New York Times

WASHINGTON -- The Patent Office appears to have gone to great lengths to shore up the quality of its software patents since it rescinded a highly criticized patent granted to Compton's New Media last year. But some patent experts despair that the agency's research resources are still woefully inadequate and are no match for the rising tide of software patent applications.

Among the critics is Gregory Aharonian, a software patent consultant in Belmont, Mass., who owns what may be the largest private collection of software-related documents.

``The Compton's patent is actually fairly low down on my list of stupid software patents,'' Aharonian said. ``There are a lot worse ones out there.''

The Patent Office rescinded Compton's patent covering fundamental techniques for searching and retrieving information from multimedia data bases. The patent award had been criticized by people in the multimedia field, who contended that it was too broad and covered elements of voice, data and video software long in use.

Aharonian, who publishes a patent news service on the Internet, recently bestowed what he called the ``worst software patents of the decade'' to two patents issued this year.

Aharonian contends that patent 5,388,993, issued to IBM last month, covers a type of promotional software that has been common in the industry since the 1980s. ``Virtually everybody has put out a demonstration program,'' Aharonian said. ``This is a much-used thing.''

The second patent, 5,386,564, was issued to Hewlett-Packard Co. on Jan. 31. ``This basically covers the computer clipboards that Apple popularized throughout the 1980s,'' Aharonian said.

Aharonian acknowledges that the Patent Office has been swamped with a steep rise in the number of software applications. Last year, about 4,500 software patents were issued. ``Given the rate of patents issued during the first two months of 1995,'' it looks like 5,500 patents will be issued this year, Aharonian said. ``In the late '80s it was only 500 or 600 a year.''

While he is critical of the agency, Aharonian reserves true vitriol for corporations that he says exploit the Patent Office's limited ability to review software patent applications. He noted that neither IBM nor H-P submitted what is called ``prior art'' -- evidence of related inventions -- as part of their applications for these patents.

``I think it's outrageous that two major corporations who have extensive data bases and research libraries to draw on haven't cited anything as prior art,'' Aharonian said.

Jeff Cross, a spokesman for IBM, responded that the Patent Office took a great deal of care in reviewing patent applications. H-P did not respond to a request for comment.

Patents are available by number for $3 from the Patent and Trademark Office, Washington, D.C. 20231.

Published 3/21/95 in the San Jose Mercury News.

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