Despite recent White House recognition as an innovative effort, the highly hyped Peer-to-Patent collaborative patent review program was suspended last month.
The United States Patent and Trade Office and New York Law School's Center for Patent Innovation decided to put the project on hiatus after its two-year pilot in order to evaluate its effectiveness. Peer-to-Patent stopped accepting new applications in June, but expects to continue processing existing applications until October.
In announcing the shutdown, the Center for Patent Innovation -- which partnered with the USPTO to carry out the pilot -- blamed the poor economy, but sounded a hopeful note that Peer-to-Patent could be resurrected in future months either as a continued pilot or as a standard part of USPTO processes.
More than half of the operating funds for Peer-to-Patent have come from the Omidyar Network, a philanthropic organization started by eBay founder, Pierre Omidyar, and his wife. The Center for Patent Innovation, in a report on Peer-to-Patent's second year, said that it couldn't be expected to continue funding the project indefinitely.
However, the Peer-to-Patent program has supporters in the Obama administration, so it likely isn't completely dead.
The effort's initial spark came from Peer-to-Patent advisory board chair Beth Noveck, who recently joined the Obama administration as federal deputy CTO for open government. President Obama's nominee for director of USPTO (David Kappos, who is currently IBM VP and assistant general counsel for intellectual property) was also an early supporter of Peer-to-Patent and directed IBM's financial and technical assistance to the Peer-to-Patent program.
"The patent system in the U.S. deserves to have a way to evaluate all of those submissions that leverages the 21st century Internet infrastructure that's available," Kappos told NPR in 2007. "The Peer-to-Patent review system is just exactly that. It's simply the Patent Office of the 21st century. Peer-to-Patent is just absolutely spot-on intended to help the patent office by leveraging the millions and millions of expert people around the world who can very easily comment on pending patent applications, saving patent office examiners a tremendous amount of time and getting better leverage out of their efforts."
Under Peer-to-Patent, patent applicants volunteered their submissions to undergo peer review, and then reviewers looked for prior art and had their findings shared with inventors and examiners. The project aimed to decrease the workload of heavily backlogged examiners and open up patent examination to experts outside of USPTO.
In its first two years, Peer-to-Patent was limited to computer-related applications and business methods. Even so, the Website drew 75,000 visitors and 2,600 registered peer reviewers, with 187 participating applications as of the end of May, and participation continued to increase in the last year, according to the Center for Patent Innovation report.
In an e-mail, Mark Webbink, director of the Center for Patent Innovation, sounded a note of uncertainty about the future of Peer-to-Patent, while noting Kappos' support of the project. "All we can do for now is take care of the work before us and look forward to working through the issues about the program's future once Dave Kappos is on board," he said.
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