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Swiss scientist applies to protect online reviewing and journal-publishing process -

Henry Markram, a scientist in Switzerland, is seeking to patent a system for peer reviewing and publishing scientific papers online, according to the journal Nature. Last year, Markram, a neuroscientist and publishing entrepreneur at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland, filed internationally for a broad patent on systems for interactive online peer review and publishing open access (OA) journals.

According to Markram, the application was filed mainly to protect a fleet of author-pays OA journals published by the Lausanne-based Frontiers Media, a company he created in 2008 with Kamila Markram, another neuroscientist at the EPFL. The main innovative features of both the journals and the patent, says Markram, are real-time evaluation of papers and a high degree of automation. The result is just like an Internet discussion group, with editors and authors able to follow comment threads in real time, says Robert Harvey, a molecular neuroscientist at the School of Pharmacy, University of London. Harvey has experience of Frontiers journals as both an editor and an author. Referees are anonymous at the review stage but are named on the published paper.

Markram's patent application falls into a controversial category known as business methods patents. These have been permitted in the US since 1998 for processes that use a computer. In Europe, such patents are more difficult to obtain, but worldwide tens of thousands of computerised business methods have been patented.

The future of such patents, in the US at least, may be decided by an imminent ruling of the US Supreme Court. The court is considering an appeal against a 2008 decision by a lower court, which upheld the rejection of a patent on a method for hedging risks in commodity trading.

Markram's patent, entitled 'Internet Method, Process and System for Publication and Evaluation' seems to be one of the broadest with respect to journal publishing, with claims covering many aspects of the publishing process from submission and review through to publication.

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