I recently had the pleasure of discussing a new initiative taken by the United States Patent and Trade Office (USPTO) with Commissioner John Doll. Doll oversees all aspects of the patent granting process, including a body of 7,000 employees. This new initiative, the peer to patent review project, was instituted with the intent to reform the existing system by improving the quality of claims presented before patent examiners. The project allows the community to review claims made by patent applications and offer their opinion. Of course, the patent examiner’s word is final. But the initiative made me uneasy, as it might have you as well. Does this new project help the independent inventor, or hurt them? I wanted Doll to clarify exactly what was going on, why, and of what possible benefit or harm it was to me.
“This initiative was designed to get the best prior art in front of the examiner,” explained Doll. “The public and relevant industries are allowed to look at the claims that are being examined and give their opinion. Are the claims patentable or not patentable? The community that reviews the claims is also allowed to submit prior art, in order to justify their conclusion and their reasoning.”
Does the process produce stronger patents? Examiners think so. It has had a “generally positive effect”, according to Doll.
“The examiner that is the most informed is going to make the best decision. The best prior art, which is to say, the most complete collection of prior art, is going to result in the soundest decision. The idea is – weak patents serve no one.”
He’s right. Needing to rewrite a patent to make your claims stronger is much less of a financial and emotional hassle than finding out further down the road that your claims may be contested. And in that way, it seems like the USPTO is using this new process to increase their soundness.
But does the peer to patent review process make it possible for others to unfairly prevent our patents from being granted, or our ideas lifted? Doll doesn’t think so.
“After 18 months, all patents are available to the public. We aren’t changing that. We’re just involving more informed and more passionate people in the process – a larger audience. The examiner’s word is final. If community members offer up claims that are invalid or don’t make sense, they are definitely discounted. This process doesn’t increase the workload of examiners significantly, but can dramatically increase the quality.”
Doll compared the peer to patent review process similar to that which occurs in peer review journals and research journals. The people who participate in the project are individuals who have a specific interest in a given field, or are scientists and engineers who thrive on deciding what’s valid and what’s not.
Fundamentally, we all benefit from strong patents. Having more people examine your claims isn’t a threat, but an aid.
Click here to listen to the interview.
InventRight: Helping You Bring Your Product to Market