Guest Blogger: Manny Schecter on Peer-to-Patent Two Year Anniversary

We at IBM are very excited about the success of the Peer-to-Patent project, which reached its second anniversary June 15, 2009 and recently released a report detailing the program’s progress over the past two years.

Peer-to-Patent is a groundbreaking social networking project which connects the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to a worldwide collaborative network of technical experts to improve patent quality. These experts review patent applications currently under consideration by USPTO examiners and offer commentary and “prior art”, information which helps examiners determine whether inventions are new and non-obvious, therefore meriting patent status. This second anniversary marks a number of important achievements, three of which I’d like to touch on here.

First, with the expansion last year to include business method and e-commerce inventions, the number of participating applications nearly tripled. A substantial factor in the dramatic increase was a successful outreach effort by both the project leadership and the USPTO. This represents, in part, a change in attitude by some who previously adopted a “wait-and-see” approach; the project’s success has begun to attract more patent applicants. Through the first two years, applications have been submitted by GE, HP, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Cisco, Disney, eBay, Novell, Red Hat, Sun, Xerox, and Yahoo, as well as by smaller firms and individuals.

Second, the project has sustained its strong performance. According to the second anniversary report:

Peer -to-Patent continues to contribute relevant prior art relied upon by the USPTO in more than 25% of the applications it handles. Since Peer-to-Patent launched, 66 office actions have been issued for applications that have undergone peer review on our Web site. In total, the USPTO used Peer-to-Patent submitted prior art references to reject one or more claims in 18 patent applications.

That’s quite a decent batting average, and demonstrates that interested members of the public have the ability to provide meaningful assistance to examiners. Another important fact about the prior art submitted is that more than a third of all prior art submitted by Peer-to-Patent, including 11 of the 18 references submitted by Peer-to-Patent and used by the USPTO to reject patent applications, was non-patent literature, a form of prior art which has historically been underutilized by examiners.

Third, reviewers and examiners, the constituents who actually make this process work, responded positively in surveys completed at the end of the second year. A strong majority of reviewers think there is value to public participation in patent examination, and that a third-party submission prior art program like Peer-to-Patent should be incorporated into regular USPTO practice. Similarly, more than half the examiners reported that prior art submitted by Peer-to-Patent was helpful or very helpful, with more than a quarter of participating examiners using prior art submitted by Peer-to-Patent in their rejections. In addition, seven out of 10 examiners thought that the Peer-to-Patent process would be helpful if implemented in regular office practice. Examiners also noted that Peer-to-Patent produced prior art that was either inaccessible or not very likely to have been found by them.

The USPTO has, for the moment, discontinued the Peer-to-Patent pilot for budgetary reasons because USPTO revenues have declined with the weak economy. We are encouraged, however, by the strong support for Peer-to-Patent shown by President Obama’s administration in announcing its Open Government Initiative, in which Peer-to-Patent has been held up as a successful model of more open government, and in which Peer-to-Patent’s founder, Beth Noveck, is playing a leadership role. We hope that the budgetary issues will be resolved soon so that this pilot can continue to grow and teach us more about public collaboration in the patent examination process.