The recent phenomenon of social networking is now being used to improve patent validity.
An astounding number of issued patents that have gone through the scrutiny of examiners are found invalid by courts of law. It costs easily tens of thousands of dollar to obtain an issued patent, if one considers the cost for drafting, filing, maintenance and correspondence with the examiner. After spending this money, one would hope that the patent would actually be enforceable, but more often than not, a single piece of prior art unveiled to a judge can wipe out the entire investment.
To help with the process a new system is being implemented in the USA, referred to as peer-to-patent (see www.peertopatent.org). With this system, anyone can sign up to review applications voluntarily submitted by inventors, and contribute what they think is relevant prior art that should be considered during the examination.
This initiative, sponsored by the US Patent and Trademark office is in its third year and has proven its value by the growing number of reviewers and the amount of prior art uncovered. Large companies are using the system voluntarily to seek input on their applications. Other countries, like Australia, have now launched a similar program.
Here’s a tip: even just signing up as a reviewer can bring insightful information about what is going on in your field!