U.S. Patent Office Opens Its Reviews to the Public
This diagram comes from a patent for entertaining a cat with a laser pointer. A new law now allows the U.S. Patent Office to ask for the public's help in spotting poor-quality patents.
CREDIT: Free Patents Online
A change in U.S. patent law now allows anybody to see patent applications under review and submit evidence that the innovation isn't actually new. This is the first time the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has allowed outside parties to have a say in its reviews. The office hopes experts in the public will help improve the quality of the patents it grants, the office's director, David Kappos, said in a statement.
By increasing the number of pairs of eyes examining patents, the law may help weed out so-called "patent trolls," or people and groups that file for patents they don't plan to use themselves, but want to own so that they can sue other companies for using similar ideas. Patent trolls have brought up numerous of lawsuits lately, especially against technology companies. At TechNewsDaily, we've discussed several trolls, including a Texas company that sued Apple, Facebook and others for interactive web technology.
"By introducing third party input into the examination process for the first time since the inception of our nation's intellectual property system, we're able to expand the scope of access to prior art in key areas like software patents," Kappos said. Prior art refers to papers, books and other materials related to a patent, which may show that somebody else already thought of the idea in a patent.
To encourage people to participate, the patent office asked Stack Exchange, a startup that owns a series of question-and-answer websites, to create an "Ask Patents" forum. The forum allows people to start discussions about patents, leave comments on others' discussions and click to submit their evidence to the patent office. Google is also in on the game, offering a search engine that finds prior art.
Participants might not have too hard of a time finding patent applications that aren't new, are too broad or are otherwise poor quality, according to Joel Spolsky, one of Stack Exchange's co-founders. "When I started looking at this project, I thought finding prior art would be tricky, but the truth is, there are probably hundreds of patent applications every week that aren't true inventions," he told the Verge.
The new law allowing public input into patent reviews went into effect Sept. 16.