The US Patent and Trademark Office is evaluating an online peer review initiative that would invite scientists and other outside experts to help evaluate patent applications by advising the PTO about prior art - published literature and other patents - that the patent office's examiners might otherwise overlook. The goal is to improve the quality of patent review and reduce the backlog of applications. "The patent office desperately needs more and better information to make decisions" about patent applications, says Beth Simone Noveck, director of New York Law School's Institute for Information Law and Policy, which is working with the PTO to develop the project (

If approved, the pilot will focus initially on computer software patents but could later be expanded to biotech and the life sciences. A decision on whether to proceed is expected sometime this year. "We are looking for representatives from the life sciences...

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