In a bid to improve the quality of granted UK patents, the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) will soon be embarking on a new scheme entitled "Peer to Patent".

The concept of "Peer to Patent" originated from a paper written by Professor Beth Noveck, based at the New York Law School. She proposed that a peer review-type process involving the public's scientific and technical communities during the prosecution of patents could help identify relevant information that might otherwise remain undiscovered. Since 2007, an online tool implementing this idea has been developed and utilised in two pilot projects at the US Patent Office (PTO).

The Chief Executive of the UK IPO was impressed by the positive results of the US trials (reported to help Examiners in 15% of studied cases) and decided it was time to test this scheme in the UK.

The UK IPO is currently uploading approximately two-hundred patent applications in the field of computing. These will be ready for the launch of the first pilot study. From 1st June 2011 there is an opportunity lasting six months for the public to supply Examiners, via a dedicated website, with pertinent information including documents and/or comments about what was known at the time a particular application was filed. Hopefully, under this procedure, the most relevant art is more likely to be considered during prosecution; this should help prevent weak applications reaching grant and reduce the possibility that patents will be found invalid post grant.

Success of this project will at least rely on the willingness of the scientific communities to actively get involved; therefore it is imperative for the government to generate as much interest in this new scheme as possible. At this stage one remains hopeful; we might conclude that those of a scientific mind, by their very nature, will find scrutinising claimed advancements in their specialist field appealing and may relish an opportunity to contribute their knowledge on the subject. However, it will be interesting to see if a more tangible incentive needs to be introduced to encourage participation.

In order to facilitate knowledge transfer between the public and the examiner efficiently, it would appear essential for the interface, i.e. the website, to be user friendly. For example, including simple registration functionality which allows the user to be alerted only when applications relate to their specifically pre-selected field(s). The burden of sifting through a large number of irrelevant patent applications might be enough to deter an otherwise helpful contributor.

On balance, the concept of "Peer to Patent" appears to be a sound one and with effective implementation it is plausible that it could have a positive impact on the quality of UK patents.

For more information and/or to get involved go to http://www.peertopatent.org.uk