A few years ago, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) disseminated data sets via CD-ROM. Its online data dashboard had fewer than 100 hits. Since the official launch of its Open Data and Mobility program at the end of April, the data platform has accumulated 25,000 unique users and 375,000 page hits.

The Open Data and Mobility program makes the agency’s data available to the public, allowing people to view information on patents and research history. The program includes an open data portal, where people can visualize data through charts, search the catalog of data products, and share data with others. Tom Beach, USPTO senior adviser and data strategist, said one purpose of the program was to create a road map for people to use bulk data.

“Patents by themselves don’t do anything,” Beach said. “Who owns them, who leverages them, who licenses them, how they’re adjudicated in the court system, how they are researched all matter. With our road map, that touches on all those different parts.”

Beach said that one example of how the public has used this data portal for a good purpose was during Vice President Joe Biden’s Cancer Moonshot, which challenged academics and research groups with using cancer data to provide solutions for curing the disease and creating better policy surrounding it. USPTO made its clinical cancer data available to the public, and received 19 submissions with policy ideas in a month.

“We were able to make a data set that they could quickly take and move in the direction they wanted to,” Beach said. “They could take it and run with it instead of spending a lot of time massaging the data and figuring it out.”

USPTO began designing the Open Data and Mobility program 2½ years ago when Michelle K. Lee, director of USPTO, called for an initiative to create an open data platform that would engage the user community. Beach and Scott Beliveau, program manager for USPTO’s Digital Services and Big Data team, worked with a team of about 20 people. Beach and Beliveau compared this project to a “startup” because their team is a small fraction of the 13,000-person agency.

Beach, Beliveau, and their team continue to find ways to express and analyze their big data sets. Beach said they are in the beginning stages of modeling, indexing, and transitioning their information to a data lake. The agency and the user community will continue to use information to solve what Beach called “wicked problems.”

“When we develop and make data more readily available on the open side, that’s the data that we’re using to ingest on the big data side,” Beliveau said. “For the long term, some of the insights that we create and share and develop on big data become the new data stories for the community to expand upon.”


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Eleanor Lamb
Eleanor Lamb
Eleanor Lamb is a Staff Reporter for MeriTalk covering Big Data, FITARA, Homeland Security, Education, Workforce Issues, and Civilian Agencies.