Patent reform: Use social networking

First USAToday and now the US Patent office…It looks everybody is trying to leverage social networking to improve the services they deliver. In the case of US Patent office, following are the details:

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. A first for the federal government, the system resembles the one used by Wikipedia, the popular user-created online encyclopedia.

Below are the mechanics of how the system will work:

The new patent system will try to help separate experts from posers by offering extensive details about the people sending information to the site. To help others evaluate the quality of this information, called prior art, each posting will include several measures gauging the quality of his other contributions to the site. Patent examiners, for instance, will award “gold stars” to people who previously submitted the most useful information for judging earlier applications, Noveck said.

Ultimately, those registered to participate in this online forum will vote on all the nominated information, and the top 10 items will be passed on to the examiner, who will serve as the final arbiter on whether to award a patent.

Major kudos to the US Patent office for leveraging the community of interested parties to express their opinions via the Internet. This will certainly make the process better…but because of the amounts of money at stake, there will be extremely perverse incentives for participants to game the system. I would not be surprised, if big companies create a department, just to game the review process…I think a better system with checks and balances that rewards good behavior and punishes bad behavior might be better to negate some of the incentive issues here…What do you think?

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