I may not be a big proponent of all things Web 2.0 but a new pilot project that was announced by the US Patent Office is to me a perfect use of the social network concept. The project would see the posting of patent applications to the web and then allowing a community around the site to post comments and vote on the application; much like Digg.com.
In the Washington Post article about the announcement, David Kappos; vice president and assistant general counsel at IBM, said
For the first time in history, it allows the patent-office examiners to open up their cubicles and get access to a whole world of technical experts.
The idea that an over worked agency that is so important can now draw upon some of the best minds to help validate the ideas and concepts of presented patents is a great idea. As Mathew Ingram says in his post on the announcement
Perhaps because somewhere out there is a person who knows something about one of the patents the USPTO is looking at, and can help the office decide whether there is prior art, whether the invention is too obvious, etc.
To me this idea would be ripe for the full court social networking press. Everything from the current idea to a dedicated patent wiki to desktop widgets or even it’s own twitter. As much as we may decry patents and the trolls that come with them, they are the backbone of our innovations.
Patents at their best enable the brilliant minds to protect their ideas and foster the drive to innovate. At their worst they are used as weapons by the greedy and the trolls to beat innovation into submission and make a buck doing it.
With creating a community around the patent process one would hope that the bright light of truly concerned participant will shine a light on these trolls and send them back to the dark slimy caves that gave them birth.
The main concern; and to a certain extent fear, I have is that the system gets hijacked by the Digg type yahoos. However if the people involved carefully study the points where both systems like Digg.com and Wikipedia have failed and use them as learning points to create a better system then it may work out alright.
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