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Christopher Wong – Lost in Translation: (Mis)Understanding Patent Information

Thursday, December 8, 2011
12:30 pm


Sherrerd Hall, 3rd floor open space
Princeton, NJ 08544 United States + Google Map

Food and discussion begins at 12:30 pm. Everyone invited.

In the last decade, the number of patent applications submitted per year to the US Patent and Trademark Office has nearly doubled. Over 520,000 patent applications were submitted in 2010 alone. The number of granted patents per year has seen similar growth, with 244,000 patents being granted last year. Talk of patent policy and reform has slowly crept it’s way into the mainstream public discourse around innovation and the economy. The Supreme Court has taken more patent law cases in the last 9 years than it had in the 20 years prior to 2002. But, however seemingly ubiquitous patent talk may be today, patent documents (such as patents and patent applications) remain poorly understood by the vast majority of people.

Part of the difficulty in understanding what patent documents describe is that they are both technical and legal documents, and are thus some of the most linguistically complex and challenging documents to read. In many cases, this linguistic barrier prevents even the most knowledgeable experts from fully comprehending the scope of any given patent document. This is exacerbated by the fact that the authors of patent documents are free to be their own lexicographers.

The Open Patent project is an attempt to remedy this. Through funding from the National Science Foundation, the goal of Open Patent is to investigate whether tagging technologies can be effectively employed to improve understanding of, and access to, needed patent information by patent examiners, researchers, and the general public. By making it possible to better understand patent documents, we can see how various patent documents relate to each other and to various technologies, as well as identify the boundaries of those patent documents.


Christopher is a Postgraduate Fellow and Lecturer at the Institute for Information Law & Policy at New York Law School where he is the lead researcher for Open Patent. He is a Visiting Fellow at both the Princeton University Center for Information Technology Policy and the Yale Law School Information Society Project, and was previously the founding Director of Peer To Patent, the historic initiative to open the patent examination process to public review.