Cnet/ZDNet posted a story about Community Patent Review entitled "Wiki Site Aims to Boost Patent Review Process." This follows on the Fortune article entitled "Patent Review Goes Wiki" and myriad Slashdot postings in a lengthy discussion in response about why a wiki is not the appropriate tool to address the patent quality crisis.
The media's penchant for wiki-fying is leading to confusion. A wiki is an online collaborative editing tool.
Community Patent Review is not a wiki...or, at least, not in the way that is being suggested.
Community Patent Review is not a wiki (though that term conveys the appropriate sense of openness, transparency and collaboration). Rather, this is a software system for open peer review. We are collaboratively building a knowledge environment about patents. We will not edit patent applications but will, instead, collaborate to submit prior art and commentary to assist the patent examiner. The system will be directly tied into patent office decision-making practices. The aim of the system is to inform the patent examination process. The aim of the pilot is to gather empirical data to determine if community input can improve the patent examination process and produce better quality patents. Our broadest goal to develop a blueprint for mechanisms to increase the institutional competence of administrative agencies like the USPTO.
This is centrally about remedying the crisis of scientific expertise in policymaking and the fact that our administrative culture, generally, rejects consultation with outside experts. This has led to the institutionalization of an information deficit that is nowhere worse than in the Patent Office. Longstanding rules on secrecy and confidentiality further entrenched this notion of the insular expert. The patent examiner makes his determination on the basis of searching internal databases. This is producing an information deficit that can lead to poorly informed decision-making and the resulting plague of poor quality patents. This is hardly the fault of the Patent Office. With no duty to research the prior art in full, the Patent Office bears the brunt of the information costs of searching. In today's networked world, however, we understand that the wisdom of a wider array of experts -- not just the examiner or the applicant -- can be brought to bear in manageable and affordable ways. Those costs can be distributed across a wider community that is in the position to bear them and happy to do so.
In accord with the USPTO's Five Year Strategic Plan, the Community Patent project will launch as a pilot of the USPTO in 2007. Large companies like IBM, Microsoft, Red Hat and Hewlett-Packard as well as small ones like International Characters and Out of the Box Computing have already volunteered to have their patents peer reviewed. More are on the way and volunteers are sought. The technology we will use -- and which we are in the process of designing and building with public input -- is not a wiki. It is not wikipedia for patents. It is a peer review system that is specially designed with a knowledge and understanding of patent law and practice.
A link will soon be posted to our technical development site where all the documents and specifications for the Community Patent Review system will be posted and available for comment. Then we can focus on getting down to what it is rather than what it isn't.