The US Patent office, which is part of the increasingly screwed up intellectual property system in this country, has finally discovered the web.

Patent administrators are rolling out a pilot project that will post new applications to their site for all to review.

However, what’s really unique for a government agency is that the site will also invite comments and use a Digg-style rating system to allow readers to push the most relevant postings to the top where they will be reviewed by patent examiners.

It’s quite a switch. For generations, the agency responsible for awarding patents, one of the cornerstones of innovation, has kept its distance from the very technological advances it has made possible.

Most federal agencies invite interested parties to weigh in on proceedings, and even the patent office allows some public comment, but never to the degree now suggested .

Until now, patent examiners rarely sought outside opinions, instead relying on scientific writings and archived records of previous patents. For security reasons — in particular, out of concern that examiners could inadvertently reveal proprietary information if their online searches were tracked — patent officials have at times even been barred from using the Internet for research.

The patent process has become particularly unwieldy in the last decade as the number of applications for software and internet patents have skyrocketed.

Maybe the wisdom of crowds can help avoid the recent stupidity of giving Blackboard credit for essentially inventing online learning.

patent, web community