Patent Office 2.0?

Pilot project in cooperation with IBM and NY law professor is the first glimpse of Web 2.0 apps in government.
Written by Richard Koman, Contributor

The Patent Office is taking steps to turn itself into a Web 2.0 web service, allowing the public to comment on software patent applications in an effort to improve and speed up the review process, The Washingotn Post reports.

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.

The project was hatched by IBM and New York Law School Professor Beth Noveck.

Noveck called the initiative "revolutionary" and said it will bring about "the first major change to our patent examination system since the 19th century."

"For the first time in history, it allows the patent-office examiners to open up their cubicles and get access to a whole world of technical experts," said David J. Kappos, vice president and assistant general counsel at IBM.

Under the pilot project, major tech companies have agreed to have their applications reviewed online. Among the volunteers: Microsoft, Intel, Hewlett-Packard, Oracle and IBM. You can volunteer too.

The program will start with apps from software design.

Anyone who believes he knows of information relating to these proposed patents will be able to post this online and solicit comments from others. But this will suddenly make available reams of information, which could be from suspect sources, and so the program includes a "reputation system" for ranking the material and evaluating the expertise of those submitting it.

To set up the fun new patent review system USPTO consulted with eBay and Rob Malda, aka CmdrTaco from Slashdot.org.

eBay, of course, and Amazon, and Digg and every other reputation system is somewhat compromised by people gaming the system. Remember when Amazon mistakenly exposed the real names behind user reviews? Turned out many of the posters were other authors, dissing their competition, or the author him or herself, pumping their own works.

The new patent system will try to help separate experts from posers by offering extensive details about the people sending information to the site. To help others evaluate the quality of this information, called prior art, each posting will include several measures gauging the quality of his other contributions to the site. Patent examiners, for instance, will award "gold stars" to people who previously submitted the most useful information for judging earlier applications, Noveck said.

Noveck said the online program would not only produce better information for examiners to consider but also make the patent process more democratic. "The idea is to make something as important as decision-making about innovation more transparent to the public and more accountable to the public," she said.

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