Ask Patents has attracted a ton of low quality questions. Stuff like https://patents.stackexchange.com/questions/9976/i-am-install-softwayers-games-or-many-think. There's also a good number of duplicates. These questions should be closed, but they aren't. You can see by the amount of questions in /review.

I'd like to figure out why this is happening. Are there not enough users who want to moderate? Is there not enough of a 'community'? Does this site need moderators other than the SE team?

This is also part a call to arms. If you can help clean up, please do. You'll make this site a lot cleaner - and attract more experts.

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    I'm all about helping clean up, but I don't know enough about this site to know what's good and what isn't. Can you provide some examples of questions you feel should go away and questions you feel should remain? (Why I'm here despite lack of familiarity with site: I was in chat with hichris123 when this topic came up, and support any kind of mass clean up on any SE site in general.)
    – Jason C
    Aug 10, 2014 at 4:03
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    Another way to help, for those of us who don't have enough rep to do anything besides flag, is to up-vote good questions that do belong here, and good answers as well.
    – Jason C
    Aug 10, 2014 at 4:17
  • Related (and with data! yay data!): meta.stackexchange.com/questions/237827/…
    – Jason C
    Aug 14, 2014 at 1:16
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    Most people who have questions are not active users, and hnece upvoting questions will not help much at all -- rather upvote answers and the people who will consistently participate will get the reputation needed to take the actions you are asking for
    – Soren
    Aug 16, 2014 at 23:25
  • It is my experience that gaining rep for privileges through this site is VERY slow. Jul 8, 2016 at 5:32

3 Answers 3


The two subjects that were considered on topic are requests for others to help in finding prior art for a U.S. patent application or issued patent and questions about how the U.S. patent system works. The motivation for the site (which I was not involved in) was to try to contribute to the rejection or at least narrowing of software patent applications that the "community" thinks are too broad or old or obvious and was partially spurred by a provision in the American Invents Act that made it easy for anyone to put published references in front of an examiner were the examiner is required to consider the references. The theory was a high % of the SE community at large were software knowledgeable they might be just the people to know about older software that a patent examiner may not be aware of.

In my opinion this has not really happened to any large extent. I brought this up in my meta post Now -- how is this experiment turning out?. We were and are getting more questions along the lines "how can I get a s/w patent" than "help me kill this software patent". Other than it being opposite to the motivation for the site I'm fine with it and happy to help people understand the arcane, subtle and illogical patent system.

In another meta post I answered the question Why do we have so many posts that do not mention the patent number in question? And why so many are off-topic?. Why we get so many off-the-wall posts is also why we get any questions at all. There is is blue button on google patents that says "Discuss this patent" near the upper right corner. It sounds very open ended and it leads directly to Ask Patents. It is a perfectly designed way to get random posts from people who do not even know how to get back to the site to see the response. enter image description here

Many frequent posters of the past have come and gone.

Related to the original purpose of the site:

I was at a patent practitoner conference last month and one of the speakers from the patent office put up this slide about their experience so far with the AIA 3rd party submission system. enter image description here. He noted that Technology Center 2100 "Computer Architecture, Software, & Information Security" had the next to the fewest 3rd party submissions!

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    So pretty much what you're saying is this is due to a) a userbase that doesn't stay active (i.e. they are on the site for a week and then leave), b) a bad wording on the Google Patents button, and c) Not too many people who would know about it, as the intersection of technology and patents is smaller than most fields? I think we could try to change the wording of Google's button (contact them), but attracting a good userbase is hard.
    – hichris123
    Aug 17, 2014 at 20:44
  • The site got a lot of press when the owner of SE posted something that ended up getting a Microsoft patent application killed or narrowed. My opinion is that the widely held idea that there is a huge amount of low hanging fruit of bad software patents is partly untrue and partly that reading claims, understanding patents and finding something the examiner didn't find is hard. Most of the "prior art" posted is widely off and doesn't end up being helpful, in my opinion.
    – George White Mod
    Aug 17, 2014 at 20:54
  • Like your write up, but I'm left without any sense for what action we should take -- widen the scope? leave as is? require first time users to register with email (so we can keep them posted)?
    – Soren
    Aug 18, 2014 at 15:45
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    Although I am the high rep person here I am a patent person, not particlualrly an SE person so I do not have huge experience with how things should go. I would replace the document specify button on google patents with a general "Ask a question about the patent system" button to get posts that fit one on-topic criteria and links in places that bash software patents that say "Do you know of prior art for any of the patents mentioned here?" to get the other on-topic posts. Maybe SE rep. points privileges criteria could be scaled based on the total points earned for the site.
    – George White Mod
    Aug 18, 2014 at 17:58

I think the answer lies in that there are just not sufficient critical mass users which you see on sister sites such as stackoverflow. I rank user #46 of all times but does not have full privileges on the site -- only recently with in the last few weeks did I get review privileges -- so there are probably less than 50 users in total who can help close out and clean up questions.

However closing out questions of ask-patents require 5 people to vote just like on stackoverflow.

One of the issues is that answers are not up-voted and accepted to the same degree as they are on sister sites, so the amount of reputation gained from answering a question is very small and it takes users a long time to accumulate sufficient reputation to take some of the privileged actions needed for review.

