The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is trying something innovative to tackle the growing problem of poor quality patents being issued. On May 12, the office will unveil a pilot project that would let the public review pending patent applications online and submit relevant prior art.
The so-called patent peer review project seeks to ensure that patent examiners will have improved access to all available prior art during the patent examination process. It’ll also help the massively overworked examiners by putting applications in front of a lot more eyes.
The project grew out of a paper published by New York Law School’s Beth Simone Noveck. IBM and other tech companies are supporting the initiative by sponsoring community workshops to teach the public about the new system and to gather input. The pilot will only cover patents in the tech industry, and applications will only be reviewed after receiving the patent applicant’s permission.
Commissioner for Patents John Doll will kick off the pilot on Friday during a public briefing from 9:00 a.m. to noon at the agency’s Madison Building in Alexandria, Va. The briefing will provide more information on how the system works and a tutorial on what constitutes prior art. The agency will take public comments and will launch the full magilla in early 2007.
Veteran patent attorney David Ritchie, a partner at Thelen Reid & Priest, calls it an interesting idea but says he suspects that the vast majority of patent applications will still go unnoted by the public.
“With most applications, only the applicants will care,” he wrote in an e-mail. “But for some of the more high-profile patent applications (e.g. the Amazon One-Click Patent) everyone will have an opinion and many will attempt to provide that opinion directly to the examiner.”
“I doubt that even ten applications per year will rise to that level of common public interest, so it shouldn’t have a big effect in the larger picture, but it might keep some mistakes from happening,” he added.
— Xenia Kobylarz