StackExchange, Google Team Up With USPTO To Help Crowdsource Prior Art Discovery

from the this-is-a-good-thing dept

I've been a big fan of StackExchange, for a while, as a very cool platform for getting expert insight into a variety of (mostly, but not entirely, technical) questions. The platform is so useful that, last week, Google even announced that it was pushing its own YouTube API developer support efforts off of its own Google Groups platform and over to Stack Overflow (the original StackExchange site). But that appears to be just one area in which the two companies are collaborating. As they announced today, StackExchange and Google are working together on AskPatents.com, a site dedicated to better crowdsourcing prior art.

And it's not just StackExchange and Google working together: they've teamed up with the USPTO to make it easier for good prior art to be submitted to the USPTO to (hopefully) invalidate bad patents. While we were incredibly underwhelmed by the America Invents Act, which was last year's attempt at patent reform, it has (finally) made it much easier to allow third parties to submit prior art which may be helpful to examiners during the ~18 hours they spend in reviewing each patent. There was the famed Peer-to-Patent program, which I was quite skeptical about, but this seems to take that to another level, thanks in part to the useful setup of StackExchange's system that helps float good ideas to the top.

But where this gets much more powerful is through integration in two key spots. First up, this will be integrated into Google's patent pages. Recently, Google launched its prior art finder, which tried to help people find prior art through automated searches -- but you can now also click through directly to the AskPatents site by clicking a "discuss" button that will be shown on each patent page, which will take you straight to the StackExchange page. Neat. The second integration may be even more powerful. As people find useful prior art and it bubbles to the top, StackExchange's system will make it easy to then directly submit it to the USPTO. Clicking a button will take you to an already filled out USPTO form, where a bit of additional info can be added and submitted.

StackExchange founder Joel Spolsky sees this as an opportunity to help stamp out bad patents: "Collectively, we’re building a crowd-sourced worldwide detective agency to track down and obliterate bogus applications. Over time, we hope that the Patent Stack Exchange will mitigate the problems caused by rampant patent trolling. It’s not a complete fix, but it’s a good start."

There are still tremendous structural problems with the patent system. And, at best, a system like this just helps to prevent some of the bigger mistakes, rather than attacking any of the fundamental problems. But, given just how damaging absolutely ridiculous patents are these days, anything that helps stop bad patents has to be seen as a good thing.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 20th, 2012 @ 7:51am

    Interesting that the site has 8.8 million answers but only 4.5 million questions. Usually there are more questions than answers. Is there such thing as an answer to a non-question?

     

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  2.  
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    karim (profile), Sep 20th, 2012 @ 7:53am

    Re:

    There can be more than one answer per question. In fact, there is no limit to how many answers can be posted under each question.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 20th, 2012 @ 7:59am

    Re:

    Maybe you should first LEARN what something is before trying to blast it. It would help with your tendency of coming across as an idiot.

     

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  4.  
    identicon
    Don, Sep 20th, 2012 @ 8:01am

    Almost a good idea...

    This is an excellent idea. My big issue is, will the USTPO acknowledge the submissions made?

     

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  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 20th, 2012 @ 8:06am

    Re: Almost a good idea...

    not as long as number-of-patents-issued is in any way a metric used to define success.

     

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  6.  
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    saulgoode (profile), Sep 20th, 2012 @ 8:10am

    The biggest problem with the USPTO is not finding prior art -- though that is a problem. It is that the bobble heads working there seem to think that something that was done decades ago by pointing a light pen or a stylus at a screen should be worthy of a patent now that it can be done by touching a finger to the screen. Basically, given that 1+1=2 and 2+3=5, they seem to feel that getting to 1+1+3=5 is a massively innovative step.

     

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  7.  
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    Rich Fiscus (profile), Sep 20th, 2012 @ 8:11am

    at best, a system like this just helps to prevent some of the bigger mistakes, rather than attacking any of the fundamental problems.

    Perhaps for now that's true, but it also potentially helps build a mountain of evidence about those problems which can be referenced by critics of the current system. In my experience every discussion with people who haven't taken a close look for themselves pretty much requires you to begin with a mountain of explanation and evidence too big for them to get through before they tune out.

    On the other hand if you could simply point them to a bunch of submissions like this it would be both simpler to understand and more convincing. You and I may not see evidence which comes from the USPTO process more relevant, but I think most people would. Most of those same people would dismiss an economics paper with what we see as clear and convincing arguments as simply one person's opinion.

    That's understandable considering most of what the public is exposed to in that field is really political punditry in disguise. It has as much in common with the study of economics as Chicken McNuggets do with traditional southern fried chicken.

     

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  8.  
    icon
    :Lobo Santo (profile), Sep 20th, 2012 @ 8:12am

    Re: Snarfunkle

    1+1+3=5 ??!?

