Circumvent that Patent Tar Pit

Ok, so if you’re not worried about fundraising, chances are you’re worried about your IP. We’ve written a lot about the question of whether a startup’s precious cash should be spent on the laborious and expensive process of acquiring patents on intellectual property. See, Patents, why Bother? and Question of the Day: Self-patenting.

Well, last week I had dinner with founder Mary Hodder, of Dabble, who reminded me that there is another option: peer patenting.

That’s right, you no longer need to pay some lawyer $30,000 to file your initial specs with the U.S. Patent and Trade Office, where your brilliant invention(s) will be reviewed by a government hack — oops! I mean professional! — who, regrettably, likely has less engineering acumen or applied technical experience than you do. (Just take a look at the USPTO’s own performance and accountability report for 2007.)

NOW, you can submit your magnum opus to a circle of your professional peers, who, in good faith will asses the “prior art” in your field and, collaboratively, determine whether your invention is new enough to sanction with a seal.

Here’s a schematic of how it works: system.jpg

The idea, promoted by the non-profit Peer-to-Patent Project, and working in tandem with the plagued USPTO (good for them!) borrows from the long-standing tradition among scientists and medical researchers of peer-reviewing each others’ work in public forums and published trade journals.

Such peer reviewing, the reasoning always was, creates opportunities where flaws in one party’s work can be identified and improved upon, ultimately contributing to the collective advancement of scientific research. It’s not a perfect process, but for generations it has worked well.

By mimicking and building on this tradition with technology patents, Peer-to-Patent believes potential conflicts, where a “new’ invention is thougth to infringe on an existing patent, can he identified and resolved early — before they ever spark a glint in some lawyer’s eye resulting in a costly legal contest.

Peer to Patent has gotten lots of nice press, and many large technology companies are supporting it innovation in the innovation food chain. (Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, IBM, GE, HP and more.)

According to its website, since the Peer-to-Patent launched in June, 1843 people have signed up to be reviewers and have cited 146 instances of prior art on 29 applications. That’s many millions of dollars in legal fees saved!

There are 15 patent applications currently up for review on the site. (Just a month ago, in December, there were 17 patent applications pending, so the vetting is real.) You can register to become a reviewer, here, or apply to have one of your inventions reviewed, here.

We share links to the first 6 applications out of the current stock — do any of then apply to your startup? Definitely check out #5!

1) Systems and methods for clinical decisions crawler agent

2) System and method for managing storage system performance as a resource

3) Method and apparatus for selectively executing different executable code versions which are optimimzed in different ways

4) Crossbar arithmetic processor

5) Smart drag-and-drop

6) Methods and apparatus to implement annotations based thunking

For the complete list, click here.
Have you used the community patent process? If so, tell us about it.