The UK is testing a scheme that invites public comment on computer-related patent applications, following pilots in the US, Australia, Japan and South Korea.
The Peer to Patent pilot went live on Wednesday. Twenty patent applications are already open to scrutiny on the Peer to Patent website, which is run by the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO). Each patent has a 90-day review period, and up to 200 patents will be uploaded before the trial finishes on 31 December, 2011.
Once each patent has been commented upon, a summary will be sent to an IPO patent examiner to consider as part of a wider review process.
The idea behind the scheme is to improve the quality of patents that are awarded, by making it easier for people to notify the relevant patent-granting authorities of 'prior art' — the intellectual property term for things that have been done before — and generally critique the claims made in applications.
"Patent applications granted after using the Peer To Patent website review will be potentially stronger, giving businesses better protection to grow their innovative ideas," intellectual property minister Baroness Willcox said in a statement on Wednesday. "This will give the IPO access to a wider body of knowledge when deciding whether a patent should be granted."
Senior patent examiner Nigel Hanley wrote in a blog post on Wednesday that "reviewers can join a discussion on the application or simply rate any documents found using the distinctly Romanesque method of thumbs up and down".
Reviewers can join a discussion on the application or simply rate any documents found using the distinctly Romanesque method of thumbs up and down.– Nigel Hanley
"They can also follow an application they are interested in, as well as invite others to have a look at the application," Hanley explained, adding that — unlike in the US and Australian pilots — the IPO would be making public the reports generated by the examiners.
The original Peer to Patent scheme was devised by the New York Law School as a way of improving the patent application process. The UK pilot will focus on computer-related technologies because the same field was targeted in the successful US pilot, IPO spokesman Matthew Navarra told ZDNet UK last week, ahead of the launch.
According to Navarra, the choice of such patents also makes sense because Peer to Patent is an online system, and it therefore "feels natural" that people would first use it to engage with critiquing computer patents.
"Apart from the fact that it's been a success elsewhere, there has been a call from the computing community that they want to have input into the process," Navarra said. "People have always been able to do so here, unlike in America, but this is a user-friendly formal mechanism. It's more robust and of a higher quality."
Navarra noted that, in the "successful" US pilot, around 15 percent of comments and observations made were "used in actual decisions made on patents carried forward", and the "general consensus was it was a good thing".
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