Of mistletoe and lost gloves: the tale of UK's Peer to Patent

The IPKat has been sniffing around the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) again.  Not, this time, in search of further ammunition to aim at the target he was taking pot shots at earlier today (here), but in the earnest hope of finding some fresh information about one of his most cherished topics, the Peer to Patent (P2P) experiment which the IPO is currently running (for background, check out this Kat's earlier posts here and here).

What has the IPKat discovered? Well, the first patent applications have all been safely loaded up on to the IPO's bit of the  P2P website (here) and they've now reached the end of their 90-day comment period.  So far, there are over 100 applications on the website, covering a wide range of computing technologies from a new type of computer mouse to aspects of a how a processor works.

Is anyone visiting the website? Yes! By the end of July the site received over 4,000 visits (excluding the Kat, who is far too modest to count himself), these being from approximately 2,850 unique visitors.  Merpel thinks it's amazing that people manage to find the site at all, since the IPO is so out-of-the-way in Newport, but the truth is that over 60% of visitors to this choice patch of cyberspace have been directed to it from referring sites.  The IPO's publicity campaign has been almost entirely online [which is why, Merpel suspects, so many people didn't know there was one ...] and there have even been some articles in the computing press.

57% of visitors to the P2P website are locals, drawn from all four corners of the UK, but hits have arrived from 74 countries. The US provided some 12% of visitors and other significant sources of curious visitors are India, Germany, France, Canada, Australia and the Netherlands. 142 visitors hailed from a country which could not apparently be identified [probably the same country where all those lost gloves, pens and tea spoons end up].

About 10% of cases have attracted comments -- and even some prior art. The quality and relevance of this input will be assessed by the examiners when they return to their desks from their extra voluntary duties painting the walls, tiling the toilets, mowing the lawns and tidying the cafeteria [it's tough being a civil servant when there's a shortage of public funding, notes the sympathetic Kat. If things don't get any better, they may even have to share the same piece of mistletoe at the IPO Christmas Party ...].

Says a spokesperson for P2P:
"Our aim at all times during the pilot has been to see if the Peer To Patent concept will provide information to help us as examiners ensure that only truly novel and innovative patents are granted [Hmm, grunts a litigation lawyer: patents are only truly novel and innovative when a court has ruled that they are, having had a chance to reflect upon the prior art that so often miraculously comes to light only after the examiners have done their examining and gone back to painting the walls-- and when the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court have had their say too]. It costs nothing ["It", in this context, is Peer to Patent, not the litigation just referred to] to get involved and by submitting prior art at this stage you could prevent a patent being granted".
Next week, as the first applications approach the time when they will be examined, the IPO's P2P weblog will be burgeoning with a series of posts about how the IPO examines these exciting applications.  You can visit this weblog here. Says the IPKat, the IPO is trying really hard to do something worthwhile here -- and it's all for our benefit. Please, please give the Office your support, or they will shoot the IPKat's trusty friend, Senior Patent Examiner Nigel Hanley at dawn we will all be the poorer.
Of mistletoe and lost gloves: the tale of UK's Peer to Patent Of mistletoe and lost gloves: the tale of UK's Peer to Patent Reviewed by Jeremy on Thursday, August 11, 2011 Rating: 5


  1. My impresson is that the project has been a bit of a flop. They simply haven't had enough input.

    The vast majority of applications have attracted no meaningful comments and very little prior art has been cited.

    It's a shame. The project is a good idea.

  2. @Anonymous

    It's not surprising that the project is "a bit of a flop". Anything like this needs a lot more initial publicity if it's going to stand a chance -- not just from the IPO but from external media (over which the IPO has no control). Also, it's kinder to all concerned if things like this are not trialled over the summer when so many people are on holiday, distracted by the cricket or (in the case of locals) rioting. P2P deserves more of an airing -- let's hope it gets it.

  3. Will there be any walls left for the examiners to paint?

    Page 12 of the corporate plan refers to the "Working Beyond Walls" project, apparently spinspeak for saving money by getting rid of individual offices for examiners in favour of open plan. Good luck to them: when this happend to me in industrial practice, we all went and bought ear defenders from the local tool shop to avoid being distracted by other peoples phone calls etc.

  4. The EPO has recently made it easier to file third party observations - you can now use an online form:


  5. I doubt poor publicity is the problem: it's a fundamentally weak concept.

    Nobody with a commercial interest in seeing a patent refused should want to give away details of key prior art to the applicant while there the applicant still has time to amend to get round it; much more sensible to keep the prior art quietly as a defence should one ever be needed in future.

    The only potential contributors are therefore likely to be vigilantes with too much time on their hands. I would prefer the government to do the searching and examining.

    How much is the whole exercise costing the tax-payer? And per worthwhile prior-art document submitted?

  6. Jeremy, your litigation lawyer is being insufficiently pedantic. No court in the UK would rule on whether a patent is truly novel and innovative. The court will only rule on whether they are not novel or inventive, in the light of the cited prior art. And even then, as the coflexip v rockwater decision shows, that is only an inter partes decision.

  7. I agree with anonymous 1:13. raising potentially invalidating prior art may allow the applicant, not only to amend to avoid the prior art, but to shift the scope with a view to catching your own products, the existence of which he could well be made aware of by virtue of your intervention. I have never been faced with this situation in real life, but seem to recall exam questions relating to this sort of scenario in the old CIPA finals papers.

    Waiting until after grant means that the scope for amendment is much more restricted. Even if there are doubts as to the relevance of your prior art, the patentee may decide to leave you alone rather than risk losing his patent, especially if already receiving licence income from others.


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