We need a prior art database

:: patents, politics, software, technology

Last week I visited Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco. Mark Cuban and Minecraft creator Markus Persson had recently funded an additional staff attorney position, the “Mark Cuban Chair to Eliminate Stupid Patents”.

Considering this after I got home, I had an idea about an additional angle from which to attack this problem.

What if there were a sort of “prior art database”? Where people could submit and find information about first-use or discovery of techniques—whether patented or not?


Engineers/inventors have an alternative to the patent process. This alternative allows them to receive recognition, which for many people is the primary motivation. And although they would forgo licensing (or trolling) revenue, there are other financial rewards that can result from a demonstration of expertise.

Companies have a time- and cost-effective alternative to “defensive” patents.

It’s a helpful resource for contesting stupid patents.


Instead of a database per se, probably this would work better as something like a wiki or StackOverflow.com.

Perhaps Google could sponsor/spearhead, as they’re presumably both willing and able.

Perhaps the USPTO could sponsor/host. If sufficient people chose this alternative, it could appreciably decrease the application backlog and work overload.

Is the concept of “approval” needed? Maybe not. People could file an electronic affidavit, or even just make a mere to-their-knowledge statement.

If some form of approbation were needed, it could be crowd-sourced. Think of the voting and reputation system of StackOverflow.com.

In fact, this seems like a natural evolution for Stack Exchange.

As I said above, this is not “the” answer. The patent system is horribly dysfunctional, especially for software patents. The problem needs attacking from multiple angles. Reforms like five year expirations for software patents are needed and should be implemented. In addition, I think some sort of go-to resource for prior art could help.