Looking to address critics, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office this week is starting a program to speed up and improve the review of computer hardware and software technologies. The agency is set to launch a peer-review pilot project that will give technical experts in computer technology, for the first time, the opportunity to submit technical reports relevant to the claims of a published patent application before an examiner reviews it. The idea is to get as much knowledge about a particular claim in front of an examiner as quickly as possible so they can make a decision faster, the agency said. "Studies have shown that when our patent examiners have the best data in front of them, they make the correct decision," said Jon Dudas, director of the USPTO in a statement. "Examiners, however, have a limited amount of time to find and properly consider the most relevant information. This is particularly true in the software-related technologies where code is not easily accessible and is often not dated or well documented." IBM, Microsoft, General Electric, Hewlett-Packard, CA and Red Hat have already agreed to review some software patent applications for the one-year community review project. Intel, Sun, Oracle, Yahoo and others are also part of the project. The pilot is a joint initiative with the Community Patent Review Project (CPRP), organized by the New York Law School 's Institute for Information and Policy. Technical experts in the computer arts registering with the CPRP website will review and submit information for up to 250 published patent applications, with no mare than 15 patens being accepted from one applicant/company at a time, the USPPTO said. . To ensure a broad cross section of computer technology is reviewed, no more than 15 applications will be allowed from any one person or organization. Existing law allows USPTO to accept what it calls “prior art” from the public, but it doesn't allow the public to submit any commentary related to the art without the approval of the applicant. Consent will be obtained from all applicants whose applications are volunteered and selected for this pilot. To expedite review of applications used in the pilot, they will be assigned to an examiner as soon as a submission is received from the CPRP. This will shorten the time it normally takes in the computer arts from filing an application to a final decision. Only one submission from the CPRP of up to 10 annotated references will be accepted for each application in the pilot. Some applicants today can wait up to four years for a first response on software applications. The idea with the pilot is to shorten that wait considerably. The pilot program is but one way the USPTO hopes to bolster its work. In May the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) said the USPTO needs funds to hire more examiners and deal with patent-lawsuit reforms working their way through the U.S. Congress. Congress needs to end a longstanding hiring cap at the PTO and it needs to end the recent practice of diverting millions of dollars in patent fees back to the U.S. general treasury, said the ITIF. "The PTO's resources are not keeping up," said Julie Hedlund, author of the paper. "The patent office doesn't not have the resources it needs to do its job." The PTO has a backlog of more than 700,000 patent applications, Hedlund noted. Although Congress did not divert fees from the PTO in 2005 and 2006, the PTO sent back nearly US$2 billion to the nation's treasury between 2000 and 2004, and there's nothing stopping Congress from diverting fees in the future, the paper said. ITIF's call for an end to fee diversion is the major way the think tank differs from proposals in the Patent Reform Act, now being considered in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. But the paper also advocates several changes to the patent system that would make it more difficult for patent holders to sue and collect large damage awards in infringement cases, suggestions that echo several proposals in the Patent Reform Act.