Only recently the USPTO suggested a peer review mechanism to ensure that bad patents are minimized. Wikipatents, launched on August 28th, aims to contribute to “the US patent system by commenting on issued patents and, soon, pending patent applications.” This comes on the heels of the IBM, Red Hat, Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard backed Community Patent Review plan of the New York Law School scheduled for a debut early next year.
A Web 2.0 website, complete with AJAX and Digg options, Wikipatents, provides you with entire patent data in HTML/PDF format and allows a registered user to write a title and abstract in a layman’s language. It also allows users to vote on cited references, add comments to existing ones and add new references. A new concept here is the market review which allows a user to estimate parameters like marketing and licensing potential of a patent.
While I am supportive of the entire exercise, I have my doubts about the efficacy of the system. First of all patents hardly ever directly impact the public and it is mostly big companies (holders of huge IP portfolio themselves) who are nowadays being sued left, right and center by the so-called patent trolls that are more worried about bad patents. I mean IBM and Microsoft themselves hold patent portfolios greater than many countries. I find no reason for people to sympathize with them.
Second, patent laws are so unclear and confusing that not many people know about them. Outside the patent attorneys I think hardly anyone would know their priority dates from filing dates.
Third, it is very difficult to gather relevant prior art without a very good understanding of the technology domain and access to proper patent and non-patent databases.
And lastly, relevant prior art is not easily available and finding it requires a lot of man hours and huge effort, else the patent examiners would have found them. Further, patent valuation is a largely inexact science at the best and requires huge amount of experience and prior research to arrive at any value for a patent.
So while it would be nice to get a community review of a patent, I for one would take any information provided with a pinch of salt, or combinations thereof.