    OMG, you should patent that!

    ;-P

     

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  9.  
    identicon
    Willton, Sep 20th, 2012 @ 8:16am

    Re: Almost a good idea...

    Why wouldn't they?

     

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  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 20th, 2012 @ 8:23am

    It seems that Google is pretty much working as hard as they can to try to disrupt copyright and patents. Probably why they pay you, right Mike? Oh, not directly, of course not. Just like EFF. :)

     

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  11.  
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    DannyB (profile), Sep 20th, 2012 @ 8:24am

    Why should the public and private industry have to do the USPTO's job for them?

    Maybe the USPTO should consider changing their rubber stamp that says PATENT GRANTED to a rubber stamp that says PATENT DENIED.

    Denying should be the default. There needs to be a very good case for a patent to be granted. There needs to be incentives to prevent improper patent grants. There needs to be significant costs imposed after improper patent grants.

     

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  12.  
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    Jeff (profile), Sep 20th, 2012 @ 8:25am

    Queue the trolls...

    OMG Big Search is partnering with BIG GUBMINT!!1!

    [/sarcmode=off]

    This is a step in the right direction... The question is will it be used to invalidate existing patents, a reactive action, or prevent bad patents going forward, a proactive action? Perhaps both, but the cynic in me says it will be neither. People will compile massive piles of evidence against a particular patent, but the USPTO and/or the courts will simply ignore it as usual...

     

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  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 20th, 2012 @ 8:26am

    Re: Re:

    Since I don't want you to remain ignorant all your life, here you go a practical example:

    http://superuser.com/questions/252239/how-can-i-batch-rename-files-in-bash

    As you can see, there is more than one way to solve this particular problem, hence, you get more than one answer. You can judge the validity of each of the answers by its score (the large number on the left) and by the comments underneath it. A green "tick" denotes that a particular answer was considered the "best" by the question submitter.

    Having your answers voted up and marked as "best" gives you reputation points, which are used as measure of how "trusted" you are, and also grant you special privileges on the site.

    It is all rather simple if you take the time to understand it.

     

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  14.  
    identicon
    Willton, Sep 20th, 2012 @ 8:28am

    Re:

    It is that the bobble heads working there seem to think that something that was done decades ago by pointing a light pen or a stylus at a screen should be worthy of a patent now that it can be done by touching a finger to the screen.

    Um, are you referencing something? Because most of the touch-screen patents expired in the 90's. If you're referencing something in particular, perhaps you should consider that what was actually patented is much more complicated then you're letting on.

     

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  15.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 20th, 2012 @ 8:31am

    Re:

    Usually there are more questions than answers.

    Even taking this to be true, that just means this site is better than the other ones. At StackExchange, questions get answered.

     

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  16.  
    identicon
    Willton, Sep 20th, 2012 @ 8:32am

    Re:

    Maybe the USPTO should consider changing their rubber stamp that says PATENT GRANTED to a rubber stamp that says PATENT DENIED.

    If you think the USPTO rubber stamps anything, you are gravely mistaken.

    Denying should be the default. There needs to be a very good case for a patent to be granted. There needs to be incentives to prevent improper patent grants. There needs to be significant costs imposed after improper patent grants.

    Rejection IS the default, numb nuts. A majority of patent applications get rejected on the first go-round. Your pontification evinces your lack of understanding of the examination process.

     

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  17.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 20th, 2012 @ 8:38am

    Re: Re:

    "A majority of patent applications get rejected on the first go-round. "

    Ah, that is correct. But as shown previously, a very large majority of those is approved on the second go-round.

    So yeah, it's rubber-stamping. But they introduce an artificial rate of failure to make it seem less rubber-stamp-y.

     

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  18.  
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    Seegras (profile), Sep 20th, 2012 @ 8:40am

    Re:

    Yes, "patent denied" what what those that instituted the system thought was what would happen most of the time.

    But then the offices got incentives to grant patents, for instance by making appeals against the patent office denying something possible.

    And along come some brain-dead judges which accept a bookshelf full of Moby Dick as a Moby Dick Support Device, and who believe the lawyers arguing math isn't math if it runs on a computer, and you got a pretty good mess.

    And of course, add a lot of politicians who are firmly indoctrinated that patents are good, are somehow "acceptable monopolies" and not some mercantilist ploy.

     

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  19.  
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    Mike42 (profile), Sep 20th, 2012 @ 8:48am

    Re: Re:

    There is an AMA from two patent examiners on reddit, /r/Android. They both admit that they are pressured to approve patents rather than reject them. They also say they would be much happier if they were pressured to reject instead of approve them.

    So you see, both sides would like a higher bar for patents. Only the courts in the middle disagree.

