Here's a gentle whisper from the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). It appears that the agency is searching for a partner that can help it open up its trademark register to the public free of charge. The USPTO, which already operates a searchable trademark database, made noises last year about developing its technology in the interests of transparency and user experience.

The agency has been quiet on exactly how - but now this call for tender indicates that some kind of programme is up and running. And it looks like a positive initiative - even if it comes at the instigation of the White House rather than just because transparency is a good thing. "The USPTO... seeks to meet the president’s Open Government Initiative to provide increased transparency of Government operations and information by making more patent and trademark bulk data in machine-readable format available via the Internet," states the notice.

An open trademark database helps to establish a healthier system. It certainly makes attorneys' lives easier, as they are able to check the register in moments. The openness of a trademark regime also impacts on filing figures. This is seen most starkly in this year's Trademark Insider report, published last week by CSC, in which Raj Abhyanker LLP came from nowhere to become the country's third biggest filer in Q4 2009. The link between Abhyanker's success and the trademark database? Well, his firm is behind, the user-friendly website that enables laypeople to conduct a search of the entire USPTO database (including those corners not currently accessible through the USPTO's own portal). The system has grown exponentially since its launch last year, when WTR covered its development. "I built Trademarkia to try to make the data more accessible to people," says Abhyanker. "It's off to a great start."

Experts agree. Martin Schwimmer, a partner at Moses & Singer and author of the Trademark Blog, last year told WTR that the level of traffic itself means the site is worth watching: "Anyone who ignores the amount of traffic it has generated is ignoring a market reality that is important for all of us to be paying attention to." And Trademarkia is growing: at this year's International Trademark Association annual meeting, Abhyanker will demonstrate a new service through which law firms can create a branded search function on their own websites. Abhyanker told WTR recently that although he's convinced opening up the data to a wider audience drives filings, his metric of success is not the number of filings but the number of registered and enforceable marks.

Nevertheless, there will always be critics who argue that making it easier to file could leave registers overloaded with toxic trademarks, filed by laypersons or inexperienced attorneys. This is especially the case in those jurisdictions which examine on absolute grounds only - and Trademarkia is expanding its reach through newly acquired access to the Community trademark (CTM) database.

But the momentum for open trademark data is now unstoppable, as signalled by the USPTO's notice. Let's watch out for who takes the USPTO up on its offer.

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