Ask Patents attracts a lot of soft questions, and I've been approving most of them because, although they are broad and there may be multiple correct answers or can only be partially answered, they are likely to recur on this site at some point.

Case in point:

What is the use of patenting?

I was on the fence about this one because of the reasons I listed above. Is there any moderation policy on soft questions, and does this one cross the line?

1 Answer 1


This isn't a super awesome answer by any stretch, but I often just go by the close reasons. It's easy, on Ask Patents but even on sites like Stack Overflow, to get caught up in the philosophy of whether a certain post should be permitted, and it can help, me at least, to take a step back and try to describe in technical terms why I'm not happy to see it on the site.

For questions like this, where they're definitely on-topic, but may or may not be an appropriate fit for the site, the three most relevant close reasons are:

unclear what you're asking

Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question.

too broad

There are either too many possible answers, or good answers would be too long for this format. Please add details to narrow the answer set or to isolate an issue that can be answered in a few paragraphs.

primarily opinion-based

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.

Yes, I know you probably already know those more or less by heart, but it helps to look over them from time to time, and to use them more mechanically than you would simply by reciting them from memory.

So when you look at a "soft question" like this one, just think about how it fits in with these rules.

  1. Can you actually tell what's being asked?
  2. Are there too many possible answers, or would good answers be way to long?
  3. Is there a definite answer out there that doesn't depend solely on subjectivity?

If the answer to any of those is yes, then it should be closed. If the answer to all of them is no, then it's probably an acceptable kind of question, and you might even be able to give it a really good canonical answer, that we can reference back to in the future.

Of course, we can go back and forth all day saying "but it's difficult to know for some questions whether they are actually too broad," and in those cases, remember it takes more than one user to close something, and there's no penalty to having a few expired close votes. So if you think it does deserve to be closed but you're a little on the fence, go ahead.

To be clear, I wouldn't tell people to go throwing votes around willy-nilly, but if you're on the fence enough, it's good to remember that there is a review process, and other people will sanity-check your intuition.

In addition to or instead of all of this, although Ask Patents isn't great for this yet, I sometimes like to leave a comment when I'm unsure, stating my concern. You can vote to close or just leave it when you do that, but something like "I'm not completely sure, but it seems like this might be a bit broad. Do you think you could narrow the scope your question down to something more specific? For instance, just a particular type of invention, or a specific industry?" Sometimes the user will just pick up and resolve the issue without it ever needing to be put on hold, and other times, that will hint other voters at a potential close reason.

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