To combat ‘trolls,’ patent office mulls crowdsoucing

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office plans to hold a meeting that explores how it could use crowdsourcing to obtain relevant prior art for patent applications.

According to a posting Wednesday in the Federal Register, the patent office wants to discuss how it can use crowdsourcing tools to obtain relevant prior art while evaluating patent applications – and how it can tap into the private sector to electronically receive and host crowdsourced materials.

When evaluating patent applications, patent examiners must examine prior art to ensure that the application is something new and not obvious.

“The USPTO wants to ensure that the best prior art is available to the examiner during examination,” according to the posting. “Because this information often resides with the technical and scientific community, crowdsourcing may be a promising way to uncover hard-to-find prior art, especially non-patent literature.”


The federal government has already been investigating using crowdsourcing for patent applications. In February, the White House issued an executive action to encourage the patent office to pursue crowdsourcing as a means of combating so-called patent trolls, or firms that hold patent portfolios and primarily use them to file suit against other companies.

Then, in April, the patent office hosted a round table to examine using crowdsourcing to identify relevant prior art. And in the latest class of Presidential Innovation Fellows announced in September, Christopher Wong was assigned to work on the patent office’s crowdsourcing initiatives.

In a blog post from earlier this year, USPTO Deputy Director Michelle Lee discussed the difficultly of combing through prior art while evaluating patent applications.

“[I]nnovation moves fast and important advances may be documented only in hard-to-access corporate records or any number of other far-flung repositories,” she wrote. “Finding, among a sea of documents, the most relevant ones, especially in areas where terms are non-standardized, can be difficult.”

Lee, a former Google exec who was recently nominated to lead the patent office, has been emphasizing patent quality and recently pointed to improving IT as a means of achieving that goal. Lee’s confirmation materials have been sent to the Senate, but the Judiciary Committee has yet to schedule a hearing, according to committee staff Thursday.


The latest roundtable will take place Dec. 2 in the Moot Court Room at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, 55 Fifth Ave. in New York City. Those planning to attend must RSVP Nov. 25.

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