As I reported last week from my interview with U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Director Jon Dudas, the patent process is about to taste Web 2.0. The Washington Post reports that a pilot social software project that allows for third-party comments and voting, adding a community, peer review dimension to the patent process, has been included as part of the USPTO's strategic plan.
New York Law School Professor Beth Noveck, who is heading the peer-to-patent Community Patent Review project, calls it "revolutionary." The project has been in the works for over a year, and is sponsored by Computer Associates, General Electric, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Microsoft, Red Hat, the MacArthur Foundation and the Omidyar Network. The classic Web 2.0 "wisdom of the crowd" is the basis for the patent peer review system, according to Noveck's paper, "Peer to Patent: Collective Intelligence, Open Review and Patent Reform":
Open review aims to improve the quality of issued patents by giving the patent examiner access to better information by means of an open peer review process. The Community Patent Review project, a policy initiative that has grown out of this Article, will create a web-based system that exploits network technology to connect innovation experts to patent examiners and the patent examination process. Adopted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office and slated for implementation in Spring 2007, Community Patent Review is the first social software project to be directly connected to the legal decision-making process.
Unlike ordinary peer review, which is closed and therefore subject to manipulation, open review adopts a broader vision of collaborative expertise. It is both more expert and more participatory. Unlike other proposals for ex post patent reform, open review addresses the core problem of information deficit that cannot be solved by the courts. It trequires no statutory change to try and minimal to implement.
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."
The Community Patent Review isn't the first wiki-like site for patent review. Wikipatents applies social software idea to granted patents and pending applications, allowing the public to add prior art references, vote on the relevancy of both original and user-added references, and make comments about how the prior art is related to a patent.