Taking the patents to the people could be the new motto for the US Patent and Trademark Office. Beta News reports that the patent office will launch a new website to allow citizens to evaluate the validity of patent applications.
The idea behind the change is to have the Peer-to-Patent website become the conduit to expedite the discovery of "prior art" - creations that existed before the applicant for a patent claimed he invented them.
Selected reviewers will be invited to consider patent applications via the website. That's a radical change because currently, only Patent Office attorneys review applications for prior are. Reviewers will be able to submit cases for prior art that may serve as recommendations for the applications' rejection. These will be graded and only the top 10 scoring recommendations will be sent on to a patent examiner, who is under may or may not take those recommendations into consideration.
New York Law School Professor Beth Simone Noveck, one of the founders of Peer-to-Patent community has formed an advisory board for the formation of a Community Patent Review project.
"We need to make it easier for people to come together to form companies (firms, rather than just markets) that can provide economic incentives for sustained work by dispersed individuals, that can collectively own the jointly produced work product (whether that is a valuable piece of intellectual property or a new branded service created by the participants), that can enjoy limited liability (thereby avoiding being re-characterized as partnerships) and that can open a bank account, distribute net proceeds to the participants who have contributed value, and enter into contracts with third parties."
Noveck see the project as an altruistic Wikipedia-model system that would create an intellectual property framework that would cater to private citizens as well as businesses. It's an attempt to foster a patent system actually based on protecting legitimate invention, rather than allowing defensive patent strategies. In software especially, companies reverse-engineer competitors' products looking for techniques they themselves can patent. Wielding patents as weapons against competitors is not what the framers of the Constitution had in mind.