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Elsevier granted patent for online peer-review system

On 30 August 2016, the US patent office granted a patent entitled “Online peer review system and method” (US Patent No. 9,430,468) to the publishing company, Elsevier. In the patent, Elsevier describes a computer-driven peer-review process and includes an explanation of its “proprietary waterfall system”. This is the process by which a rejected manuscript can be, with the authors’ permission, automatically submitted to another Elsevier journal. However, questions are being asked as to how this differs from the BMJ Group’s cascading peer-review process or Springer’s “Transfer Desk”. The published patent has sparked much debate online and Elsevier took to Twitter to try and allay fears. The patent has even been awarded the “Stupid Patent of the Month” by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. On a more serious note, the patent has been described as a potential obstacle to other publishers from developing similar streamlined systems, therefore preventing the advancement of automated online processes with a subsequent impact on academic publishing. However, it is noted that enforcement of the patent may be difficult and it is hoped that Elsevier will not take an aggressive stance to future developments in the industry.

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Summary by Jo Chapman, PhD from Aspire Scientific.

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