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Anyone Ever Done This Before? Patent Office Turns to Crowdsourcing

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The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office wants advice on the best way for experts in industry and academia to help application examiners determine if inventions are truly novel.

Specifically, the agency is seeking suggestions on how to structure a procurement strategy from companies that are “capable of electronically receiving and potentially hosting millions of structured/indexed and unstructured documents,” per a request for information that's open for responses through Nov. 12.

The job will include indexing and adding searchable metadata to materials it receives from a diverse array of sources to help patent examiners check applications “in light of the state of the art,” PTO's call for ideas said.

“But innovation moves fast and important advances may be documented only in hard-to-access corporate records or any number of other widely dispersed repositories,” the document said.

The final contract could go to one or multiple companies.

“Because this information often resides with the technical and scientific community, crowdsourcing and third-party submissions are promising ways to uncover hard-to-find prior art,” the RFI said, referring to previously published inventions or descriptions.

The new document is part of a broader effort to improve the patenting process President Obama laid out in June 2013 and expanded last February.

Michelle Lee, now director of the patent office, last March announced a host of companies had offered their assistance in improving the patent process, including Microsoft, Verizon and Yahoo.

The agency and the White House last month announced that incoming Presidential Innovation Fellow Christopher Wong had been tasked specifically with working on crowdsourcing initiatives to facilitate the patenting process.

For the current solicitation, the agency said it “envisions a cooperative, mutually beneficial relationship with a private or public sector firm with the objective of providing easily accessible materials that have been pledged to the USPTO through the ... crowdsourcing effort."

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