Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Reinventing the Patent System

IBM, a world leader in obtaining patents, is also working to reinvent the way we do patents. "Reinventing the Invention System" is an article by IBM about the issues of patent quality and innovations such as crowd-sourcing to improve prior art searches. They helped support Beth Noveck in developing an exciting pilot program at the USPTO, Peer To Patent, a system in which inventors could expose their pending patents to the world for commentary and prior art suggestions, in exchange for receiving a rapid examination. The best prior art submitted would be sent to the PTO, who then would ensure that a substantial first office action was delivered within a year from entering the Peer to Patent system.

I tried Peer to Patent with a security system patent of my own. I was thrilled with the results and appreciated the insights shared by others. Of course, I especially appreciated the allowed claims and rapid prosecution! In principle, I'd much rather have a narrow patent that has been subjected to searching from many eyes than a broad one of more questionable validity. Plus I'd much rather have a patent that issues quickly, as mine did, than one that takes five or more years to get a first office action, as has happened to some patents I've been involved with.

Will crowd-sourcing be relied on in the future? I hope so. While the Peer to Patent pilot has closed for now as it reviews the results of its US pilot program, I understand that it will be coming back in some form, perhaps expanded and better than ever. It has its weaknesses, such as the difficulty of motivating searchers to take part and the lack of legal knowledge by the community doing the reviews. "Oh, this is obvious!" is so easy to say, but if you don't understand the legal definition of obviousness, you may condemn a claim that clearly is patentable, or fail to recognize why something that appears novel is probably not patentable after all. Without understanding the law, you may not know what art to search for and what prior publications or products are truly relevant.

Mark Nowotarski, President of Markets, Patents, and Alliances, has proposed an alternative system, the Examiner Advocate, in which skilled patent attorneys and technical experts evaluate sponsored patents and write a proposed office action for USPTO examiners to consider. The proposed office action would be posted on a website and could be used by the PTO, if desired. Of course, there would be a fee for this service. Great concept, one that could greatly enhance the quality of the office actions that are provided. Perhaps a combination of Peer to Patent's crowd-sourcing and the skilled approach of the Examiner Advocate could be the way of the future. Stay tuned!

Peer To Patent pilots have also been launched in Australia and in Japan. This could become a more global phenomenon.