U.S. Patent Office seeks your help

Following the CIA’s lead, the United States Patent and Trademark Office is launching a pilot program on the Web to leverage user-generated content to help review patent applications. The Office will post patent applications on the Internet for comment, using a community rating system so that the best responses will be pushed to the top of the ...

603525_070306_uspto_05.jpg
603525_070306_uspto_05.jpg

Following the CIA's lead, the United States Patent and Trademark Office is launching a pilot program on the Web to leverage user-generated content to help review patent applications. The Office will post patent applications on the Internet for comment, using a community rating system so that the best responses will be pushed to the top of the list and receive serious consideration by the agency's examiners. In doing so, the system will permit "the patent-office examiners to open up their cubicles and get access to a whole world of technical experts," according to David J. Kappos, the vice president and assistant general counsel at IBM.

This is a huge step for the Patent and Trademark Office. Until now, patent examiners have been reluctant to seek outside opinions or even use the internet for research for fear of security breaches, and have relied only on scientific reports and patent archives. But given the enormous number of patent applications and the money riding on patent decisions, a change is in order. Over 332,000 applications were reviewed by the agency's 4,000 examiners last year, and critics argue that this volume compromises the thoroughness of the review process. IBM, Intel, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft and Oracle have already volunteered to submit their patent applications through the new system. So can we expect to see a flood of new inventions hitting the market soon? Perhaps not just yet. The program will begin with about 250 applications in the software design field, so it may be some time yet before the new system starts to make a noticeable difference.

Following the CIA’s lead, the United States Patent and Trademark Office is launching a pilot program on the Web to leverage user-generated content to help review patent applications. The Office will post patent applications on the Internet for comment, using a community rating system so that the best responses will be pushed to the top of the list and receive serious consideration by the agency’s examiners. In doing so, the system will permit “the patent-office examiners to open up their cubicles and get access to a whole world of technical experts,” according to David J. Kappos, the vice president and assistant general counsel at IBM.

This is a huge step for the Patent and Trademark Office. Until now, patent examiners have been reluctant to seek outside opinions or even use the internet for research for fear of security breaches, and have relied only on scientific reports and patent archives. But given the enormous number of patent applications and the money riding on patent decisions, a change is in order. Over 332,000 applications were reviewed by the agency’s 4,000 examiners last year, and critics argue that this volume compromises the thoroughness of the review process. IBM, Intel, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft and Oracle have already volunteered to submit their patent applications through the new system. So can we expect to see a flood of new inventions hitting the market soon? Perhaps not just yet. The program will begin with about 250 applications in the software design field, so it may be some time yet before the new system starts to make a noticeable difference.

Prerna Mankad is a researcher at Foreign Policy.

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