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Who owns the world’s patents? This seemingly simple question to answer is more complex than it might seem.  According to the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), one in four public records of patent ownership is inaccurate.

An IP red flag

Patents are business assets that define enterprise value. They also drive big acquisitions – such as Google buying Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion then selling the business to Lenovo (minus the patents) for $2.91 billion.

Business works best in an environment of transparency that enables innovators to make smarter investments, create jobs, and drive economic growth. As patents play a more defining role in corporate transactions – access to accurate IP information is highly valuable.

Trusting data

Even if patent ownership data is accurate at the time of filing, there is no guarantee it will remain so for the life of a patent. Ownership changes hands through mergers, acquisitions or patent sales.  Corporations change name. These changes would require updates to relevant patent registry information – but this does not always happen.

It is not compulsory to register a patent sale and publicly identify the new owner as this could impose ‘unreasonable costs on business ‘. However, out of date information will then impose much bigger costs on anyone who wants to identify true ownership information.

Inaccuracies through human error also cause issues. It is common to find patent registry data containing misspellings and company name format errors. This becomes more common when patent applications are paper based and key details must be transcribed onto the register by hand.

Incorrect information the global patent record have significant and far-reaching consequences, including elevated licensing costs and risk of litigation that can create barriers to innovation.

The ORoPO initiative

ORoPO - the Open Register of Patent Ownership – is a non-profit organisation that aims to improve transparency and openness around patent ownership data. ORoPO is already supported by many of the largest IP owners in the world, including Microsoft and IBM.