US Patent Office seal
US Patent Office seal - 
Listen To The Story

This story incorrectly identified the school where Beth Simone Noveck teaches. She is a law professor at New York Law School.

KAI RYSSDAL: The U.S. Patent Office is joining the Internet age. The government wants your help in deciding what new ideas deserve to be protected. From Washington, Marketplace's John Dimsdale reports.

JOHN DIMSDALE: Last year, patent examiners last year slogged their way thru over 300,000 applications by reviewing technical journals, annual reports and industry periodicals. Their job is to find out whether the supposed next big idea is really new and deserving of patent protection. So they're turning to the Wikipedia concept, the online encyclopedia written and peer-reviewed by the public.

Jon Dudas is the director of the Patent Office.

JON DUDAS: What we've learned from the Internet that there are groups everywhere from MySpace and Wikipedia and . . . to Travel Advisor, that users want to provide the kind of knowledge they have. And I think that will be revolutionary to our examiners to really tap into the entire world of researchers.

The patent office will filter out disreputable sources who may want to manipulate the system. Commenters will have to offer evidence of their expertise. Registered participants will vote on the information's reliability. And only the top vote-getters will be passed on to examiners.

One designer of the patent office Web solicitation, New York University law professor Beth Simone Noveck, says public commenters will do more than just offer an opinion.

BETH SIMONE NOVECK: What they're being asked to do is to do research and provide information in the form of publication that are directly relevant to determining whether a patent is in fact new enough and inventive enough to deserve the grant of monopoly rights that comes with the grant of a patent.

The Patent Office will evaluate the pilot program next year with an eye to expanding it.

In Washington, I'm John Dimsdale for Marketplace.