At an IP conference in New York, I recently met Professor Beth Noveck, the brilliant law professor at New York Law School who has been the driving force behind the new Peer to Patent Project and PeerToPatent.org. The concept is to apply the power of the Wiki and communities of experts to help the PTO do its job of finding prior art for pending patent applications. In this program, inventors with pending applications in category 2100 (software-related patents) can volunteer to expose their application to the online community, who will then dig up the best art they can find and provide comments explaining the relevance of the art. The top 10 items of prior art and comments will be sent to the PTO to assist the Examiner.
Why would anyone want to do this? That's the reaction of most IP professionals. Naturally, this process greatly increases the chances that a patent will be gutted by prior art or whittled down to narrow claims. "Even an invalid patent is worth something" - a common statement that refers to the huge expense and risk involved in challenging a patent that stands in your way. But for those interested in having strong valid patents that they intend to license or otherwise use, this system can greatly increase the perceived value of the patent, if it's a good patent in the first place. And it can give the inventors of the surviving patent confidence in their claims.
There is another huge benefit for those who out their patents through the Peer to Patent process: the PTO will expedite prosecution, trimming the normal five+ of prosecution for software patents down to roughly a year. That's for me!
In fact, I have a patent application in the software/security area in category 2100 that I just submitted to the Peer to Patent system. They are selective, limited to only 250 patents in this pilot stage of the system, so I might not make the cut. But if I do, I hope the world will join in the fray to tear my patent apart, because whatever survives will be worth something - and I'll know its worth years sooner than otherwise.
In any case, I hope you'll sign up to be a reviewer for the Peer to Patent community review system, a brilliant idea. And if you see an application from me show up sometime, have at it!