A press release informs the IPKat that Peer-to-Patent has released a report on the results of its one-year pilot project. The idea of the project was to improve patent quality in the United States by connecting the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to an open network of scientific and technical experts to enhance the patent examination process.
Right: Peers of the realm - but can they review the prior art?
Says the press release:
"Launched on June 15, 2007 by New York Law School Professor Beth Noveck together with a network of corporate and academic collaborators and in cooperation with the USPTO, Peer-to-Patent is the first social networking project with a direct link to decision-making by the federal government. Under traditional practices, USPTO patent examiners bear the sole burden of identifying and relating information pertinent to patent applications. Under Peer-to-Patent, expert volunteers were permitted to assist in these efforts at the Web site. With the consent of participating inventors, patent applications were posted to the Peer-to-Patent site where the expert reviewers discussed the applications and submitted bibliographic information, known as prior art, relevant to determining if an invention was new and non-obvious, as the law requires to obtain a patent. At the conclusion of the review period, this prior art was forwarded to the USPTO patent examiner for consideration and use in their further search efforts.The IPKat salutes Beth Noveck and all those who worked with her in getting this project off the ground and jealously wishes that it was his idea in the first place.
Major companies such as IBM, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Sun Microsystems, Intel, and GE, companies whose patent portfolios account for nearly one-third of the patents issued to the top 30 U.S. patent holders in 2007, all submitted patent applications to the Peer-to-Patent process. Other patent applications were submitted by Red Hat, Cisco, and Yahoo!, as well as smaller firms.
Data from the first year of the Peer-to-Patent pilot shows that an open network of reviewers can improve the quality of information available to patent examiners and that such citizen-reviewers are capable of producing information relevant to the patent examination process and are willing to volunteer time. Initial results based on a survey of patent examiners from the USPTO suggest that information provided by the public is beneficial to the examination process.
Findings from the first-year report include:
* Peer-to-Patent attracted more than 2,000 peer reviewers [The IPKat says, the press release doesn't say how many patent applications attracted these reviewers. This is a pity. One of the objections raised is that the system will be flooded by responses from cranks, grudge-bearers and the ranks of the ill-informed. 2,000 reviewers may be a few, or a lot, in relation to the applications filed. The full report, p.6, says that the experiment handled 40 applications, so it looks like each attracted an average of 50 peer respondents. Merpel adds, the figure was bound to be high, given the high-level publicity given to the test, and it has a novelty factor too -- but in real life the number of active peers-per-patent may well be lower].
* The first 23 office actions issued during the pilot phase showed use of Peer-to-Patent submitted prior art in nine rejections [This is encouraging: if all failed, the results would demoralise applicants and dampen the wish to file, but if none failed the system would be labelled ineffective].
* On average, citizen-reviewers contributed 6 hours reviewing each patent application in the pilot [That's about one day's work, assuming an 8 hour working day but taking into account lunch and refreshment breaks, time spent checking emails, discussing the latest IP news with colleagues etc].
* Although USPTO rules permit third-party prior art submissions on pending applications, the average number of prior art submissions on Peer-to-Patent applications was 2,000 times that of standard rule-based submissions.
* Ninety-two percent of patent examiners surveyed said they would welcome examining another application with public participation [Sad about the other 8%. Can something be done to make them happier with public participation?], while 73% of participating examiners want to see Peer-to-Patent implemented as a regular office practice [Are the remaining 27% prepared to accept early retirement?].
* 21% of participating examiners stated that prior art submitted by the Peer-to-Patent community was “inaccessible” directly to USPTO examiners [This alone almost justifies the experiment. Prior art "inaccessible" to examiners seems to find its way almost miraculously into the hands of parties challenging the validity of a granted patent].
* Prior art submissions by Peer-to-Patent reviewers were four times as likely to include non-patent literature (any document that is not a patent, including Web sites, journals, textbooks, and databases) as compared to prior art submissions by applicants [This isn't surprising, but it's welcome news].
“As the first example of harnessing public knowledge to improve a government process, the first year of Peer-to-Patent was an unquestioned success,” Noveck said. She added: “While the impact of this project on patent quality will take longer to assess, the early indications are certainly promising.”"