Stack Exchange Announces Ask Patents, A Crowdsourced Platform for Sourcing Prior Art on Patent Applications

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Ask Patents enables everyone to find, discuss and submit prior art on patent applications - strengthening the quality of the patent system.

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"Collectively, we’re building a crowd-sourced worldwide detective agency to help identify weak applications and better ensure the quality of patents ultimately issued." Joel Spolsky - CEO, Stack Exchange

Stack Exchange, Inc, creators of the web’s top Q&A sites for expert communities, today announced a revolutionary new online community, Ask Patents (, dedicated to crowdsourcing examples of prior art and strengthening the quality of the patent system. Developed with input from the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) after the passage of the America Invents Act, Ask Patents enables anyone to discuss the patent process, source examples of prior art for current applications, and submit those examples to the USPTO.

Until now, there has been no public, legal way for interested third parties to submit information to the USPTO, even if they were in possession of examples of prior art that would invalidate a patent application. However, thanks to a statutory change included in the America Invents Act, it is now possible for the USPTO to accept these third party submissions.

“Our hope is that Ask Patents will improve and enhance the quality of patents granted, especially around software, a field that is near and dear to us,” says Joel Spolsky, Co-Founder and CEO of Stack Exchange. “Collectively, we’re building a crowd-sourced worldwide detective agency to help identify weak applications and better ensure the quality of patents ultimately issued. Over time, we hope that the Patent Stack Exchange will mitigate the problems caused by rampant patent trolling.”

Once on Ask Patents, interested users can ask others to help them find examples of prior art or contribute by searching for examples on other applications. Prior art can then be added, edited and voted on by the community to enable the discovery of the best examples of prior art for any application that may be submitted.

USPTO patent examiners will be able to search the site to find prior art they may have missed or had trouble finding; the USPTO, complying with the new America Invents Act, will also provide an online system for submitting prior art directly to the office. Ask Patents will also be integrating with Google Patent Search, so patent applications on Google will include a link to relevant discussions on Stack Exchange.

“By introducing third party input into the examination process for the first time since the inception of our nation’s intellectual property system, we’re able to expand the scope of access to prior art in key areas like software patents. This will improve the examination process and advance the Administration’s ongoing commitment to transparency and open government,” said Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO David Kappos. “We encourage our nation’s innovators to follow Stack Exchange’s example and assist us as we improve the examination process and resulting patent quality that will drive our economy and create jobs and exports.”

Ask Patents is based on the Peer To Patent ( pilot project spearheaded by Beth Noveck and New York Law School in conjunction with the USPTO. Their work in bringing together experts to comment on select patent applications proved the value of third party review of patent applications with hundreds of applications being reviewed and dozens of applications being blocked or modified based on the prior art found through Peer To Patent.

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