Peer to Patent Australia recruits volunteer prior art searchers


Peer to Patent

project has already earned its place in history. It was explicitly
cited as inspiration for the open government initiative in the Obama
administration, which recently released a comprehensive directive
(available as a
covering federal agencies. The founder of the project, law professor
Beth Noveck, began implementation of the directive as Deputy CTO in
the US government. But I’ve been wondering, along with many other
people, where Peer to Patent itself is going.

It’s encouraging to hear that a new pilot has started in Australia and
has gathered a small community of volunteer patent art seekers. You
can check out the

official site

and its

Wikipedia page
Because Australia is much smaller in population than the US and sees
much less patent activity, the scope of the pilot is smaller but seems
to be chugging along nicely.

The pilot started on December 9 and plans to run for six months,
offering 40 patents for review in the areas of software and business
methods (the same ones as the US Peer to Patent project). Among
participating patent applicants are IBM, General Electric,
Hewlett-Packard, Yahoo!, CSIRO, and Aristocrat. Right now, 15 patents
are posted, each has at least one volunteer reviewer, and one boasts
two suggestions for potential prior art.

Professor Brian Fitzgerald of the Queensland University of Technology,
the Project Leader of Peer to Patent Australia, says, “Peer to Patent
allows people from anywhere to plug into the patent examination
process and to add what value they can. And from what we have seen in
the US, it works: examiners are relying on the Peer to Patent prior
art notifications. Our aim is to help build an international platform
for the project as well as embed its benefits within the Australian
patent system. We ask you to join the Australian project and help
contribute to the development of Peer to Patent on a worldwide basis.”

While the U.S. pilot is undergoing evaluation, Peer to Patent’s
executive directory Mark Webbink says, “Signs are good for a potential
restart of the program some time in 2010. Dave Kappos, the Under
Secretary of Commerce and Director of the USPTO, has long been a
supporter of Peer to Patent, and the prior art contributions appear to
be proving useful. The worldwide economy produced some drag on program
expansion when the UK Intellectual Property Office delayed its
anticipated pilot. However, the Japan Patent Office, which previously
ran its own peer review pilot, now appears interested in expanding its
program. IP Australia and Queensland University of Technology are to
be commended for moving on the pilot so quickly.” Brian Fitzgerald
says that China and other Asian countries are watching Japan and
Australia with interest.

I have followed Peer to Patent since fairly early drafts of the
proposal, have written about it frequently, and believe it is both
viable and necessary. The recent ruling against Microsoft Office shows
that patents in software, at least, are way out of control. Prior art
cannot in itself solve a broken system, but a robust examination
process can at least make applicants think twice about trying to exert
ownership over routine concepts such as separating a document’s markup
from its content. (That’s the purpose of markup in the first place.)
Incidentally, Australia has its own version of the famous

Bilski patent case

ending the practice of business patents,

Grant v Commissioner of Patents

In fact, the progress Peer to Patent has made in many countries proves
my faith in it. Just think about the inertia of government agencies
and the impenetrability of both the individual patent application and
the patent process as a whole. Who would imagine, putting all those
barriers together, that Peer to Patent could have accomplished so much

We’re not on Internet time here, but on policy time. Peer to Patent is
still a baby, and with enough care and feeding it can thrive and grow

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