I have been curious about this - I see a lot of prior art requests that get posted and I/other people have been answering some of them. I think it's great to have visibility on some of the prior art requests that reach the PTO. Several of these requests come from the same group of individuals.

How exactly are those answers used? Are there actually USPTO members on here requesting prior art information as part of the patent publication process? Are there people prosecuting/defending ongoing patent cases? Or is it some kind of non-profit organization or individuals that are trying to make the patent world better?

I did check the "about" section and couldn't really find any information.

  • In theory unearthing good prior art to anything pending would seen like it only helps the world and the patent system but I'd hate to think Ask Patents was being systematically used by one side in a dispute to harness our inclination to be helpful.
    – George White Mod
    Commented Sep 9, 2013 at 18:26

2 Answers 2


The 3d printer related requests are from a non-profit, the EFF. I doubt USPTO examiners would post a question here but I can Imagine an examiner taking a quick look to see if there is anything useful here if they don't turn up a very solid reference.

Some of the frequent posters of requests for prior art use their actual name and have profiles that are informative. Personally I am a patent agent and I have not posted any prior art questions. My motivation is to educate people who might have misconceptions that the patent system is ridiculous to see that it is complex and not as bad as they might think it is and to generally be a helpful member of the community.


This issue has been bothering me as well, lately. I feel like this site is turning into a huge trove of free-research resources.

A word from our sponsor

I noticed that Joel (co-founder of StackExchange) made a recent post where he indicates that AskPatents was setup in a partial-collaboration with the USPTO.

By the presentation of his post, this site is largely designed to catch and stop patent trolls

While I'm OK with preventing bad patents, I don't know how to reconcile the opaque community style, where people cannot yet be sure whether they are helping the USPTO (presumably neutral), or a corporate competitor.

The core issue

This is a potential conflict of interest.

I don't trust the motives of the corporations, who could try to use this community to their strategic gain. I have no reason to believe they are being either moral or just, when calling-to-arms activists to a legal war that financially benefits them. If I act on their desires, I could actually hurt more individual / small inventors.


I wish this site could have a mechanism like Reddit.com/r/AMA, which is to establish the true identity of an account-holder.

This would ensure that volunteer time is going towards public-service purposes, not just providing free research to those managing corporate patent portfolios. The thought that such people are posting most of the prior art request disgusts me a little, actually.

  • 1
    Thanks - when I started answering here, I genuinely thought the requests were coming from the USPTO and non-profits, but some more recent requests have made me question that.
    – aed
    Commented Oct 27, 2013 at 8:07
  • LOL. What greedy person would pass up the chance to have free patent research provided for the corporate strategy? Commented Oct 28, 2013 at 13:09
  • Do you honestly believe that a corporation is going to base their corporate strategy on a bunch of free advice they found on the internet? If they are absurdly cheap and incompetent maybe. If they actually want to protect assets (good or bad IP is an asset)I don't think so.
    – ihtkwot
    Commented Nov 4, 2013 at 21:54
  • They who is posting all this? Why is there no transparency, if these requests are all in such good spirits? Shouldn't be any issue posting which non-profit your with, and whom sponsors it... Remember, "patent troll" is a term partially-coined by Google to describe their economic adversaries. After all, why should anyone compete with YouTube????? Commented Nov 5, 2013 at 14:14
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    I'm a little surprised that people are worried about being used by a corporation to crush its patent-happy competition. I'm not sure why it matters if someone is getting benefited from the process. If a legitimate company (not a patent troll) uses us to help protect themselves from those that would abuse the legal system, then good for them! Assuming the company is not also patent-happy, that means they probably provide goods/services that people voluntarily consume. Of course, if it is one patent-troll against another, hopefully they both start using the service. Commented Dec 23, 2013 at 21:22
  • @BlackVegetable do you assume that either side of Apple+partners vs. Google+partners is an altruistic do-gooder out to prevent evil trolling? If I knew that I was supporting grassroots people form big corps then I'd do it. But major corps can go pay to fight their own battles. Commented Dec 23, 2013 at 22:52
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    @NewAlexandria I understand that you don't want to be unpaid labor for a company that can clearly afford to combat unreasonable patents; I feel similarly. But as long as some decent proportion of the work done on the site was benefiting people that couldn't do it alone, I'd be pleased. Alternatively this site's existence might encourage some mid-sized companies that can afford to fight their own battles to go and contest these things instead of submitting and closing their doors, simply because they now know it can be done. Commented Dec 23, 2013 at 23:32
  • It's not that I despise being unpaid - it's conflict of interest. I don't trust the motives of companies of these sizes, and have no reason to believe they are being either moral or just, when calling-to-arms activists to a legal war that financially benefits them. If I act on their desires, I could actually hurt more individual inventors. Your argument has liabilities, and is likely invalid Commented Dec 24, 2013 at 0:57
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    Note Joel's blog hopes the big companies will use this site: "My dream is that when big companies hear about how friggin’ easy it is to block a patent application, they’ll use Ask Patents to start messing with their competitors. How cool would it be if Apple, Samsung, Oracle and Google got into a Mexican Standoff on Ask Patents?" The point is that the only patents that will be blocked are those that would be invalid - those that try to claim prior art as their own. This certainly does not harm genuine inventors - small or large. Commented Mar 14, 2014 at 19:12
  • @NewAlexandria, If those individual inventors have real inventions, they wouldn't be invalidated. But if those individual inventors are trying to get their trivial inventions patented, then everyone will benefit when those patents are overthrowned. The moral of the story is this: It doesn't matter who owns the patents, if the patent is fraudulent, it deserves to be overthrowned even if its owner had good intentions.
    – Pacerier
    Commented Jun 5, 2014 at 1:33

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