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Obama's Patent Chief Choice Has Known Collaborative Tendencies

BY Nancy Scola | Friday, June 19 2009

The White House has made an intriguing pick with nominating David Kappos to head up the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Kappos is well-known in the patent world as both a patent reformer in general and, from his position inside IBM, one of the driving forces behind Peer-to-Patent project in particular. Peer -to-Patent is the attempt to apply principles of collaboration and community review to solving USPTO's resource allocation problem. There are too many patents applications awaiting review, and many of them are enormously complicated. There are too few patent examiners and they, through no real fault of their own, don't have access to the knowledge necessary to make sense of the applications in the time they have available to do so. It's kind of a hot mess. That's where Peer-to-Patent comes in.

Peer-to-Patent might be one situation where the term "crowdsourcing" actually fits. Absent legislative reform or resource reallocation, one way of tackling the problem is to invite people outside government to -- in well-structured ways -- scour the Internet and other resources to help the patent examiners better understand the patent they have before them. (More background on Peer-to-Patent from the likes of me here.) After a one-year trial run as a hybrid public-private project, P2P was picked up for a second year by USPTO and rechristened the Peer Reviewed Prior Art Project. The project's start has been promising, and has earned it a reputation as one of the more fleshed-out examples of how collaborative and participatory government can work in practice. Not surprisingly, Peer-to-Patent was actually started by Beth Noveck, someone you might now know as U.S. Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Open Government.

Kappos' willingness to use the Internet to connect up citizens who are ready and willing to serve a government that really needs the help add up to to make Kappos a compelling choice to be the United State's patent chief. (Well, that, and his generally willingness to rethink and reform how we do patents here in the U.S.) For advocates of peer review, the timing is particularly good: P2P's trial year as an official U.S. Patent Office project ran out Monday.

Here's an NPR's Science Friday segment on the Peer-to-Patent project that features Kappos (audio links are on the right side of that page; via the CAS-IP blog). Patent Baristas has an overview of the reaction from within the patent community. And here's a 2007 BusinessWeek piece written by Kappos himself in which he calls inviting the public in to do patent review "classic arbitrage" -- that is, a pairing of "those who need [information] but lack the resources to generate it," or, in other word, USPTO's overworked patent examiners, with "those who have expertise, motivation, and access to information." That's us.

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