A New Peer Group
The United Kingdom joins the handful of countries that have decided to seek the public’s
help in improving the quality of issued patents.
BY PHILIPPA MAISTER
The United Kingdom is the latest country to invite citizens to help government patent examiners do
their job. In launching its version of a “
peer-to-patent” program, the U.K. joins the
United States, where the method was pioneered, Australia, Japan, and South Korea.
Unlike Article One Partners, a New
York–based company that crowdsources the
search for prior art and pays up to $50,000
per patent to those who turn up something
significant [see “Crowd Pleaser, page 22],
the U.K.’s Intellectual Property Office and
its counterparts in other countries rely on
volunteers to study patent applications that
have yet to be granted.
“We had been watching what the U.S.
had done for some time, and we were in-
trigued by the results,” says Nigel Hanley,
a senior IPO examiner who leads the U.K.
project. While third parties have always
been free to comment on patent applica-
tions in the U.K., Hanley says the new
peer-to-patent program aims to bring state-
of-the-art technology into the process.
303 Almaden Blvd.
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by New York Law School professor Beth
Noveck as a way of boosting the quality
of issued patents. With foundation support, and financial backing from International Business Machines Corporation
and other companies, the Patent and
Trademark Office agreed to test the concept. The program’s backbone is its Web
site, peertopatent.org, which is maintained by New York Law School’s Center
for Patent Innovations. Volunteer reviewers register on the site to select patents in
categories of interest, adding annotations
or comments as desired. After 90 days,
the center submits a report with up to
six annotated prior art references to the
PTO. Participants benefit because the
PTO gives their applications priority for
a “first office action,” shaving up to 18
months off the approval process, says former Red Hat, Inc., general counsel Mark
Webbink., who leads the center.
Jack Harvey, the PTO executive
who oversees the program, says examiners find the peer reviewers’ information
helpful. And, Harvey says, the program
has added little cost or administrative
burden for the PTO. As for results, the
first U.S. pilot, which launched in 2007
and ran through 2008, covered 250 applications involving computer technologies and business methods. More than
600 items of prior art were submitted
for 189 applications, with more than
2,700 peer reviewers signing up, the
PTO reports. Examiners used prior art
provided in 20 percent of the applications reviewed. “At a minimum,” PTO
director David Kappos said in March
2010, “the peer-to-patent pilot presented interesting and tantalizing results.”
So tantalizing that the PTO launched
a new one-year pilot last October using
1,000 applications from such fields as
biotechnology, telecommunications, and
speech recognition. The goal: see if the
peer-to-patent concept can be expanded.
In the U.K., Hanley says that one of
the IPO’s goals is just to see if a community of volunteer patent reviewers exists—and something solid to add. ■