Patent applicants will soon be able to tap the on-line, collective knowledge of other patent lawyers. The New York Law School Institute for Information Law & Policy has collaborated with the Patent and Trademark Office – along with a steering committee of patent lawyers from Red Hat, GE, Microsoft, and HP – to launch the pilot program around April 2007.
As described in InsideCounsel, Dec. 2006 at 38, the program will invite law departments to expose their patent applications for four months on a publicly-accessible website. Anyone will be able to comment on the applications, especially if they know of prior art or want to add other comments such as a ranking of the claims. The knowledge network will help the PTO examiners more quickly and effectively evaluation applications and qualify the application for speedier processing.
One can imagine something similar for IRS private letter rulings, SEC comment letters, EPA advice, or FOIA requests. Perhaps I am naïve and I certainly do not know the applicable regulatory laws and practices, but if information requests could be redacted of information that identifies the requester, the collective experience of the practice community could add information for the reviewers and the community members could learn from it themselves.
If such public for a for commentary come into existence, the work of in-house counsel who practice in those areas will change. New developments will spread more quickly, comments will become a proactive involvement in the evolution of the law, search tools and online abilities will be more important, and a new source of guidance and learning will be at hand.