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Transparency: The Ultimate Weapon In The Fight Against Patent Trolls

One of our core values at Rackspace is transparency. “Transparency and full disclosure” is written on the walls throughout all of our offices. It’s on the doors of our meeting rooms. It’s not just lip service; it’s a value we hold dear.

This is why we have been transparent – more transparent than our lawyers have frequently been comfortable with – in our battle plan to fight and defeat patent trolls. We refuse to play along with the secrecy and the silence. As Justice Brandeis said, “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.”

And now, we’re pledging a new level of transparency with the United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) that will make finding non-patent prior art much easier for patent examiners.

Today, Rackspace has committed to share with the USPTO complete technical information about all of our prior products, including documents that were previously considered confidential. We also pledge to provide ongoing information to the USPTO detailing each product that we develop and release. We feel this commitment aligns closely to our values as a company and with our drive to be a good citizen in the greater technology world.

It’s also in line with the Obama Administration’s push to thwart patent trolls and protect well-meaning businesses from being targeted by non-practicing entities looking for a quick payout through a frivolous patent litigation suit.

While ambitious, the Administration’s call for private sector companies to disclose and share prior art could affect real change in how patents are granted and be a strong stepping stone for patent reform.

Historically, non-patent prior art has been a thorny topic – patent examiners seek it out, but it’s not always easy to find, especially while trying to provide a timely review of a patent application. This is especially true in software and technology, an industry that moves at a rapid clip and generates loads of documentation. Oftentimes, the relevant art is contained in what’s called “non patent literature,” or NPL, which is even more difficult to comb through. For Rackspace, NPL would include old product materials and drawings, obsolete code and other documentation that would require extensive searching and analysis to uncover.

Rackspace is joining other companies, like Yahoo, Microsoft, SAS and the Clearinghouse, in pledging to provide the patent office this information to make their searches for and examinations of prior art much less daunting. The goal is to surface prior art more easily and more effectively during the patent application review process to dramatically reduce the issuance of illegitimate patents.

We are happy to make this material to the USPTO. And we encourage other companies to join us in this important endeavor. With full transparency and openness, we can help fix an ailing patent system and make great strides in the war on patent trolls.

About the Author

This is a post written and contributed by Van Lindberg.

Van Lindberg is Vice President of Intellectual Property at Rackspace. He is trained as a computer engineer and lawyer, but what he does best is “translate” to help businesses, techies and attorneys understand each other.

Van likes working with both computer code and legal code. For the past several years, he has been using natural language processing and graph theory to help him digest and map the U.S. Patent Database.

Before becoming a lawyer, Van was a research and development engineer at NTT/Verio, where he built automation tools and distributed systems using mostly Python. He was also an IT administrator for the Harold B. Lee College of Education at his alma mater, Brigham Young University. Van has been involved with open source since 1994, when a friend introduced him to Linux.

In April 2012, the American Bar Association Journal named Van one of “America’s Top 12 Techiest Attorneys.” He is currently chairman of the board of the Python Software Foundation, as well as the author of “Intellectual Property and Open Source.”

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