One of the big complaints with the current patent system is the amount of time it takes for an application to actually go through the process of approval. Supporters of the patent system often insist that the "solution" is to fund the Patent Office with more money so it can hire a lot more examiners. Of course, this suggests that the problem is a linear one, and it can be fixed by just throwing money and bodies at the problem -- when there's little evidence that's the case. Some of us have always believed that the real way to fix the problem is to bring the patent system much closer to its original purpose, where patents were the exception
, only to be used in exceptional cases where other incentives wouldn't do the job. However, over in Europe they seem to think there's a third way: better automating the patent process
. A European consortium has been working on something called "PATExpert," which they describe as using "semantic web" technologies. Unfortunately, details aren't particularly forthcoming, and for all the talk of the "semantic web" over the years, it's been little more than buzzwords and hype from what we've seen. Throw in the word paradigm, and you have to wonder if what's been built does anything even remotely useful:
"The greatest success of PATExpert has been to initiate the change of the paradigm currently followed in patent processing services from textual to semantic."
It would be great if someone could explain that in plain English, because it sounds like gibberish trying to sound intelligent. But, back on point, it's hard to see how any "automated" system would actually help in the process of approving patents. Considering how many mistakes are made and bad patents allowed through, I'd worry that automating the process is only likely to create significantly more problems.