Patent peer reviews

[From Boing Boing] News today that the United States Patent Office will be launching peer review of patents. The idea is that the overloaded work of the USPTO will be assisted by volunteering to vet patent applications. IBM, for one, have agreed to this.

This idea has a precedent: scientific peer reviewing. For the most part that works well and there is some alignment of skills in that ‘contribution’ is what is being evaluated. However, there should also be a wrinkle of concern given the commercial interests involved. In scientific work, there is no (well little) chance a peer will have invested in a rival’s stock. For patents, how will referees be checked for conflict of interest?

A diversity of reviews will be required to provide a proper assessment of prior art. As an editor myself, it is hard enough to get one opinion let alone several. This should be an interesting pilot project.