Wednesday, 3 September 2008
As regular IPKat readers will know, before I became an IPKat co-blogmeister I had the idea of setting up a wiki containing all the IP law an aspiring UK patent attorney (which I was at the time) might need at their finger tips in preparation for taking their foundation or finals papers, but which would also be useful for them once they qualified. This was created at ukpatents.wikispaces.com back in July 2006. The site has now been going continuously for just over two years, having been built up, updated and annotated where necessary in the meantime. It contains linked versions of the UK patents act and rules, together with the registered designs act, the CDPA and a fair amount in the way of annotions in the form of links to case law and other resources.
What wasn't really known at the time was how keen other trainees and patent professionals might be to contribute. It turns out (at least from the site's access statistics) that many are apparently keen to have the benefit of such a resource but, with some small exceptions, there has been very little in the way of active contribution. This is a tad disappointing but, as Geeklawyer recently pointed out, not entirely surprising given the pressures that lawyers in general tend to be under (billable hours really matter, by the way).
As a result, I am a little sceptical about the possibility in the foreseeable future of a wiki-type 'free legal web', as envisaged by Nick Holmes (see the vision here), and also doubt whether there is sufficient impetus for the more fantastic-sounding vision of a Wikipedia of English law, as suggested by Richard Susskind (coincidentally, only a couple of months before the ukpatents wiki was born). After all, for such a resource to be realisable, the professional time of real people would be needed to create and maintain it, and those people really need to be trained lawyers specialist in their field, and not just technicians or students. Where is such a resource to be found?
In the meantime, the ukpatents wiki had been left in a situation where it was freely available for all to view, but the work of updating it was clearly not being shared. To me, this all started to seem a little unfair, and I was tempted to simply rein it all back in and use it instead as a purely personal resource (which is where it started), partly just so I wouldn't get any stick for it being out of date. However, after a little rethink, I have decided that, for an indeterminate experimental period at least, the site will carry on being freely available but only to those who become members, and then only to members who are willing to admit to who they are in real life. Any contributions that are made can then be attributed to real life people, with real life reputations to build and uphold. The site organiser (whether me or anyone else) can also keep an eye on, and communicate with, those who are actually making use of the site.
It seems like a good idea to me but the IPKat and I would be interested to know if any readers have any better ideas. Are open legal wikis the law the way forward, or not? Are closed and supervised wikis a better idea? Are there any other experiments out there that might show the way? Is there a possibility of getting more engagement from the legal profession in such schemes, or is the legal profession one that simply does not fit with this kind of collaborative venture? All suggestions gratefully received.
Photo credit: suzijane/flickr.