The USPTO faces a backlog of over one million patent applications. To keep up, patent examiners have less than 20 hours per application to determine if a 20-year monopoly should be issued, which can determine the future of entire industries or the direction of basic research.
Over the last year, the USPTO has cooperated with New York Law School and a network of corporate collaborators to use social networking to help turn up prior art during the patent review process. Peer-to-Patent is the first social networking project with a direct link to decision-making by the federal government.
The program has just completed its first year of operation, and has posted some encouraging results.
CNET reports, “According to the “Peer to Patent” Web site, over 2,000 people have signed up to participate as reviewers of patent applications and have submitted 192 pieces of prior art on 42 patent applications.”
The project’s one year report notes that “92% of patent examiners who received public input from volunteer examiners said they would welcome future public participation in examinations.”
Further, 21% of participating examiners reported receiving prior art which would have been otherwise inaccessible to the USPTO.
Industry partners include GE, IBM, RedHat, HP, Microsoft and the MacArthur Foundation. These are organizations with deep expertise and an interest in an efficient and high-quality system of patent review. By leveraging this shared interest, programs like Peer-to-Patent can provide an expert consultation system which extends the expertise of the USPTO.
Peer-to-Patent operates an information center on Democracy Island in Second Life. This seems like a great piece of marketing; Second Life has technically savvy participants who want to associate in new ways online. Why not distinguish oneself as providing the kind of expertise which creates better patents and advances the useful arts?
Its good to hear that the USPTO is innovating, and leveraging industry’s broad interest in high-quality intellectual property systems. Although the project’s efforts have been focused only on 42 patents, it’s a welcome sign of cooperation and perhaps a model for greater public participation in the issuance of IP rights registrations.