I find patents fascinating. People aggressively pursue patent protection by suing erstwhile competitors for infringement. Other people collect patents like merit badges, becoming often unsung heroes of innovation. And other people help large organizations free up unused and undercapitalized patents in order to foster further innovation.
Admittedly, I find the patent system to be somewhat of a black box. Many patent infringement cases I find dubious. After all, I patented the thing that helps someone do something years ago. Overly vague and general? Perhaps. But in other cases, prior art — and where someone got their ideas — can be extremely clear.
So it's fascinating — and heartening — that the Patent Office is opening its doors a little bit. A new initiative will enable people around the world to help review patent applications online. Participants will be able to comment on applications, rate the veracity of other commenters, and otherwise contribute to the process.
I don't envy the task of wading through the inane and unhelpful comments, but it sounds like the project is heading in the right direction in terms of identity control, community ratings, and the like. While it's clear that this could help accelerate how fast patents are awarded, it'll be even more interesting to see whether accelerating the rate of patent assignment accelerates innovation in general.
Is a world with more patents a better world?