US patent office seeks aid to spot bogus patent claims

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Image caption The Ask Patents website will aim to ensure only really bright ideas win approval

Members of the public are being asked by the US Patent Office to help weed out bogus patent applications.

It wants the public to contribute to a website that will spot applications for patents on technologies that have already been invented.

People will also be able to flag up applications on the site which they think are bogus.

The site runs Google software to finds examples of older inventions - "prior art" - to filter out fake claims.

Trivial tech

The website, called Ask Patents, will be run by US firm Stack Exchange that has a track record of operating Q&A websites.

"Our hope is that Ask Patents will reduce the number of patents mistakenly granted for obvious, unoriginal non-inventions, especially around software," said Stack Exchange boss Joel Spolsky in a blogpost about the site.

In the past some individuals and organisations have used the award of a patent to win cash from firms that do not have the financial resources to launch legal action against such claims.

Mr Spolsky said that although US patent clerks worked hard they typically had less than 22.5 hours so spend on each application.

This made exhaustive searches for all prior art all but impossible and meant many "trivial" patents slipped through.

He said Ask Patents would be a "collaborative effort" that would let anyone examine patent applications.

"It is opening up a process that has been conducted behind closed doors for over 200 years," he wrote.

The site will also act as a repository of prior art to make it easier to spot when applications are filed for innovations that already exist, or have already been granted.

In an interview with technology magazine Ars Technica, Mr Spolsky said he thought that searching for prior art would be the trickiest part of the whole project.

"However," he told the tech news site, "the truth is, there are probably hundreds of patent applications every week that aren't true inventions."

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