If you’ve followed the things I’ve discussed over the last three years in this blog, you’ll note that while I’ve talked about open source and standards, I’ve also discussed patent pledges and some of the things that IBM has done to improve patent quality. This entry has some information about community involvement with reviewing patents and provides you with some links so you can see firsthand how the new system works. The basic information was provided to me by colleagues in IBM’s Intellectual Property Law department who have been involved.
If you have had any experience with the patent system, you probably know that a single person (a “patent examiner”) determines whether an inventor deserves a patent. When you consider the significance of patents, the power to prevent others from using your ideas inappropriately, you appreciate the tremendous responsibility taken on by patent examiners to ensure that only real inventors that advance the state of the art receive patents. This is an important job and there is a terrific onus on examiners to get it right the first time.
Their work is daunting when you consider that we, the public, expect them to find relevant prior art within an enormous body of public knowledge, including issued patents, published patent applications, products, technical and scholarly articles, and Ph.D theses from around the world. With the body of public information growing ever-faster, we should consider if there might be a better model. The Peer-to-Patent: Community Patent Review project is an attempt to produce just that.
By bringing to the patent examination process modern tools of collaboration, the same tools industry and academia have been increasingly exploiting to advance the state of technology, we can dramatically change the patent examination process. The project opens the traditionally closed patent examination process to the public via the Internet.
This makes it simpler and more convenient for anyone interested to find published patent applications, collaborate with other experts anywhere in the world to find and discuss the relevant “prior art”, and forward the best prior art on to patent examiners at the US Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO).
The pilot, which began in June, is led by Professor Beth Noveck of NY Law School, in cooperation with the USPTO. It’s focus for its year long duration will be 250 patent applications for software inventions.
Participation is easy – just go to www.peertopatent.org to register – and free – all you need is Internet access. The website has a lot of information to help you get started, including some interesting graphs so you can see at a glance what activity there has been around discussed patents. You also have the ability to direct the system to email you when patent applications in your area of interest are entered or receive new postings.
I know that many members of my reading audience have strong opinions on patents, but if you’ve ever complained about undeserving patents, now is your chance to do something about them. Make your voice heard while you have the chance and help make sure the project is a success, if you believe in its goals.