George White is the only user on this site who has gained sufficient rep to have full privileges.

Low quality does not really distract me at this point but that is mostly due to that flow of new questions is so low,

I see the only way to action this is;

  • Getting a sufficient large volunteer force to clean up questions is to artificially grant more privileges to more active participants or
  • Lower the vote count needed to take actions such as closing out poor quality question -- this could be a temporary or one off measure just to increase the number of people who can participate in the desired actions, or it could be permanent if this site does not expect to have more participants or questions that it has now, or
  • Dispensing with the 20 reviews per day limit

I don't really have an answer to this, I'm just posting this here because it isn't suitable as a comment.

There are a few things I've noticed about this site, and these relate in big part to what other people have already said.

I'm a very-low-rep user on this site (although now that I think about it, I'm only four points away from being allowed on the site ranks, which will actually put me as the fourth highest, so maybe I'm not that low after all), but the points I did get were over a relatively short time--half of my real rep points here were in fact awarded on a single day. So I'd comfortably call myself one of the "frequent posters of the past [who] have come and gone" that George White mentioned in his answer. Given that not-so-admirable status, I'll say that my primary reason for not being all that interested in sticking around has just been the limited nature of questions.

I realize that the goal of the site is to provide help and understanding with regards to the patent system and to fulfil prior art requests, but that latter aspect just doesn't seem even remotely interesting to me. I know that sounds super pretentious, and I really hope I'm not coming off as mean as I kind of feel like I am, but when all is said and done, the question "what's the difference between a provisional and non-provisional application?" seems a whole lot more interesting and useful to me, than someone asking "has this application been approved?" I would be way more willing to answer "how can I find whether a patent has been issued, given an application number?" than something specific to a single patent.

I'm in a much higher ranking on both Stack Overflow and the newly-publicized Startups Stack Exchange, and questions like these would never fly on either of them. They're just too specific.

I think the general philosophy of the site explicitly encourages highly personalized questions and answers, and those types of questions are inherently low-quality.

So while I find the topic interesting, certainly, and I'm in no way meaning to imply that there are no good questions and answers here, reading through all the bad ones just doesn't seem all that engaging, so I haven't bothered. But the thing is, I never even know whether I should mark those "bad ones" as bad via a close vote, because--particularly with the welcoming of specific patent-number-based tags--I'm not actually sure they in any way work against the goal of the site.

To put things in perspective, I've gotten three up-votes on my answer to Is this patent (US20060098849 A1) still pending?, and while I certainly appreciate said rep points (for what it's worth, I did answer the question and give my source), I'm not particularly proud of that answer. I took the two minutes it takes to visit Public PAIR and copy over the application number, not particularly impressive. The thing that I really fail to understand about it, too, is that I'm actually still getting points for that question. In fact, I got up-voted on it just today and it's over a month old.

Then when you line it up side-to-side with Which is better, to patent or keep secret, where my answer received the same number of votes, I just feel like there's not a huge driving force of the community to promote thought-out and generalized questions and answers.

So anyways, again, not really an answer. But I just thought I'd throw in some of my motivations for not spending more time here. Honestly, I feel like the site is just built in the wrong direction. I think it's an interesting topic that it's set out on, but I also don't think it's in any way congruent with the overarching philosophies of the Stack Exchange community.

Several days later, I was just thinking about yet another aspect that I think affects all this.

The mission statement of Ask Patents is arguably somewhat in opposition to the patent system. It alludes to a broken system in which overly broad patents are continually allowed through that then bar innovation on other fronts. The concept in general of crowd-funded prior art requests show a lack of trust in the USPTO.

Now, that mistrust might be fair. I'm pretty sure absolutely none of us will argue that the patent system isn't at least a little bit broken. But that said, I don't believe it's that bad, and I particularly don't believe that this site takes many steps to make it any better, for a couple of reasons.

  1. People who are attracted to answering questions on Ask Patents are probably not going to be the type to fundamentally not believe in patents. I don't know some of your backgrounds--I know George White is a patent professional and I've grown up around them through my father and many of his friends being patent attorneys--but in general, people who are enthusiastic to answer questions about patents will be proponents of the system as a whole.
  2. The majority of questions on here that do request any sort of prior art, or show any sort of concern about patents, are blatantly wrong. I've seen a number of questions like the one I'm thinking of, so I won't bother finding a link, but basically people are saying something to the gist of "why does anyone care about patents when obviously Microsoft ignores {some list of Samsung patents}?" when in actuality, those are almost definitely licensed in some day. So even what concern is valid about the system, isn't being conveyed through most questions on here.

Perhaps I just feel like "provide information about the patent system" and "fulfill prior art requests for potentially dangerous applications" are extremely different topics. And I'm not sure either has a large enough following right now to keep up an interesting site.

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    I think your observations are spot on -- apart for the call for prior art, any other valid question here most likely could be answered through a Q&A format of where to get authoritative information. And hence the limited scope of the site makes the flow of good questions very slow.
    – Soren
    Aug 21, 2014 at 22:39

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