The patent office has decided to open up the approval process to anyone on the net. Allowing internet users to make claims regarding the voracity of a patent’s uniqueness and also show evidence of prior art. The first group of patents that will go under this public scrutiny are from the software industry.
On one hand, this is brilliant. There have always been the horror stories of the insanely extensive and overreaching software patents awarded to companies who had done nothing. These companies then went about suing every other company on the planet until finally someone stood up to them and challenged their patent. The patent examiners get a zillion patent applications a year, many of which require specialized knowledge of the arcana of software design. It is understandable how some stuff would get by them, and this new plan should help.
On the other hand, this could be a total and utter mess. Most professional software developers aren’t allowed by their companies to look at the patent office web site. The fear is that if the developer’s company got sued for patent infringement and there was a record of someone at that company accessing the patent website, the company could not prove that they didn’t know about the patent they were infringing. That is the crux of patent infringement defense. You can’t infringe on a patent that you don’t know about. So, then, who is going to be contributing to the patent review process? Well, I would imagine that the big companies would be contributing legions of lawyers to support their own patents and challenge their competitors. I would also assume that college professors may contribute, and they might have the best contributions, but doing this ain’t exactly gonna pay their grad students, is it, so how much time are they gonna spend trolling the site? Who is going to contribute the most? Random internet folk, the same kind of people that start flame wars on every site that allows users to contribute content.
Yeah, that’s is going to elevate the process.