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Your chance to participate in Patent review – Peer to Patent needs you

Part of our role at the Public Library of Science (known as PLoS) ), the non profit open-access scientific and medical publisher, is to let you know about other collaborative sites, which, like PLoS ONE, encourage dialogue and progress through participatory tools such as rating and annotation of the freely accessible content.

The building blocks of patents, which are the life blood of new products and processes, frequently lie in replicable scientific and medical research, which PLoS rapidly makes available to the world.

We’d like to take this opportunity get you up-to-speed with the Peer-to-Patent pilot, an initiative of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and New York Law School, which opens the patent examination process to participation and collaboration for the first time for the benefit of the public (not just the inventor).

Here’s a great quote about the reasons for establishing the project from Beth Noveck, the founder of the project, from this scene-setting paper that she wrote: "There is a crisis of patent quality. Patents are being issued that are vague and overbroad, lack novelty, and fail the constitutional mandate "[t]o promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts."

The number of patent applications filed in the US is increasing every year and the hope is that the granting of non-meritorious patents, that are a liability to the owner and the public, can be reduced.

Inventors that submit a patent application for public review will have their applications expedited and will be given priority in the review process. While the average waiting time in the Technology Center 2100 of the USPTO (TC2100) which covers computer architecture, software, and information security, is now nearly 4 years (44 months), participants in Peer-to-Patent receive a First Office Action in only 23 months, and as little as 7 months if the inventor opts for early publication. That is potentially 3 years faster at no additional cost to the inventor!

In addition, having an overly broad or non-meritorious patent can be a liability to the patent owner and harmful to the public. The owner of a non-meritorious patent is more likely to have her patent challenged which can cost millions of dollars and take years to resolve through litigation. In the end, if an inventor loses his/her patent, much of the time and resources put into the development and commercialization of the invention will have been a waste. On the other hand, if a non-meritorious patent is not challenged or invalidated and continues in force, it can diminish public access to important scientific and technological breakthroughs.

Scheduled to run for one year (beginning June 15, 2007), the pilot program asks members of the public to participate in the patent examination process by contributing relevant literature ("prior art"), commentary and suggested avenues for research directly to the USPTO. Contributors will receive feedback from the patent examiner about the relevance of those submissions to the patent examination process. Peer-to-Patent is also seeking participants to rate and annotate the submissions of others. The "Top 10" public submissions are forwarded to the USPTO for their consideration.

Although the patent examiner controls the ultimate determination of patentability, the general public has an opportunity to share information that, if relevant, can be used to narrow or even defeat the claims of a patent application. In essence, Peer-to-Patent allows the examiner to search the "human database" of people in the community who are knowledgeable about a particular area of innovation – people exactly like you. The pilot is currently limited to applications pending in TC2100. The Office is considering an expansion of the pilot to other fields of science if the pilot shows that the public review is capable of improving the patenting process.

Now is the time for you to get involved and show that this can really work and bring tangible benefits to the process. Peer-to-Patent is an opportunity participate in this important governmental decision-making process that, if unimproved, has the potential to lock up downstream innovation and research. It's a chance to make a real difference in the quality of issued patents. This is also an opportunity to gain professional status and recognition for this work. While all applications in the pilot relate to computer hardware or software, they include innovations such as biomedical applications that are simply implemented through a computer.

To join, please visit Peer-to-Patent. There you can find instructional materials about the patent system , including short video introductions . For more information about becoming a patent peer reviewer, please download the project brochure.

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