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.