December 14, 2006 3:01 PM PST
U.K. considers wiki to ease patent bottleneck
The patent office is "looking at an implementation plan" for measures laid out in the Gowers Review, a representative for the agency told ZDNet UK, CNET News.com's sister site, on Wednesday.
"Our position is looking at the report, and in the New Year, we'll set up a team to implement recommendations," the representative said. "We're looking at setting up an implementation plan, but we don't have a time frame yet for when that plan will be available--it's early doors for that: as you know, the review was only made public last week."
The Gowers Review, a report funded by the British government's treasury department looking into U.K. intellectual-property issues, was released on December 6. The review's author, Andrew Gowers, made various recommendations concerning patents, including how to improve the number and quality of patents that are processed.
Concerns have been expressed in recent years that U.K. patent examiners don't have the time and resources to thoroughly assess all applications, but measures laid out in the Gowers Review could remedy this issue.
Recommendation 23 of the Gowers Review states: "The Patent Office should conduct a pilot of Beth Noveck's Community Patent Review in 2007 in the U.K. to determine whether this would have a positive impact on the quality of the patent stock."
Professor Beth Noveck, director of the Institute for Information Law and Policy at the New York Law School, recommended a system of peer review for patents in the U.S. in a September 2006 paper entitled "Community Patent Review Project Summary" (PDF).
In the paper, Noveck proposed that inventors seeking a patent should submit an application first to a community of interested expert reviewers, to ease pressure on patent examiners.
The Gowers Review recommended that wiki technology, as used in Wikipedia, could be used in the peer process to build a knowledge base of comments on the application's suitability. "Prior art," or previous inventions, are also taken into account before the application is submitted to patent examiners. The use of a wiki, which can be edited by multiple experts, allows links to prior art to be updated.
That the pilot peer review scheme is one of the Gowers recommendations under consideration was cautiously welcomed by the British arm of the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII), a pressure group that campaigns against software patents.
"It's a commendable idea, and it will be interesting to see how it turns out. We have an ongoing project called 'Gauss' which is similar, so obviously we welcome this kind of idea," said Rufus Pollock, director of FFII-UK.
However, the group has concerns about the viability of such a project. FFII rejects the claim that there is any need for European software patents and argued that while Noveck's scheme may work in the U.S., which has a different patent program, such a patent approach may not work in Europe.
"Noveck's idea comes from the States, where they have software patents. Why grant a pilot scheme for community review of software patents when software shouldn't be patented?" Pollock asked.
Pollock also said the FFII was concerned that it may be difficult to find the requisite number of patent experts willing to work for free.
"It's a question of incentives. It's pretty dull looking at software patents--the mix of legal and technical jargon makes for really dull labor. You normally have to pay patent examiners. I don't know where the motivation would come from for peer review," Pollock said.
A pilot scheme for the Community Project is to be run by the U.S. Patent Office in spring 2007, according to the Community Patent Review blog. Participants include CA, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Microsoft and Red Hat, who have all agreed to submit some of their patents for public review.
The U.K. Patent Office cautiously welcomed the recommendations of the Gowers Review. Ron Marchant, chief executive and comptroller general of the U.K. patent office, said in a statement: "The Patent Office joins others in welcoming the report, and I look forward to the Patent Office playing a full role in implementing the recommendations for which it is responsible."
Tom Espiner of ZDNet UK reported from London.
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