February 01, 2017 Features

Invention Disclosure Standard

By Robin Hunziker

In 2015, the Legal Electronic Data Exchange Standard (LEDES) Oversight Committee (LOC) adopted an invention disclosure data exchange standard. This standard provides a common data format for exchanging invention data (e.g., from an inventor to a patent attorney) and provides basic assurances of data quality and completeness.

Motivation

Companies or firms that receive invention disclosures may receive disclosures that are incomplete, illegible, or inconsistent.

As the sole intellectual property (IP) counsel at a Fortune 500 company, I provided legal guidance to a corporate committee that received and assessed invention disclosures from employees and contractors. Most disclosures provided by employees used a standard Word template. Although the standardized content was useful, the fact that inventors rarely completed essential fields was a problem. Further, the unstructured format hampered searching and processing the content. No standard applied to disclosures submitted by contractors. Often, information from disclosures had to be retyped into databases, resulting in errors and delay.

We wanted to automate the process while avoiding a proprietary solution that would not interoperate with contractors’ and law firms’ systems. Despite querying many industry and standard setting organizations, we were unable to find a standard data format for invention disclosures.

One of the organizations contacted was the LOC, which maintains the LEDES e-billing and Uniform Task-Based Management System (UTBMS) standards commonly used in the legal industry. The LOC agreed that a standard disclosure format would resolve many of the problems and created a new subcommittee to address the issue.

After gathering attorneys and nonattorneys from corporations, law firms, universities, and software vendors, the subcommittee based the standard on Extensible Markup Language (XML), the most common standard for electronic data formats. The LEDES disclosure standard consists of a set of “schemas” that implement a particular type of XML, called the XML Schema Definition Language (XSD). In late 2015, the LOC adopted and published the disclosure standard. The schemas are freely available at the LEDES website (https://ledes.org/loc-ipmm-invention-disclosure-schema/).

Operation

A software application conforming to the LEDES standard creates and reads an invention disclosure in the form of an XML document, i.e., a file that contains data organized in an XML format. The conforming application is capable of validating the XML document against the LEDES disclosure schemas.

The validation process provides significant value to the user. For example, a schema may define a disclosure as including a title, possibly an abstract, a detailed description, one or more inventors, and a date of conception. Validating an XML document against the schema involves ensuring that a title exists (and if so perhaps that the title text is of a certain minimum and maximum length), that a description exists, that at least one inventor is given (and perhaps that all inventor names meet certain requirements), and that a date of conception is given in a specified form (e.g., DD-MM-YYYY). If an optional abstract exists, the validation process determines that the abstract meets certain rules as well, e.g., text of a certain minimum and maximum length. If the XML document does not contain the required data elements or if one or more elements do not meet specified rules, an error occurs.

If the XML document is validated against the schema without any errors, the generating application sends the XML document (i.e., the invention disclosure) to the receiving application. The receiving application may also validate the XML document against the schema to verify that the XML document conforms to the schema.

The XML, XSD, and validation are transparent to users. Those interested in implementing the standard merely determine if the generating and receiving applications conform to the LEDES disclosure standard and if each application can exchange conforming disclosures. A user might also select additional data required for that particular user, but which may not be required by the LEDES schema. In the above example, an abstract is not required by the LEDES disclosure standard. However, a patent committee in a company may decide to configure the application to require an abstract.

XML Implementation

The standard only requires that the person generating the disclosure enter a title and description of one concept and the name of one person submitting the disclosure. In addition, the generating application must add a time stamp and unique identifier for the disclosure and identify the relevant schema for validation. However, the standard also defines and permits many optional data elements. The user can add an unlimited number of concepts and identify an unlimited number of submitters unless limited by the application, and can select optional elements such as associated files, technical problem, and conception event. The schema permits proprietary extensions, but such are not preferred as they hinder interoperability.

Adoption

Software vendors have expressed considerable interest and have performed initial tests, but are unlikely to dedicate the resources needed for full implementation unless a potential market exists. For the LEDES invention disclosure standard to be integrated into commercial products, corporate IP counsel and managers need to ask outside counsel and software vendors, and law firms need to ask software vendors, about their plans to implement the standard.

The first release is intentionally very flexible, in part because some companies in critical technology areas declined to participate in the initial development. Hopefully, adoption and implementation of the standard will drive broader participation in the future. After several revisions, the standard may tighten to increase interoperability. ◆

Robin Hunziker

Robin Hunziker (Robin.Hunziker@ge.com) counsels General Electric Global Research’s Oil & Gas Technology Center. Any opinions presented are his and not those of his current or former employer. Robin greatly appreciates the support provided by GE and Marathon Oil Company to work on this LEDES project.