The United States Patent and Tradmark Office (USPTO) may have the mission to promote the progress of science and the useful arts, but it has never been known for exemplifying a culture of innovation itself. That may be changing. A few years ago, a pilot program, the Peer-to-Patent Project opened the patent examination process to public participation for the first time. The project utilizes the collective knowledge of internet users to discover “prior art” that may be used against a patent request. Based upon its initial success, the USPTO has decided to extend the program and an optimist might hope that this signals a new working model for the agency, or perhaps, a broader portion of the government.
Brainchild Beth Noveck of New York University describes the effort as one that explores "how to design a more collaborative culture that involves the scientific community more directly in decision-making." With so many technologies and ideas being shared across the web without formal patent applications, the aim of the project is to reduce the number of frivolous patents and subsequent lawsuits clogging the legal system. Embraced by industry, this development is even better for consumers who should in the future be able to enjoy new products sooner and more cheaply, and without the fear of losing your favorite product as a result of a lawsuit.
Peer-to-patent applies social networking technology to the patent business to ensure that only the worthwhile patents actually receive 20 years of patent rights. The website brings transparency to the patent business, which to many inventors, has in the operated in a shroud of mystery. It also offers opportunities for efficiency, by crowdsourcing evaluation rather than relying only on over-worked patent officers.
And for the casual innovator, the site offers a small window into the type of ideas that people are trying to patent these days (e.g., Continual reorganization of ordered search results based on current user interaction, Process of encryption and operational control of tagged data elements, The community patent review site has new revamped website: http://www.peertopatent.org/.
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