An obvious test of whether something is a good idea is to look at who is supporting it. When the answer is a diverse set of competitors, you know it’s an idea who’s time has come. The Peer to Patent Project (“P2P”) is a good example. Created by the NY School of Law in conjunction with the USPTO, this pilot initiative seeks to improve the quality of patents by opening up the patent review process to the public.
Currently, the USPTO is facing a backlog of nearly 800,000 pending patent applications. Given this number, patent examiners have limited time to undertake a thorough search of prior art to determine whether a claimed invention is truly “novel” . The result is an increase in the issuance of poor quality patents, which leads to an increase in litigation challenges and requests for re-examination.
Launched in June 2007, P2P attempts to tackle this problem through a community based review system. Participating inventors register and make applications publicly available on an open discussion forum. The public may then review each application and provide examples of prior art for consideration. These are then rated by relevance allowing the patent examiner to more efficiently focus on potential prior art that is most significant to an application.
Sun is an active supporter of P2P. The program’s focus on patent quality (versus quantity) is consistent with how we make intellectual property investments. To this end, as part of P2P we have submitted applications in key areas such as “transactional memory” (an important component of Sun’s chip multi-threading architecture), security and cryptography. In addition, we are encouraging our distinguished engineers and chief technologists to participate as peer reviewers for P2P. We also hope to provide funding support for P2P in the future.
Why have so many competing companies agreed to participate and test their innovation publicly? One reason is that the USPTO provides the benefit of an expedited review process to P2P participants. However, the more important explanation is that many companies believe that the current patent system has devolved from the intent of it’s founders. And, it is to the benefit of all of us to see it improved.