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Monday, March 05, 2007

Crowdsourcing - way to go for Patent screening ?

Crowds may not be all that wise, but they can be smart, and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, an agency in need of help if ever there was one, is hoping to tap into that intelligence. The USPTO is starting a pilot project in which it will post patent applications (just from companies that volunteer so far) on the Web and invite comments, using a community ranking system like Digg's to raise the visibility of the most respected comments.

The U.S. patent application examination process has been increasingly overwhelmed, both by volume -- its 4,000 examiners handled a record 332,000 applications last year -- and by a shortage of expertise in areas like software, where related data can be scarce. On top of that, USPTO examiners have long been reluctant to seek outside opinion and in some cases have been barred from doing research on the Net because their search queries could reveal proprietary information. Obviously, this is no way to do business, what with billions of dollars in sales and/or legal fees potentially riding on ill-considered patents. The crowdsourcing model may end up being messy to administer and subject to gaming, but if it can occasionally keep the Patent Office from making an egregious blunder, it would be worth it.

Here’s the open call from USPTO. The Patent and Trademark Office is starting a pilot project that will not only post patent applications on the Web and invite comments but also use a community rating system designed to push the most respected comments to the top of the file, for serious consideration by the agency's examiners. A first for the federal government, the system resembles the one used by Wikipedia, the popular user-created online encyclopedia.

The Essjay episode underlines some of the perils of collaborative efforts like Wikipedia that rely on many contributors acting in good faith, often anonymously and through self-designated user names. But it also shows how the transparency of the Wikipedia process — all editing of entries is marked and saved — allows readers to react to suspected fraud.

In the process, USPTO should also help keep Patent Trolls which debunk good startup initiatives at bay.

Do you have some idea to go about and a brilliant team of talent and skill sets to execute something like this ? Is it something I can bet a million $$ on ?

I liked it. Go find a good team, I’ll help you bootstrap and move forward.

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