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Facebook for patents.

Facebook is useful for finding old high school friends and keeping up with new ones, but does it have a role to play in speeding patent applications?

Yes, say a group of researchers at the Center for Technology Assessment. Online social networking tools could be used to eradicate the enormous backlog of United States patent applications, according to experts in intellectual property and patents.

Social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace allow visitors to create networks of friends and contacts, and to upload images, music, videos, and news stories. Members can discuss, blog, and rate different media and provide feedback to others.

So how does that relate to what researcher Frank Peo said is a significant number of backlogged United States patent applications? Analyzing social networks uncovers patterns of interaction between people and reveals what is important and well regarded in a given group or community, including patent communities, Peo said. He's a researcher at the center in University Park, Pa.

The system lets members connect with others within the same niche group to provide feedback on individual submissions, Peo said. This review-and-feedback is a formal step in the patent application process and could be speeded by allowing reviewers to communicate via social networking sites.

"The burgeoning backlog of patent applications at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office--several hundred thousand in any year--has created an urgent need for office reform," Peo said. "Review of related application reference material--or prior art--is a necessary but time-consuming step in the patent process.

If prior art can be identified early in the assessment process then a patent claim could be discarded quickly--if necessary--and the patent examiner could move on to the next claim, he said.

In fact, the Patent and Trademark Office has already initiated a pilot project that uses social networking software to allow groups of volunteer review experts to upload prior art references, participate in discussion forums, rate other user submissions and add research references to pending applications.

That pilot project showed promise when it came to streamlining patent applications, Peo said. The U.S. Patent and Trademark office started the Peer Reviewed Prior Art Pilot in June 2007. Information on the program is available at the agency's Web site,

Patent offices in some countries outside the United States are also looking at social networking sites to help cut patent backlogs, Peo said.

Peo and his colleagues published their findings in the International .Journal of Technology Transfer and Commercialisation, 2009, volume 8, no. 1.

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Title Annotation:COMPUTING
Author:Thilmany, Jean
Publication:Mechanical Engineering-CIME
Date:May 1, 2009
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