Patent Process Gets Web 2.0 Makeover

Ann All

Despite the concerns over accuracy that have dogged Wikipedia, a number of respected tech companies including IBM believe that a Wikipedia-style approach may be just the Web 2.0 thing to improve the beleaguered U.S. patent process.


According to a Washington Post article, companies filing for patents can agree to have them publicly reviewed on the Internet. Readers can then post comments that could be used for documentation.


In an effort to avoid Wikipedia's well-publicized problem of folks that willfully try to scam the system, a "reputation system" will be employed to rank posted materials and the qualifications of those submitting them.


The biggest backer of this approach is IBM, which for 13 years running has been the biggest filer of commercial patents. Interestingly, the idea originated through a process of open discussion among experts in law, tech, economics and government conducted via, you guessed it, a wiki.


In a more old-school approach to patent problems, Reps. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) and Howard Berman (D-Calif.) recently introduced a piece of legislation called the Patents Depend on Quality Act of 2006.


The bill overlaps in at least two respects with the IBM-led approach, in that it would allow third parties to comment during the application process and require all patent applications to be published within 18 months of filing. It would also clarify when courts can grant injunctive relief.


Hopefully, the wiki-ized approach will yield positive results sooner rather than later, considering the number of high-profile patent cases in the legal queue, including Transmeta vs. Intel and the Washington Research Foundation vs. Nokia, Samsung and Matsushita.

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Mar 30, 2007 3:34 AM Nurall Nurall  says:
Thanks to your post, I visited the website to check it out myself. Following are my observations (pros and cons) about Social community based valuation system - enables reviewers to participate in valuating a patent democratically, thus satisfying Web 2.0's emphasis on web democracy2. Enables the potential end users of patent ideas to rate the patent. I guess this is the most important aspect of wikipatents.com3. Has the potential to tap into the human computation resources available through the Web 2.0 model4. Has potential to reduce USPTO's workload considerably if the knowledge of the system stabilizes to render the reviews reliable. Irrespective of that, wikipatents could be used as a tool by USPTO to reduce the time-to-grant, this system might just expedite the patent prosecution process5. Tag based reviews of patents. If these tags are reliable, the system could help the USPTO office to classify patents differently depending on how reviewers tag it. This could serve as a new way of classifying patents in addition to the traditional classification methods6. Market Research feature - A community based valuation of the patent from a market research perspectiveCons:1. Reliability of reviews - It is very tough to model the reliability of this system as a whole. People could argue that, since this mimics the wikipedia model, it guarantees a certain degree of reliability. But the issue is that, there is a lot more at stake here in comparison to the wikipedia model. Hence reliability of reviews/reviewers becomes that much more important. If the lack of reliability scales, it could be a serious problem2. Recognition among wikipatents reviewers - One of the main reasons wikipedia is popular is because it has a cult-like following of content contributors, who have carved their own niche and derived a lot of recognition and satisfaction in the wikipedia contributors community. There is a sense of accomplishment (and recognition) associated with each contribution. This seems to be lacking (or is not apparent) in the current wikipatents portal.3. Knowledge of reviewers - All the reviewers are treated equally, in other words, all the reviewers seem to be getting equal weights in the valuation system. There is no way (currently) to determine how knowledgeable a particular reviewer is. The authenticity of the reviewer and his mental acumen of the reviewer will play a large role in ascertaining the reliability of the system. Hence this will be a major challenge faced by wikipatents4. Inventor participation - The inventor seems to have a very small role to play in the system. It seems very important that the inventor participates in promoting his patent or help provide an accurate translation of his idea in order to help reviewers do a better job. This seems lacking currently5. Stability - This is closely related to the reliability issue. There is a certain lead time involved for this wikiproject that will render the system largely useless until there is enough confidence in the system, such that USPTO starts using the resources in a productive way. The rationale might be that something is better than nothing. If it is that, there might be other ways of achieving a better 'something.'Conclusion:Wikipatents is definitely a very impressive undertaking. The possibilities are immense and largely appears to be heading in the right direction. It could well serve the purpose of expediting/improving the patent prosecution process by the USPTO. On the flip side, there is a possibility that the usefulness of the system might hit a wall beyond which it may not be any more usable. This could be attributed to the reliability issue and the concern over the quality of the reviewers. They should definitely consider tackling these issues with utmost urgency. On the whole a very interesting concept, a kind of concept that needs proof to validate the vision. Reply

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