In these pilots, published patent applications are placed on special websites that enable members of the public who have signed up as peers to review these applications and submit prior art to the site. The community of registered peers then ranks submitted prior art in terms of its relevance to the patent application, and the top prior art items are passed on to the examiner to consider as part of the examination process. This is a simple and powerful example of the application of crowdsourcing principles that have been at the heart of other successful projects such as the open source software movement, to the patent examination process. The results of the U.S. pilot, which was completed in June 2009 and is rumored to be restarting with expanded subject matter areas this month, have been promising and show that communities of experts are motivated to provide prior art (after all they are the people who will have to deal most directly with the consequences of a wrongly granted patent in their field) and that their input can improve decision making in the patent examination process.
A conference was held in Geneva last week at the offices of WIPO for members of patent offices from countries and international filing agencies that have previously or are currently running P2P pilots as well as those considering pilots in the near future. Joining them was a group of interested patent professionals from industry and academia including Manny Schecter, IBM’s Chief Patent Counsel. At this conference, the attendees shared experiences and exchanged their visions for the future of this exciting work with an eye toward making peer review a regular part of the patent examination process on a national and global scale. One item of great interest in this regard is the notion of sharing the prior art uncovered by peers among different patent offices examining counterpart applications for a given invention.
This is good news for fans of P2P. Peer to Patent gives patent quality advocates a means to move from “everyone talks about it” to “everyone acts on it,” and if we do this right we will most certainly clear some clouds of doubt from the patent system.