Some of the biggest players in the technology industry complain that the U.S. patent system is broken — putting too many patents of dubious merit in the hands of people who can use them to drag companies and other inventors to court.
And Blaise Mouttet, a small inventor in Alexandria, Virginia, thinks he knows why. The problem, he said, is that “there are too many lawyers and not enough inventors involved with the patent system.”
So Mouttet is taking part in an experimental program launched in June 2007 with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and backed by the technology industry that is intended to give the public — including inventors — more of a voice in the system.
The concept behind the program, called Peer-to-Patent, is straightforward: Publish patent applications on the Web for all to see and let anyone with relevant expertise — academics, colleagues, even potential rivals — offer input to be passed along to the Patent Office.
By using the power of the Internet to tap the wisdom of the masses, Peer-to-Patent aims to dig up hard-to-find “prior art” — evidence that an invention already exists or is obvious and therefore doesn’t deserve a patent.
The goal is to locate prior art that Patent Office examiners might not find on their own — and to produce better patents by reducing ones granted on applications that aren’t novel. The hope is that this will drive innovation by improving the patent process and reducing the patent infringement lawsuits clogging the courts.
Noveck believes Peer-to-Patent will help strike that balance. The Patent Office reports that it has issued preliminary decisions on 40 of the 74 applications that have come through the program so far. Of those, six cited prior art submitted only through Peer-to-Patent, while another eight cited art found by both the examiner and peer reviewers.