In this post we'll consider a topic I've thought about for some time - crowdsourcing. The concept is not new and has been applied to photography, social networks, software coding, and in a very limited way, prior art searching. Back in 2002, we were confronted with the problem of organizing a large set of prior art references. Having been involved in a database project that organized IP assets, the database concept seemed appealing. We searched for a commercial solution to our problem, but came up empty. We thought about what we really wanted to accomplish and settled on a goal of extracting and retaining the most relevant information from each prior art reference so that the information could be quickly searched. We designed a tool for that purpose in 2002. The tool performed the retention function very well. Because of the way we configured the database, extracting relevant information via search, beyond a list of references, was difficult. In 2003, we developed a Microsoft Word scripting tool that crudely integrated with the database to generate a form of invalidity charts.
So what does this have to do with crowdsourcing?
We've developed a system that can handle multiple, concurrent connections to a defined problem. Think of the defined problem as a project template. The template identifies what information is sought, and the users provide information about the problem using the project template. In other words, define the problem - then solve the problem. To this end, we have developed a way to discretely define and present a problem - how to invalide patent claims - to a group of people. The system can receive input about the problem and mesh that input with input from other group members. Isn't this what crowdsourcing is all about?
A more concrete example is a joint defense group defending against patent infringement allegations. One of the litigation defenses invariably is that the patent in question is not valid. The project template can be used to receive information from attorneys, at different law firms. This information is directed to the claimed features found in the prior art, to form the invalidity contentions relied upon the joint defense group members. We see the beginnings of a crowd for this type of project.
The project template could even be used to receive prior art search result submissions. In this case, the searchers would be the crowd. Sounds simple enough and there are companies that already provide this service. Now imagine that instead of commissioning a search and having attorneys review the results, the searchers themselves have access to a platform for sharing their understanding of the prior art. Not just the prior art references, but information contained within each prior art reference as it relates to the defined problem. Not a writeup in a document, but data entered into a database to be mixed with the data from all other searchers. Under this approach, the individuals most knowledgeable about the prior art (the searchers) take the first pass at the analysis and record their analysis into the system. Attorneys would then review and vet how closely the analysis matched features found in the claims.
Even Article One Partners, a noted leader in the search field, has not achieved this level of project focus. In the Article One crowdsourcing model, a search request is broadcast to a vast team of researchers. The researchers then review their archives and report back their findings by identifying relevant prior art, each vying for a bounty. The knowledge and understanding that each researcher has about the prior art is not transferred in this process, however. What if this could be done in a different way so that the searchers knowledge is transferred in the process?
We think we can fill this gap with our system. Our system already provides a bridge that allows users to transfer their knowledge about the prior art using a project template. The information entered into the project template can also be used to generate invalidity charts because the template fields are already linked to the claims of the target patent. We have even considered a way to anonymize the identity of individuals inputting information into a project template if anonymous submissions are desirable.
We believe this is a different way of thinking about prior art searching and litigation workflow. We hope you'll give us a few moments of your time and consider having us demonstrate the system to you and your team.