U.S. patent office going Web 2.0

by Saleem Khan, CBC News Online

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is taking a step into the deep end of the internet with plans to let visitors to its website comment on patent applications and vote the best remarks up or down along the lines of Wikipedia, Digg or Slashdot.

According to the Washington Post's Alan Sipress, the patent office is opening up its process in a bid to gain access to deep expertise:

The Patent and Trademark Office is starting a pilot project that will not only post patent applications on the Web and invite comments but also use a community rating system designed to push the most respected comments to the top of the file, for serious consideration by the agency's examiners.

The move was prompted after a meeting with IBM – the No. 1 recipient of U.S. patents for 14 years running – and New York Law School professor and blogger Beth Simone Noveck, who said the "revolutionary" effort is "the first major change to our patent examination system since the 19th century."

The first 250 applications to go through the new process will be software patent bids, which examiners have a difficult time evaluating due to a coder culture that eschews publishing in technical journals and similar outlets.

The plan is not without its perils. Its architects are already working out a way to avoid defamatory, erroneous, otherwise questionable entries and false claims of expertise like those that fooled the New Yorker magazine in an article about Wikipedia published in July 2006. (The false expert's online records have since been expunged.)

They have no illusions.

"I'm sure there will be a degree of gaming. There always is," David Kappos, vice president and assistant general counsel at IBM told the Post's Sipress.

They've even consulted with CmdrTaco to try to get it right.

The decision raises a number of questions, including who will have the coveted first post and how long it will be before someone logs the weighty and stentorian comment, "Pwned!"