP information for the benefit of all.
The Executive Council, June 2015
Secretary Jane List, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
President Martine Massiera
Treasurer Armin Förderer
|PATCOM – IP Information Companies Meet the Challenges of esp@cenet|
PATCOM is an association of commercial patent information providers in Europe. Set up at EPIDOS in 1999, in response to confusing statements from EPO about the development of free services, EPO has responded positively by organising regular meetings with its top management. In a rapidly changing market, users need a healthy balance between free, lower performance public sector sources, and high performance/high added-value commercial services. Contentious issues remain, but the continuing dialogue is essential.
The rapid development of the Web has given patent offices everywhere the means to honour the “trade” of information in return for monopoly rights. Making this information free of charge is logical, but raises many issues about whether high quality content is ever really free, and how it is possible to turn this into reliable knowledge for the lay user – the patent system is very complex, and likely to remain so.
EPO’s Hearing 97, held in Munich in March 1997, provided an ideal forum for EPO to outline its future information policy. Following on from this hearing, the development of esp@cenet was a major initiative. At EPIDOS in Halkidiki, last year, the natural enthusiasm of EPO staff led to confusing public statements being made about future developments. From the outset, EPO’s official line was that esp@cenet was aimed at “the public” rather than professional users, and that competition with commercial patent information providers was not intended. That was not the message being implied by the enthusiasm of EPO developers with a new-found, exciting project. If anything, the credibility gap appears to be increasing.
During the course of EPIDOS 1999, the commercial providers, who were present as delegates and exhibitors, met, and were able to express their concerns, leading to President Kober acknowledging that much-improved communication was needed. By the end of the Conference, PATCOM – the European Commercial Patent Services Group had been established, albeit informally. A first meeting between PATCOM members and EPO senior management was held in Munich in January and such meetings are now scheduled at 6-monthly intervals to address a range of common issues.
In 2015 the PATCOM members involved are:
Among the key facts and issues are:
Provision of patent documents free on the internet by EPO and EPC Offices was initially limited to page-by-page delivery, but the predictable development of software such as Lattice removed that artificial barrier.
It is predicted that all patent documents will be free within 4 years. Clearly, commercial services relying upon document delivery need to stress service and value-added features.
In Europe, it is noteworthy that, while some databases link to esp@cenet, others choose Delphion or MicroPatent. With or without specific EPO intervention, this particular trend would have occurred, anyway.
The original concept was for patent offices to provide raw data, with minimal added value, in their free services. This becomes stretched as we consider databases. INPADOC has never been a simple solution for inexperienced end users. While EPO argues that:
- It is not added value, but an integration of free information – however, some 40 EPO staff are involved continuously on corrections to data supplied.
- Delphion has offered INPADOC free (for an experimental period), and so EPO must respond
- The definition of “added value” is constantly drifting upwards
Delphion has offered INPADOC free (for an experimental period), and so EPO must respond
The definition of “added value” is constantly drifting upwards. We can begin to see significant competition issues. None of these three points is easy to define and, persuasively played, are seen as giving carte blanche to public sector intervention on a grand scale.
All issues are bedevilled by reluctance to draw a line. However, EPO has suggested that adding value comprises such activities as:
- Integration of many sources
- Provision of output in many media
- Merging of Data
- Application of novel software, data mining etc
From the PATCOM standpoint “publication“, “dissemination” and “patents” are probably the crucial keywords to the arguments.
There have been discussions about removing some of the residual barriers to making published new documents rapidly available from all offices so that commercial operators can, indeed, provide viable value added services. Encryption of pre-publication data from patent offices, so that providers can begin processing immediately on day of publication is one way in which patent offices can assist.
More robust and direct access to BNS is another issue addressed. This will take time.
Specification drift is of particular concern. Current limitations in esp@cenet seem to be relaxing to include ECLA, and talk moves towards a commercialisation of EPOQUE. That would be much more likely with the platform-independent JAVA developments.
We can add the current Tri-Lateral thinking that the work done by EPO with EBI (European Bioinformatics Institute) should form the basis of a global public sector database for molecular biology.
So far there has been little market research on esp@cenet. Over 50% of use is for document delivery. While it was meant to encourage innovation, there has been no evidence that it is doing so. There is also a strong suspicion that upward specification drift is driven by experienced patent information users – these are the people able to use ECLA andINPADOC, not poor and deprived SMEs.
If this is true, then esp@cenet is a threat to commercial services.
Indeed, end-users in large organisations do use esp@cenet on a considerable scale. They have the benefit of back-up by patent professionals. On the other hand, some SMEs and individuals, for whom esp@cenet was theoretically intended, are already filing applications and being dismayed that far more rigorous searching by examiners leads to rejection.
