Software Performance Systems Puts Patent Office Paperwork Online

Software Performance Systems Puts Patent Office Paperwork Online

By Nick Wakeman, Staff Writer

The Clinton administration's initiatives to reinvent government gave the Patent and Trademark Office the impetus to look at electronic commerce as a way to better serve its customers.

That drive for better customer service will culminate in a system that goes into operation in September and will allow people to search for and order patent and trademark documents via the Internet.

"It'll look much like Amazon.com," said Joe Linza, vice president of the Strategic Solutions Division of Software Performance Systems Inc., the Arlington, Va., company that is building the system for the Patent and Trademark Office. The agency processes patent and trademark applications and distributes information on patents and trademarks. It is part of the Commerce Department.

The system that Software Performance Systems is building is called the Order Entry Management System and is what the agency uses to sell documents to the public. The first version, known as OEMS 2.0, began operation June 9 and allows users to place their orders via the Patent and Trademark Office Web page.

Once the order is received, the system retrieves electronic images of the documents, assembles the order and then converts the electronic images to the form requested by the customers, such as faxes or paper copies mailed via the U.S. Postal Service or private delivery.

The agency process 500,000 orders for documents each year, agency officials said.

The next version, OEMS 2.5, debuts in September and will provide an online search capability. "You'll be able to search for every patent under a particular inventor's name," Linza said.

In addition to name, users will be able to search by invention, keywords and type of document. Then with a click, the user can add the item to an electronic shopping cart.

The 2.5 version will allow electronic delivery of documents in addition to mailed and faxed versions.

The early results of the 2.0 version have been good, said Curtis Lutz, the branch manger of the system for the Patent and Trademark Office.

"What someone can do today is order a patent to be faxed and it will be faxed to them within one minute of placing the order," he said.

Under the old system, orders were received via phone, fax or mail and then keyed in manually while somebody physically searched for the paper documents. It was both time-consuming and ripe for data entry errors, Lutz said.

"At least now we know when there is a data entry error, it is not our error," he joked, because the user is the one who enters the information into the system.

Software Performance Systems won the $1.5 million contract for version 2.0 in December 1997 and set to work on developing the concept, doing requirement analysis, design work, development and testing. The enhanced features of version 2.5 were part of a $1.1 million follow-on contract Software Performance Systems won in April.

The system links several systems including a billing system and the database of patent and trademark documents. "More than the technical challenge was the coordination challenge," Linza said.

Several issues had to be addressed to build such a system, including system architecture, security and firewalls, Lutz said. "There are a lot of infrastructure implications to supporting a Web-based system," he said.

The agency took a life-cycle approach that uses periodic reviews to make sure the system is developing properly and is meeting expectations, Lutz said.

Linza said the version coming out in September will have all the basic features needed to deliver a complete electronic commerce solution. But other features may be added in the future, he said.

"I think it is analogous to building a skyscraper," he said. "If you have a good first floor with the shopping cart and electronic delivery, then you can start building more features [or floors] going forward."

For Software Performance Systems, the Patent and Trademark Office project should serve as a jumping-off point for new work for the four-year-old company, Linza said. Other major customers include the Justice Department and the Coast Guard. The company has about 140 employees and $14 million in 1998 revenue.

"Any government agency that sells documents, we see as a potential customer for this type of system," he said.

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