Established in 1967 and based in Geneva, Switzerland, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is an agency of the United Nations dedicated to “developing a balanced and accessible international intellectual property (IP) system.” WIPO has now initiated a public-private partnership, entitled the Access to Specialized Patent Information (ASPI) program, to provide “advanced tools and services for retrieving and analyzing patent data” to key centers in least developed countries for free and at a low cost to some developing countries. Six private companies—LexisNexis, Minesoft (PatBase), ProQuest/Dialog, Questel-Orbit, Thomson Reuters (owner of Derwent), and WIPS—have joined the partnership.
The initiative builds on a similar program begun by WIPO in July 2009. That program, entitled Access to Research for Development and Innovation (aRDI), provided similarly priced access to the same types of countries for selected online scientific and technical journals. That effort partnered with leading sci-tech publishers, including the American Institute of Physics, Elsevier, John Wiley & Sons, the National Academy of Sciences, Oxford University Press, the Royal Society of Chemistry, Sage Publications, Springer Science + Business Media, and Taylor & Francis. The aRDI program apparently reflected a Research4Life program by three other United Nations units—the World Health Organization (WHO), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). On the occasion of the aRDI launch, WIPO Director General Francis Gurry stated that aRDI would “complement the valuable access to technical information contained in patent documents, which WIPO’s PatentScope search service already provides.”
The recipient organizations of ASPI in participating countries include patent offices, universities, and research institutions. Within the ASPI program, WIPO and its partners expect to establish Technology and Innovation Support Centers, which they hope will “reduce the knowledge gap and demonstrate the practical use of IP information in developing and least developed countries.” It is expected that private partners in ASPI will provide a number of training activities.
In launching ASPI, Gurry commented, “The ASPI program represents a pioneering public-private partnership between WIPO and leading patent data service providers, whose generosity and vision have made this program possible.” The program was launched at the Second Global Symposium of Intellectual Property Authorities where a formal, non-binding partners’ statement of intent was signed by participants. Clauses in the statement of intent indicate that any revenues collected would be “remitted by the database providers to the ASPI program for training, outreach, and other related uses.” It also invited other database providers and interested organizations to participate in the program. The program will continue until at least 2015.
As defined by the UN, there are 48 Group 1 “least-developed” countries eligible for the program at no cost; 45 Group 2 “middle income” countries, which can pay 1100 Swiss francs per year per institution per each product selected; and 22 Group 3 developing countries whose patent offices (only) can get access for 3300 Swiss francs per year per institution per product selected.
Resources offered through ASPI by each private partner encompass such files as LexisNexis’ TotalPatent and Minesoft’s PatBase. Three of the private partners issued their own press releases for the ASPI launch, but none supplied specifics on the contributions they expected to provide.
Commenting on the program, a somewhat cynical Dana Roth of the Millikan Library at Caltech wondered what controls would be placed to prevent “some enterprising but unscrupulous person in one of the developing countries from setting up an off-shore patent searching service for people in countries that don’t qualify for free/low-cost access.”
Retired veteran patent information specialist, Nancy Lambert, had a wait-and-see attitude too, but she predicted that the partnership would not include high-end proprietary databases with in-depth indexing, like Thomson’s Derwent WPI files.
It’s early days yet.