Software and algorithms used to be unpatentable. Recent court decisions and patent-office rule-making has made software the fastest growing patent category. In 1991 the patent office was cut off from general tax revenues and required to subsist entirely on fees for its operating budget. The political argument was that customers should pay for government services. Thus, officials think of their fee-paying patent applicants as their customers: the more the better.
The patent office excepts software patents like Amazon ‘One-Click’ point-of-sale and Microsoft’s egregious patent on stylesheets. According to Gregory Aharonian, editor of the Internet Patent News Service, the flood of software patents has resulted in inadequate peer-review, ‘Eighty percent of software patents effectively cite nothing from the computing literature.’
In an earnest attempt to get a handle on this problem, the USPTO is unwrapping The Peer to Patent Project this June. A collaborative evaluation process supported by IBM and hosted by New York Law School.
Brigid Quinn, a spokeswoman for the patent office, said the program will begin with about 250 applications from the realm of software design, where it is especially difficult for examiners to find related documentation.
The pilot project will use the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ in much the same way as internet behemoths Amazon and EBay. Patent examiners, for instance, will award ‘gold stars’ to people who previously submitted the most useful information for judging earlier applications,
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.
Here’s the activity on a GE application to ‘Configure Windfarms;’.