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IPO finally begins peer review pilot to test patent applications

Getting experts to wade in on invention claims

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The UK's Intellectual Property Office (IPO) is finally opening its patent process up to a collaborative internet project, after four long years of chin-stroking.

The Peer To Patent scheme, which is already being tested in the US, Japan and Australia, was officially launched in Blighty this morning by Baroness Wilcox, who is the minister for Intellectual Property.

Prime Minister David Cameron, as part of the government's recently announced IP Google review, said late last year that he wanted the UK patent laws to be "fit for the internet age".

It was confirmed at that point that the IPO would run an initial six-month Peer To Patent pilot, giving members of the scientific and tech community the opportunity to comment on patent applications and rate contributions accordingly.

The IPO has handpicked up to 200 applications in the computing field that will be uploaded into the project over the course of the next six months.

It said a range of patent applications for inventions such as computer mice and complex processor operations will be made available for limited, expert scrutiny.

The first such applications should be available here for the next three months, but the site requires registration first.

A patent examiner will be privy to a range of comments for his or her consideration; in theory the remarks should form part of the overall review process.

Wilcox said: "Patent applications granted after using the Peer to Patent website review will be potentially stronger, giving businesses better protection to grow their innovative ideas. This will give the IPO access to a wider body of knowledge when deciding whether a patent should be granted.

"The pilot will give experts the opportunity to comment on patent applications and share their vital expertise before patents are granted," she added. "It will also mean that inventions already known in the wider community will be filtered out more readily."

Critics might struggle to warm to the notion of what is essentially a crowd-sourcing exercise, albeit with a small bunch of in-the-know folk, no matter how sophisticated the project may seem at the outset. Others could contend that the UK patent system has lacked such intervention from interested third parties for years – better late than never, in which case.

One-time White House adviser Beth Noveck was very recently poached by the Treasury to become part of what the Coalition, at least, considers to be something of a digerati dream team that includes Martha Lane Fox, Tim Kelsey and Tom Steinberg.

Noveck just so happens to be the brains behind the original Peer To Patent project, which was developed by the New York Law School in 2006. Not long after that the IPO, the USPTO and others began mulling over the merits of such a system.

The United States began its first Peer To Patent pilot in June 2009. A second review scheme is already underway there, and this is expected to end on 31 December 2011, the same day that the UK's initial trial of the system concludes.

The IPO, meanwhile, first floated the idea of adopting the peer review scheme for patents way back in early 2007, just before mobile apps went through an embryonic burst on Apple's then new iPhone. ®

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