The US Patent Office will make patent applications public on the web and invite anyone to comment on prior art, probably on a wiki or blog. Users will also be able to vote on the best comments, much like Digg works today. This according to The Washington Post.
The Patent and Trademark Office is starting a pilot project that will not only post patent applications on the Web and invite comments but also use a community rating system designed to push the most respected comments to the top of the file, for serious consideration by the agency's examiners. A first for the federal government, the system resembles the one used by Wikipedia, the popular user-created online encyclopedia.
Dan Farber at ZDnet has been reporting on this story for several weeks. Dan has talked to the people at the patent office and others advising them. Here is an excerpt from Dan's article. (Nice to see Microsoft as a sponsor)
Patent applicants can volunteer to open up their filings to the public, and many of the big R&D companies (Intel, Microsoft, HP and IBM, for example) have agreed to participate.
As Duda told me, "We want to give third parties the opportunity to give information to the USPTO, so the examiner has information from their own research, the applicant and from third parties. When examiners have all information, they almost always make the right choice."
I have written several times about "patent lunacy" and "patent trolls". This move by the patent office will help the 4,000 patent examiners deal with the 332,000 applications submitted last year. That is an average of 83 patents per examiner. If you have ever read just one patent from beginning to end you will appreciate the enormity of the challenge.
This is a great move! There is a lot of expert knowledge out there, available for free, to review these patent applications. This process will be similar to the "peer review" process at technical journals. The voting on comments will employ the "wisdom of crowds" to float the best comments to the top.
The blind test. It would be really great if the patent application could be reviewed while keeping the applicants name secret. This would help avoid biased comments and political battles. Wouldn't it be a hoot if employees of the applicant company unknowingly argued against the validity of their own patent application? All because they didn't know the identity of the applicant. That would certainly keep some objectivity in the process. It probably isn't a workable idea, but it would be interesting.