Friday, March 9, 2007

The uses of free standards can be patented

In a prior post, I described several ways in which data standards can become encumbered with intellectual property. One of these involves patenting the way that a standard is used. Even when a patent is free, there is nothing to stop an inventor from patenting uses for the standard.

DICOM (Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine) exemplifies a standard that has a patented use. DICOM is a widely used image standard for radiologic images. Currently, there is an effort to have all medical specialties adopt DICOM as the exclusive format for all medical images.

U.S. Patent 6725231 , issued Apr 20, 2004, to Jingkun Hu and Kwok Pun Lee and assigned to Koninklijke Philips Electronics N.V., has the following claim.

"1. A method for mapping a DICOM specification into an XML document, comprising: mapping each entry of a DICOM table of the DICOM specification into a corresponding XML element of a plurality of XML elements,outputting each XML element of the plurality of XML elements to the XML document, in an output format that conforms to at least one of: an XML document-type-definition and an XML Schema."

A similar patent by the same parties sits at the European Patent Office (EPO).

Informaticians will note that teasing the data elements from a data object and porting them into XML is the bread-and-butter of modern informatics. A patent claim that covers this basic use of DICOM may be highly problematic.

SDOs(Standards Development Organizations) cannot stop inventors from patenting new and useful applications of their standards. However, there are easy ways for SDOs to reduce the risk of inventors patenting the common, expected uses of their standards. These will be described in a future post.

-Jules Berman tags: biomedical informatics, converting to xml, data standards, DICOM, embedded patents, european patent office, medical images, patent claims, radiology images, sdo, uspto, xml, science
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