The USPTO has announced the results of its year-long patent review pilot program called Peer to Patent. The purpose of the program, which was launched in June 2007, was to evaluate the feasibility and effectiveness of an online-based system where registered experts could submit prior art related to pending patent applications. The pilot program was limited to 250 applications in the computer technologies. According to the USPTO, the program recruited 2,000 experts who submitted 173 pieces of prior art related to 40 applications. Patent examiners used the prior art to reject 12 applications, about five percent of the applications in the system.
It's interesting to note that the USPTO's current backlog of unexamined applications is about 750,000. Given the size of the backlog and the record-breaking levels of new filings (467,000 in 2007), it's difficult if not impossible to imagine how Peer to Patent might have any significant impact on the examination process or patent pendency.
In the 1970s the USPTO launched a similar program (but without the technology) called the Trial Voluntary Protest Program. Under TVPP, the public was invited to submit prior art on two thousand selected applications. Only a handful of prior art submissions were received and only a few applications rejected. The USPTO concluded that the program was ineffective and decided not to pursue it.