IBM, which has received more U.S. patents than any other company for 13 years in a row, is working with the U.S. Patent Office to improve patent quality.

The computer-services company is also working with the Open Source Development Labs (OSDL) organization that promotes Linux, the broader, open-source software community, and academia, on initiatives to improve patent quality.

The U.S. patent system is an increasingly high-profile issue in the technology industry, and intellectual property issues are leading to more and more lawsuits.

One element of the initiative is the Open Patent Review, a program that lets academics and corporate technologists easily view contents of filed patents and provide feedback to patent examiners. The proposed system will be designed so people receive e-mail or RSS alerts about patent applications that meet certain criteria.

In a related effort, the OSDL is hosting a Web site called the Open Source Software as Prior Art, a project designed as a way to search existing open-source code. The project will also establish open source software — with its millions of lines of publicly available computer-source code contributed by thousands of programmers— as potential prior art against patent applications.

The third initiative, the Patent Quality Index, calls for a system to rank the quality of patent applications. "IBM believes patents should be granted only for ideas that embody genuine scientific progress and technological innovation," says Dr. John Kelly, IBM senior vice president of Technology and Intellectual Property.