Patent review 2.0: Peers to examine applications

The Peer-to-Patent Project

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Editor's note: This story was updated at 11:25 a.m. March 7, 2007. Please go to Corrections & Clarifications to see what has changed.

A peer review program could change the way the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office handles patent applications. A test of the program will begin in May.

The office seeks to streamline the process for patent application review by allowing groups of volunteers to submit and review prior art, or publicly available information that can be used to dispute the patent claim. The registered volunteers can then make comments on the prior art. USPTO officials will closely review the comments, and about 10 references with commentary will be sent to patent reviewers. The process is similar to that for posting to a wiki, a virtual work space where people can edit and add information.

Examiners will grade volunteers on the accuracy of their comments, increasing their reputation as experts.

Jon Dudas, undersecretary for Intellectual Property at the Commerce Department, said the peer review program is among efforts to get better and more information from the public at large.

USPTO is experimenting with a voluntary peer review process because it has too few patent examiners for the workload at the agency, and the examiners have limited time to do research on software inventions, which are not well documented. By tapping the technical community, the office can take advantage of experts without requiring them to work directly for the agency.

The test will run for 12 to 18 months. The office will allow 250 software patent submitters to volunteer their applications for peer review. If the test goes well, USPTO officials may increase the number of applications allowed. The results of the program will be reviewed in fall 2008.

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