But at least the USPTO is now acknowledging its mistake.
As I mentioned three days ago, I woke up on Mon 03/26/07 to discover that the USPTO broke millions of URLs when it “updated” the URL format for public PAIR, the system for tracking the status of public patents and patent applications. The story appears to be gaining traction.
When I first contacted the USPTO, their reply indicated that they didn’t know that they had broken the URLs:
Date: 26 Mar 2007 16:37:48 -0400 From: ebc@USPTO.GOV Subject: RE: PAIR URLs not functioning properly, no longer static To: [deleted] Hello, The Public PAIR system was updated over the weekend, which caused the change in the format of the URL. Unfortunately, the USPTO does not have a strict format for URLs in Public PAIR, and they may change. Please manually recreate your bookmarks to specific pages in the Public PAIR system. We apologize for the inconvenience.
Since then, their standard reply has indicated that they know that they broke public PAIR, but that it was inadvertent.
On Mar 27, 2007, at 1:03 PM, firstname.lastname@example.org wrote: The url changes are unintended side effects of this week's pair changes. Our developers are currently working on this issue. We will let you know of any further notices. Thank you.
Or, as one of my clients quipped:
“We’re the USPTO. QA is for civilians.”
Why static URLs are good.
- They can be linked to in web pages.
- They can be bookmarked.
- They can be emailed to clients.
- They can be used by URL monitoring software as a way of keeping up with sites that do not yet have RSS or ATOM feeds.
Why what the USPTO did is bad thing.
- All existing links to patent-specific public PAIR pages on the Internet are broken (that’s why they’re called permalinks).
- Anybody monitoring patents in public PAIR is no longer able to do so.
- The change appears to have been made in vacuum. No standards for the URL format, no public notice/comment period, no announcement of the change, etc.
- Changes may occur in the future that will break all static URLs all over again.
I want the immediate problem fixed, namely the restoration of some form of static URLs. But I want the larger issue addressed, namely the lack of a standardized URL format to being with (and the necessary procedures to maintain and protect that format).
URLs are important. Static URLs are important. Predictable URLs are important. We should not have to debate such issues in 2007.
There is a great scene in the movie “Apollo 13” where NASA Flight Director Gene Kranz in mission control in Houston is grappling with the full extent of the problems that have just been discovered with the crippled Apollo 13 spacecraft. Gene Kranz exhorts the engineers: “Let’s work the problem people. Let’s not make things worse by guessing.”
My fear is that the USPTO is not adequately working the problem.