One of the more unique provisions contained in the America Invents Act was a rule which, for the first time in the history of United States patent law, would allow third parties to submit relevant materials directly to patent examiners. This week, the patent community learned what form the inclusive new system would take as the USPTO unveiled an online portal called Ask Patents.
The project was modeled after Stack Overflow, a popular question and answer website frequented by IT industry professionals. The new online forum will serve as a place where aspiring inventors, practicing attorneys and curious consumers can ask questions regarding general patent law and request information specific to a patent award or application.
Most importantly, this could allow members of the general public to come forward with evidence which suggests the party that was first to file for an invention may not be its true creator.
"This will improve the examination process and advance the Obama administration's ongoing commitment to transparency and open government," said USPTO director David Kappos.
But while officials insist that this new resource will be invaluable in the increasingly contentious software patent arena, several pundits have their doubts. According to Ars Technica, Stack Overflow's success was largely derived from a massive membership base of well-informed users. The pool of qualified patent examiners is much smaller, however, and the USPTO initiative may have trouble assembling the critical mass of expert participants.