Tuesday, August 22, 2006

GETTING A PEEK AT THE USPTO'S PEER-TO-PATENT SOFTWARE: In response to criticism over "bad" software patents, the USPTO has partnered with IBM and a host of other industry leaders to create the Peer to Patent Project which will ultimately provide a software patent search tool for examiners to more effectively parse software code, articles, technical papers, etc. provided by third parties. The idea was launched by professor Beth Noveck from New York Law School on her blog last July, which was followed by an article in Wired News, which in turn attracted the attention of IBM (along with Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard) who decided to sponsor the idea.

But how is the software going to be implemented, and how will third parties participate? Think "Wikipedia." Nicholas Varchaver from CNN spoke with Professor Noveck, along with USPTO Commissioner John Doll, and provided this short article on the software. By using a Wiki approach to establish knowledge in the art and to make previously-hard-to-find documents more publicly accessible, outsiders can weigh in during the patent-review process, as online encyclopedia Wikipedia does, to increase the information available to a patent examiner.

According to the article,

Working with IBM and the Patent Office, Noveck developed a system that will not only permit, for example, an inventor to show that an allegedly new idea is already in practice but also lets reviewers rate one another's submissions, much as they do on eBay and Amazon.

Patent examiners will be given only the ten highest-rated pieces of input, and attempts to sabotage a competitor's application by submitting phony material should theoretically be avoided.
Noveck speculates that a test-launch for the software could occur as early as 2007, and, depending on the results, be followed by a PTO-wide implementation.

It's going to be interesting to see how this approach will work. Ironically, many practitioners have been complaining recently over examiners using Wikipedia in office actions, where the information that the examiner relied upon was allegedly incorrect, and sometimes false. Comedian Stephen Colbert recently did a bit on the concept of "Wikiality," where users of Wikipedia change entries in the databases to reflect their own concept of reality, regardless of whether or not that reality is based on truth or reason (to view the video, click on any of the segments listed on YouTube here). After encouraging users to falsify entries in the system, Wikipedia made corrections in the system and banned Mr. Colbert from the site . . .

As a side note, tech-savvy opponents of the controversial Blackboard patent have jumpstarted a DIY effort and started a wiki to collect invalidating art. It is very likely that, in the months to come, many more ad-hoc wikis will be created by individual groups to test this approach for finding prior art.

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