The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office this Friday will provide details about a pilot project for letting the public assist patent examiners vet patents and see if prior art exists.
The project, called peer-to-patent, grows out of the New York Law School (yes, I misidentified the school in an earlier edition of this blog) and is aimed at helping ameliorate one of the major problems in the patent process: Patent examiners are simply overworked.
Nonetheless, the project will likely be greatly controversial. Some open source advocates claim that the patent system is broken and that flippant patents are being granted, something that this proposal (they argue) will rectify. Large companies such as IBM have also argued that patents need to be reviewed better. Patent reform advocates are also trying to get Congress to pass legislation that would make it tougher for patent holders to win cases.
Patent holders see it differently. In their view, most of the people clamoring about patent reform are just simply people who want to use their inventions for free. Although there are lawyers in this group, the roster of individuals against radical patent reform includes many independent inventors and professors. Peer review would simply provide another way for large companies to bury the little guy.
"I think that what they (large companies) want to do is get something for nothing," said James Fergason, the father of LCD technology said in an interview last week when asked about patent reform.
Many in this camp also point out that large companies aren't exactly doing well in court. They are losing badly. The judge in the Research in Motion case complained that some of the evidence introduced by RIM didn't exactly match what it was supposed to be. In the case pitting Rambus against Hynix, Rambus says that the jury was likely influenced by memos where the memory makers said they wanted to make memory like the kind Rambus invented, just not pay royalties.