     

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  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 20th, 2012 @ 8:50am

    Re: Re:

    Ahh, thanks for clearing that up.

     

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  21.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 20th, 2012 @ 8:51am

    Re: Re:

    My post was sorta meant to be sarcastic, but I guess no one picked up on it.

     

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  22.  
    identicon
    6, Sep 20th, 2012 @ 10:28am

    That anyone believes that anyone much cares enough to submit prior art for a pending app before it issues save in VERY VERY rare circumstances is quite beyond me.

    These kinds of programs are doomed to failure due to apathy vs the number of applications.

    If, on the other hand, we offered a bounty for each anticipatory reference then perhaps people would care. But then people would just game the system by getting their buddies to submit easily anticipated claims and collecting bounty after bounty.

    Perhaps if we offered a mandatory applicant funded bounty for each anticipatory reference. That might do the trick.

     

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  23.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 20th, 2012 @ 10:28am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Remind me never to ask you a question.

     

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  24.  
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    Ninja (profile), Sep 20th, 2012 @ 12:05pm

    USPTO doing it right for once? wow ...

    Nice!

     

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  25.  
    identicon
    Willton, Sep 20th, 2012 @ 12:11pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Ah, that is correct. But as shown previously, a very large majority of those is approved on the second go-round.
    Really? Show me.

    So yeah, it's rubber-stamping. But they introduce an artificial rate of failure to make it seem less rubber-stamp-y.

    Hardly. You have no idea what goes on during examination, as you fail to admit that almost every one of those applications gets amended to narrow the scope of the originally-filed claims in order to get around prior art. That's not rubber-stamping; that's doing one's job.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    identicon
    Willton, Sep 20th, 2012 @ 12:29pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    There is an AMA from two patent examiners on reddit, /r/Android. They both admit that they are pressured to approve patents rather than reject them. They also say they would be much happier if they were pressured to reject instead of approve them.

    I saw one of them, and the Examiner said that s/he gets pressure from industry and the patent bar. That's not surprising: they have an interest in getting patents. What the Examiner did NOT say is that s/he gets pressure from his/her employer, the USPTO.

    The Examiner also mentioned that "It's just a tough job and sometimes bad patents get issued and good patent applications get rejected." I would agree: sometimes, shit happens.

    If anything, examiners may feel "pressured" to allow claims only because they were formerly pressured to reject. In the past (i.e., under John Dudas), Notices of Allowance were subject to higher-level review, but final rejections were not. Thus, in order to avoid scrutiny, examiners would just reject-reject-reject. Now, under Director David Kappos, both NOAs and Final Rejections get scrutinized. Thus, examiner's have been encouraged to interview applicants so that they can come to a faster understanding of what each side thinks is patentable and come to an agreement.

     

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  27.  
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    Atkray (profile), Sep 20th, 2012 @ 12:44pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    So why are you posting here instead of rubber stamping er... doing your job?

     

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  28.  
    identicon
    John Doe, Sep 20th, 2012 @ 12:53pm

    Atleast they are trying to do something vice just complain about it on a web site all the time.

     

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  29.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 20th, 2012 @ 12:58pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    I liked the "reject-reject-reject" better :-)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
    icon
    That One Guy (profile), Sep 20th, 2012 @ 6:18pm

    Re: Re:

    Just a head's up, but no matter how valid a point you may have, opening your statement with a personal attack or name calling will almost guarantee that it's ignored, as you've just shot to pieces any credibility you might have otherwise had.

     

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  31.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 21st, 2012 @ 8:34am

    Re:

    Virtually every patent application that is filed is initially denied on the basis of "anticipation" and "obviousness", and somewhat less frequently is added "lack of an enabling disclosure". There are other bases for issuing a denial, but these are the ones that vastly predominate.

    Thus, the current practice is substantially "patent Denied".

    What you rarely read here is that this places the applicant in the position of having to defend why the claims recited in the application are allowable over the cited prior art, in most cases requiring that the claims be amended to add limitations necessary to properly distinguish the claims from the prior art.

    Thus, your comment reflects little more than what has long been established practice before the USPTO.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 21st, 2012 @ 8:40am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Yes, many are passed to issue following the initial rejection, but one should never loose sight of the fact that the applicant has been put to the test of effectively demonstrating why the claims properly distinguish over the recited prior art. Moreover, second action rejections are likewise quite common, once again requiring the applicant to even more fully demonstrate why the application should pass to issue.

    Wilton is correct in noting that your understanding of how applications are examined is missing much relevant information that cuts the other way.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
    identicon
    Willton, Sep 21st, 2012 @ 9:04am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    I'm not a patent examiner, genius.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
    identicon
    Willton, Sep 21st, 2012 @ 9:06am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Of course you do: you have an agenda.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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