Yesterday the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Stack Exchange and Google announced a new joint effort to try to bring an end to overbroad and ridiculous patents before they can be used by patent trolls to cause harm to companies. A change in U.S. patent laws went into effect this month that permits the USPTO to accept comments and evidence regarding prior art and obviousness from third parties when evaluating a patent application. Prior to this change in the law, the USPTO could not accept third party information.
To make the process easier, Stack Exchange and Google have teamed up to help the USPTO with the effort. Stack Exchange has been beta testing a forum for users to discuss and identify issues with patents. Using this platform, users can find a list of patents submitted for debunking, submit examples or evidence of prior art, and discuss validity. Once a patent has been vetted, users can submit the record to the USPTO to be considered in reviewing the application. To visit the live platform and help with the hunt, point your browser to patents.stackexchange.com.
In conjunction with the effort, Google has modified their patent search site to show links to Stach Exchange discussions about any patents that come up in the search results.
Stack Exchange’s chief of staff Alex Miller is calling the process “Discover, Discuss and Document.” Although there is no reward for busting a patent, Miller indicates they are considering some ways to recognize individuals who help bring a patent down. The implementation of a crowdsourcing solution for patent review grew out of an experiment that started back in 2007 called Peer to Patent, which showed the method was effective.
One downside to the effort is that it will only apply to new patent applications going forward for now. A question to consider though, is why do we have a patent system that works in such a way that this is even necessary?