Patent system needs a 'Slashdot for prior art'

The US Patent Office must improve the way it searches for prior art, according to a public policy group

A public policy group has called on the US patent office to make more use of the Internet when searching for prior art.

The Committee for Economic Development (CED), which includes senior executives from companies such as IBM, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and General Electric, published a report earlier this week recommending the use of increased openness to promote economic growth.

The report, entitled Open Standards, Open Source, and Open Innovation,  pointed out that back in 2001 the CED had recommended that business methods should not be patentable. It also called on the US Patent Office to improve the way it searches for evidence that a patent shouldn't be granted because it isn't innovative.

"The Patent and Trademark Office should make increased use of the Internet in seeking to document 'prior art', particularly in the area of information technology, where the Internet provides new capabilities to reach the most knowledgeable commentators. A 'Slashdot for prior art' should be the goal," the report said.

The CED welcomed the US Congress's review of the patent system, which it said should consider whether a separate patent system is needed for different industries.

"Such a review should re-examine the premise that today's unitary system continues to serve all industrial sectors well, especially given the proliferation of problems regarding software patents," it said.

The CED also said that open source is becoming "increasingly important" in today's IT environment, but said the government should not base purchasing decisions on whether software is proprietary or open. The group also expressed a stronger stance towards open standards and interoperability, calling for the US government to develop a stronger policy towards the latter.

"The US government should review its policies regarding interoperability mandates to determine whether such mandates, particularly regarding interoperability in the IT arena with respect to critical governmental functions, can be accomplished in a manner consistent with treaty obligations," it said.

The full report is available on the CED Web site.