We've all had that reaction when seeing that a certain patent was issued – "how the hell did they get a patent on that?". Well now we can have fun outing those ridiculous patent applications before they get issued.
Ask Patents is a new Stack Exchange site launching today that allows anyone to participate in the patent examination process. It’s a collaborative effort, supported by Stack Exchange, the US Patent and Trademark Office, and the Google Patent Search team. It’s very exciting, because it is opening up a process that has been conducted behind closed doors for over 200 years.
I don't really need to discuss how badly our patent process is broken to here. We've discussed it ad naseum.
What we can and should discuss is how an open collaborative crowd based approach to patent examination can improve the process. I am hopeful that it will. And I am thrilled that the USPTO opted to partner with Stack Exchange to run this process. Stack's sites, rules, and processes take a bit of getting used to. They are geeky for sure. But they produce very high quality collaborative debates on questions with definitive answers that the community resolves and the quality of the results they get from this process is extremely high.
This is not like asking the Yahoo Answers community to do patent examination. That would be laughable. This is a much more serious effort, based on "prior art". Joel explains:
Ask Patents is a collaborative effort, neatly tagged by keywords and classification, and searchable by patent application number. It is inspired by a research project called Peer To Patent, run out of New York Law School. That pilot project, created by Professor Beth Noveck, proved very successful at identifying prior art that the USPTO wouldn’t otherwise have known about.
So instead of our regular fun friday routine, I'm asking everyone to go spend a few minutes on Ask Patents and see if you might enjoy becoming a part time patent examiner yourself. I am headed there now.