Monday, December 11, 2006

A Patently Good Idea

For corporate execs who are skeptical about the credibility of blogs, wikis and social networking in general, a pilot program sponsored by IBM should help to change their minds. This past summer, as reported by Fortune Magazine, the program — which adapts a wiki approach to the patent-approval process — has been endorsed by a growing list of companies (e.g., Microsoft, Red Hat). Using a collaborative platform, select outside experts share their observations and comments during the patent-review process.

Patent applications have tripled in the last two decades, but examiners have only 20 hours on average to review and research applications, a reason why so many questionable patents are being granted for ideas that aren’t new. In her blog, Professor Beth Noveck , Director of the Institute for Information Law & Policy at New York Law School, proposed the wiki approach to peer review of patent applications, and the idea is taking off.

It’s not surprising that IBM helped move the idea forward, as for 13 consecutive years it has received more patents than any other company in the world. In September, in fact, IBM formalized a corporate policy stating patent applications should be available for public examination and issued a report, Building a New IP Marketplace.

This effort though doesn’t just stand to benefit IBM. A start-up, Out-of-the-Box Computing, became the smallest company to allow some of its published patent applications to be peer reviewed this way.

This is great news and a step forward in demonstrating the credibility and value of community to corporations. The 2006 Makovsky State of Corporate Blogging study, conducted by Harris Interactive, reported that only 5% of Fortune 1000 senior executives believe "to a great extent" that corporate blogging is growing in credibility as a communications medium for corporations; 27% believed it was growing in credibility to a "moderate" extent, and 62% said "somewhat or not or not all." While the study, sponsored by my employer, didn’t specifically ask about online communities, it wouldn’t have been surprising to have received a similar response on the credibility of corporate social networks. We’ll ask next year and I invite your suggestions for questions to pose.

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