The possibilities (beyond merely sharing the latest embarrassing YouTube video or cat-based humour) inherent in today’s social networking technology are just beginning to be explored. A group of researchers in Pennsylvania suggests one possible use is to help deal with the enormous backlog in patent applications (a backlog that directly impacts how quickly new technology makes its way into society) by helping to identify what’s known as “prior art” (which, as Wikipedia–which seems a particular apt source for this item*–explains, “constitutes all information that has been made available to the public in any form before a given date that might be relevant to a patent’s claims of originality. If an invention has been described in prior art, a patent on that invention is not valid.”). (Via Science Blog.)
“The burgeoning backlog of patent applications at the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), several hundred thousand in any year, has created an urgent need for Office reform,” the team explains, “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 can be discarded quickly and the patent examiner move on to the next claim.
Peo and colleagues explain how the USPTO 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. The aim was to allow the actual patent examiners to focus on reviewing the most relevant prior art associated with any particular submission and so streamline the overall application process.
The pilot project, Peer to Patent, has proven successful enough (here’s its one-year report) that similar approaches are being investigated by the UK Intellectual Property Office and the European Patent Office.
*Particularly apt because there’s an unofficial patent review site called Wikipatents.
(Image: Drawing from Canadian patent awarded to my grandfather-in-law)
As Brian Wang pointed out in the comments to my post about the Technology Review list of 2007’s most exciting technologies, there’s actually a 2008 list. And indeed there is, and here it is:
- Modeling Surprise – Computer modelling continues to advance, but can it ever be completely accurate? Probably not.
- Probabilistic Chips – Uncertainty may not sound like a good thing in computer chips…but then again, maybe it is.
- NanoRadio – Tiny radios built from tiny tubes could improve cell phones, medical diagnostic equipment, and more.
- Wireless Power – Wires? We don’ need no steenkin’ wires!
- Atomic Magnetometers – Tiny magnetic-field sensors will advance the capabilities of MRIs.
- Offline Web Applications – Computer applications need to take advantage of both the browser and the desktop.
- Graphene Transistors – A new form of carbon could help us build faster and more compact processors.
- Connectomics – The circuitry of the brain is enormously complicated. But as we untangle it, we’ll learn more about brain development and disease.
- Reality Mining – Sort through the data gathered by cellphones, and you can learn a lot about how humans behave and how they interact with each other.
- Cellulolytic Enzymes – Biofuels from food? That’s just nuts. Biofuels from cellulose? Now you’re talking.
(Image: Wikimedia Commons)
Every year, Technology Review lists the 10 technologies the magazine’s editors “find most exciting—and most likely to alter industries, fields of research, and even the way we live.” (Via Kurzweil AI.)
Here’s 2007’s Top-10 list:
- Peering into Video’s Future – With the Internet being swamped by digital video, peer-to-peer networks may be the answer.
- Nanocharging Solar – Cheap photovoltaics through quantum-dot solar power.
- Invisible Revolution – The magic of metamaterials.
- Personalized Medical Monitors – Computer-automated diagnostics for individuals.
- Single-Cell Analysis – Analyzing differences between individual cells could make for better medical tests and treatments.
- A New Focus for Light – New optical antennas that focus light could bring us DVDs that hold hundreds of movies.
- Neuron Control – A genetically engineered switch lets scientists turn selected parts of the brain on and off–which could lead to new treatments for depression and other disorders.
- Nanohealing – Stopping bleeding, aiding recovery from brain injury–nanofibers hold life-saving promise.
- Digital Imaging, Reimagined – “Compressive sensing” could help make the capture of digital images more efficient.
- Augmented Reality – Digital information, superimposed on the real world. (And you thought people listening to iPods all the time were annoying… )
(Image: Wikimedia Commons.)