NET NEWS: Win Cash for Patent Busting

Science  27 Oct 2000:
Vol. 290, Issue 5492, pp. 667
DOI: 10.1126/science.290.5492.667d

Fact-hoarding scientists and engineers, take note: Now there's a potential way to cash in on your headfuls of arcane knowledge. A new Web site hopes to “strengthen the patent system” by offering a bounty to anyone who can provide obscure documents to support or shoot down high-stakes patents.

The U.S. Patent Office (USPTO) has come under fire in recent years for granting patents too readily, especially for software and biotechnology. One reason is that patent examiners don't have time to go beyond online databases in their search for evidence that an invention isn't original. This new site, BountyQuest), is aimed mainly at helping companies knock down competing patents by locating this “prior art”—such as journal articles in foreign languages or technical manuals. For example, you can win $10,000 for rustling up a document “describing a purified preparation of primate embryonic stem cells” from before 1994. Cash is also available for information that undermines's one-click purchasing patent or a gasoline additive.

The idea is “interesting,” says Internet Patent News Service editor Greg Aharonian, but he argues that it would cost companies less to hire veteran patent consultants to find the same documents. Besides, Aharonian believes that the real problem is the glut of bad patents issued by the USPTO. BountyQuest, he says, is “treating the symptoms, not the disease.”

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