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Just a Patent Examiner - Day

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

10:09PM - Wikipedia (Again)

Another article has been published about examiners' use of Wikipedia as prior art references. The point of the article is nicely summed up in the first paragraph:

"In August, when the Patent and Trademark Office acknowledged that it had taken Wikipedia off its list of acceptable research sources, the surprise was not that the Web site had been banished, but that examiners had been using it at all."

This strikes me as an overreaction. Don't get me wrong; I agree that relying on Wikipedia as an authoritative source is unreasonable. What I object to is when people take the position that Wikipedia cannot ever be used for any purpose in examination.

In the course of any legal proceeding, evidence needs to be considered in order to reach a conclusion. The consideration of that evidence requires that each piece of evidence be given only the amount of weight which it is due.

This is also true of Wikipedia. As long as each piece of evidence is given the proper weight, there is (in my opinion) nothing wrong with relying on Wikipedia as a source for references.

After all, if an examiner uses a Wikipedia reference to make an unreasonable rejection (by giving it undue weight), the Applicant can easily have the rejection withdrawn by requesting a pre-appeal conference.

Of course, examiners should be trained well enough that they should not be making unreasonable rejections, and so Applicants shouldn't ever have the need to resolve these situations through pre-appeal conferences.


The Office is taking steps to see that examiners are given the latitude to make use of Wikipedia, while ensuring they give any evidence derived from Wikipedia its proper weight.

The Scientific and Technical Information Center (STIC) is giving presentations for examiners this week on the use of Wikipedia. They are also distributing the following handout.

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Wikipedia DOs and DON'Ts

DON'T:
*Cite Wikipedia as an "expert" opinion.
*Expect the same page to be there, unchanged, every time you look at it.
*Cite Wikipedia to settle any kind of disagreement and expect to win.

DO:
*Use Wikipedia for a quick outline of an unfamiliar topic.
*Use Wikipedia as a pointer to indicate other, more reliable information sources.
*Use Wikipedia to look for VERY CURRENT information, especially pop culture people and events.
*Be sure to get not only the URL of a Wikipedia article, but also the DATE and TIME, so you can get back to the same version again.
*Use Wikipedia to look for synonyms, older or related terms, and regionalisms.
*Use Wikipedia's disambiguation page to differentiate among various shades of meaning in usage of the same word.

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These reflect what seems to me to be a sound approach to the use of Wikipedia.

JPE

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