As recently as Spring 2000, in a survey of SMEs in Europe, it was found that for some 60% the Internet has had no effect on their use of patent information – not surprising as those that are aware tend to use patent agents for their searching.
What is clear is that there is not a gap, but a wide chasm between the intent of the EPO/EU official line and practical reality. Free Internet services appear to be having the greatest impact among expert searchers and employees of large high-tech companies.
Change is a continuous fact of life, and is being driven faster by the convergence of computing and telecomms. Greater public awareness of IP is also highly desirable. What concerns PATCOM members is the thinly veiled threat of EPO to become a major player across a wide spectrum of patent information provision. Considerable resources can be devoted to such a vision. No lines of demarcation are drawn, and there is endless scope to claim marginal costing within EPO’s revenues of over DEM 1bn.
There seems to be a discrepancy between a “hands-off” official line and the very clear and rapid specification drift in development. In the commercial sector, significant investment has to be made, with returns being relatively long term. Part of that investment has to be in marketing and customer support. The customers who are EPO’s major applicants also tend to be those demanding the greatest investment and financial speculation from the commercial sector. The very real danger of public sector intervention is that pursuit of short term political goals will wipe out a commercial sector which otherwise would adapt to the current change and provide the new services now needed.
There is no need for EPO to react, for instance, to free INPADOC experiments fromDelphion. New entrants in IP trading have persuaded Delphion to re-position itself to licensing opportunities. The established commercial players are also collaborating with the new entrants. The traditional online hosts are re-focusing their ranges of database offerings. Far from being uncontrolled predators, commercial providers are totally dependent upon happy customers – and always have been. While the reality of costs associated with handling escalating patent volumes are usually overlooked by hard-pressed users, they are rapidly appreciated by clever new entrants to the business, and practical alliances result. Patent offices do not have the expertise to assume the mantle of industry regulators and they lack the hard-won knowledge of commercial survival.
Who Pays for Public Sector Developments – And Where is the Accountability?
The famous 1997 Hearing did get its conclusions in balance. Threats to destroy the commercial patent information sector arise from an understandable enthusiasm to harness computers, telecomms and electronic filing/publication. Unfortunately, theoretical ideals need lots of work to satisfy practical customers – and lots of further investment. That kind of scenario is not appropriate for the public sector. There is the danger that public sector enthusiasm and belief in bureaucratic perfection will leave real innovative users orphaned. Rapid destruction of a commercial sector can be brought about by “free” information before the true costs of support and necessary customisation dawn upon a public organisation, and financial constraints are imposed upon it.
We should ask “What is the exact mandate of patent offices?” Primarily it is to process patent applications and be concerned with the application of patent laws. With a constant shortage of skilled examiners in most countries, and, in Europe, 30% of applications being published without a search report, it can be argued that the prime objectives of patent offices are being lost sight of. Who knows what resources future changes in IP laws will demand from patent offices? These would not have to be too fundamental to starve their public information handling of necessary funding.
Provision of information is their other statutory duty. In a world of escalating installed bandwidth, enhancement of computers to handle hungry search engines to increase functionality, and inevitable user support, one is led to the conclusion that information cannot be free. The question of who will be paying is a real one. That can be fudged in public accounts for a long time. But, there is the equally real question of whether patent offices should become major players in an information industry. Should they not concentrate on providing the raw data, and maybe stay with rudimentary public sites.
After all, the improved technology being exploited by patent offices, is available to all. It stretches credibility for them to claim that they must provide all of the solution. The free-market economy is well, and probably better, able to compete to provide services users need. The barriers to entry are now greatly reduced for everyone. It is seductive and, in the long run, more expensive for the public sector to de-stabilise an established market. The checks and balances in a free-market economy are faster and much more effective than for public bodies. The internet in its present form is an embodiment of the latest technology. Will the next round of technical change be quite so convenient for patent offices to play with? If not, then will the public sector dig deeper into applicant’s pockets, or will it leave users orphaned?
PATCOM and EPO
Being busy, neither EPO nor PATCOM members are chasing ghosts. Between us we represent thousands of mainly technical people, enthusiastic in finding the best solutions for customers and applicants. At a time of rapid change, it would be strange if we did not face many dilemmas, and experience honest disagreements. We must all think carefully now. Hindsight will be wonderful, but we must ensure that it is not tinged with deep regret. The answer is discussion and communication. The response of EPO management in setting up a continuing dialogue is heartening and praiseworthy. Both sides have learned a great deal about getting such discussion going. All are still learning, but it is not about us. It is about you, our users.