I came across an interesting article about a proposed change to the patent review process at the USPTO. Due to a substantial increase in the number and complexity of patent applications in recent years, the USPTO is considering allowing outside parties to provide potential prior art via a wiki-styled system. I personally think this is a great idea, as both inventors and lawyers are concerned about the proliferation of “bad” patents being issued because overworked examiners simply do not have enough time and knowledge to provide a full review of the relevant prior art. For example, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has compiled a “Most Wanted” list of patents that need to be invalidated because they are poorly constructed, vague documents that grant the owner far-reaching authority over a particular field of technology, such as VoIP and Digital Music Encoding. I have actually worked on locating prior art that would invalidate the VoIP patent, and I was amazed at how much prior art existed at the time of application. Yet, I could see how a patent examiner, saddled with 4 or 5 cases, would not have the time and resources to unearth this prior art. Thus, it makes sense to make the process more public and, hopefully, tap into the wealth of knowledge that exists in cyberspace. As for concerns that this system will becoming an offensive tool for companies to sabotage their competitors by posting incorrect or specious prior art claims, such actions are nothing new to the patent office and the corporate culture in America, and similar “vandalization” in Wikipedia has been largely held in check by moderators and the vast WikiSociety that has emerged. So hopefully the USPTO will at least give this system a pilot run, as it will likely prove to be a Godsend for everyone associated with the patent process.