That was the provocative question posed yesterday by WIPO Deputy Director General James Pooley, in a speech at Managing IP's International Patent Forum in London.
He raised the possibility of requiring applicants to use fewer words and more graphics, "perhaps 3-D renderings evoking the required models of the 19th century".
Other suggestions Pooley made included the use of scripting languages and tagging, or even simply numbering claim terms.
"How about each office reviewing and re-drafting abstracts to make them more accurate and useful for search?" he asked.
Pooley also referred to suggestions made by Manny Schecter and his team at IBM, including developing automated claim dictionaries to query applicants for clarification about the meaning of claim terms; and using an application simplification rating system, that rewards simpler patent applications with lower processing fees.
Pooley said his "thought experiment" was about radically reforming the patent system by redesigning the input with the aim of aligning it with the objectives of "comprehension, public access and teaching, affordability and efficient examination".
He emphasised that he wanted to start a debate about what a modern patent system should look like, and his comments did not represent WIPO policy or any immediate specific proposals.
The WIPO official encouraged patent practitioners to "extract opacity and friction from the system, making global patent protection easier and more cost-effective, while increasing the ability of member states to make their own decisions about what inventions deserve protection".
"This would be a win/win for global business, for SMEs, for the public, for offices and examiners, for national sovereignty and for developing economies," he said.
An improved system could also feature more effective machine translation, better search and collaboration among offices, more effective disclosures and easier examination, said Pooley.
"The ultimate promise of the patent system, public learning, would be enhanced through much simpler and more effective access to patent information," he added.
Join the debate: what do you think of Pooley's proposals? How would you redesign the patent application process? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your ideas.
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