One of the missions of the Ask Patents SE site is to help people find prior art to invalidate what they perceive to be bad patent applications. Unfortunately, the people who frequently answer questions there are generally experts in the patent system, but not experts in the field of the patent being questioned.

I think these invalidation efforts are important, but they aren't being well served currently. What would be better might be to find a way to direct the prior art request to the appropriate SE site. Perhaps Ask Patents could be used to vet the question to make sure it is of acceptable quality and determine which SE site to direct it to.

Perhaps more ideal would be to have the question reside at Ask Patents, but have a mechanism to expose the question on a site with appropriate experts who might be induced to come to Ask Patents to contribute.

  • Won't that better be asked at the Meta Ask Patents site? Mar 30, 2017 at 22:49
  • 2
    I did and it was suggested to post here.
    – Eric S
    Mar 30, 2017 at 22:49
  • 5
    Those types of questions would not be on-topic for the vast majority of sites. Other communities simply wouldn't be interested in maintaining them.
    – animuson StaffMod
    Mar 30, 2017 at 22:54
  • Maybe or maybe not. Many of the requests are for software patents. I do think many software engineers/programmers are interested in shooting bad software patents.
    – Eric S
    Mar 30, 2017 at 22:59
  • How can somebody be an expert in the patent system and it understand how to invalidate a patent or do you mean something else by "expert in the patent system"?
    – Ramhound
    Mar 31, 2017 at 0:35
  • @EricShain meta.stackoverflow.com/q/346236 -- Also, do you have an example of one of these software prior art requests?
    – Jason C
    Mar 31, 2017 at 2:43
  • I don't think prior art would be on topic in most SE sites. Have you considered ways to promote the site, and bring in the experts? ...I think this post might have an XY problem.
    – MTL
    Mar 31, 2017 at 4:25
  • @EricShain Keep an eye on that MSO thread I just linked to, some other interesting ideas are forming in the comments. Also whether or not certain things would be acceptable can depend on the specific community attitude towards the the subject, so you may actually want to flesh this out into a specific set of sites you'd like to attract expertise from, then go ask on their individual metas how to approach it. It's hard to make a general network-wide judgment, e.g. Seasoned Advice will want nothing to do with software patent prior art requests.
    – Jason C
    Mar 31, 2017 at 14:03
  • 1
    @JasonC Here is an example prior art request (better than most): patents.stackexchange.com/questions/16307/…
    – Eric S
    Mar 31, 2017 at 15:00

4 Answers 4


It sounds like what you are seeking are expert opinions on whether prior art already exists for a particular patent application.

I think seeking opinions would be off-topic at all sites except for Software Recommendations and Hardware Recommendations.

Consequently, I think your best option will be to seek those opinions in the chat rooms of the specialist sites. Some may not welcome them but I think most would.

If you do not have the reputation required to make a post in a particular chat room then the person seeking the patent clarification should have the skills to be able to quickly qualify and do so.

The chat message needs to simply say:

Is there a specialist in ... who may be aware of any prior art related to this question from Ask Patents?

In other words pull the specialists to Ask Patents rather than push patents to other sites in order to get the opinions that you seek.

  • 1
    Off hand, this seem to be the best suggestion so far. I'll wait a bit longer, but I'm leaning this way as far as suggesting an approach at AP.
    – Eric S
    Mar 31, 2017 at 15:01

The Ask Patents site is largely inactive with truly "new" questions being a somewhat rare sighting. Most of the activity is very repetitive from misdirected patent browsers asking how a product works, or if a patent is still active… and the #1 question is still: "Where can I get one?"

Of the 186 questions posted this year, 81 have been closed with 56 of them deleted, and another 22 have been summarily removed (mostly spam).

So far this year: One prior art request

Long story short, I wouldn't put any time or resources into trying to resolve this largely defunct issue.

  • Compared to stack overflow sure, but here are enough users that I think it serves its purposes only one of which is prior art searching. The low number of prior art requests is why I don't think it would be too burdensome on other sites. Still there are bad patent applications (especially with respect to software) and lots of expertise in SE.
    – Eric S
    Mar 31, 2017 at 1:44
  • @EricShain Is the expert deficiency that you describe in your OP specific to prior art requests? Or do you see that happening with other types of posts on Ask Patents as well?
    – Jason C
    Mar 31, 2017 at 2:06
  • 3
    @JasonC The problem with software patents is a lot of software prior art isn't other patents. This is where people knowledgeable about software can help point to other examples of relevant prior art. There are plenty of people knowledgeable about the patenting process in AP
    – Eric S
    Mar 31, 2017 at 2:28
  • Well then why not remove that from the description of the site? It's time the site starts matching the actual questions imho
    – DonQuiKong
    Apr 7, 2017 at 21:33

Essentially, this would mean other sites would be subsidizing mindshare Actually, most of this proposal is essentially "How do we get the other sites, to get us the experts we have not attracted yet"

And essentially, this is a matter of getting the word out and letting people know what Ask Patents is about, and there's probably other ways to do it.

I've never seen a Ask Patents community ad on other sites. It would probably be something within the existing framework of the network, and you can tailor the ads to the experts you want to attract.

I also kind of suspect awareness of your site is a little.. suspect. I know of it, sure, but the average person does not. For one, I have no idea how many patents were invalidated by prior art, and there's fairly big chunks of the internet that would happily run stories about a win against a bogus patent.

So, while this is a problem worth solving, we can't really put the whole weight of it into other communities.


So, I agree with the other opinions here about these types of questions being off topic on the rest of the sites. I also agree that chat is a good option for now, although only a small handful of any given sites' users are generally active in chat, if any.

Also even if, say, we somehow decided that they would be on-topic, this would be nearly impossible to implement in practice because even with an announcement, you'd be fighting against this incredible social momentum of those kinds of things having been off-topic for years, not to mention that it's difficult in reality to spread the word about those kinds of things. On SO alone, for example only 6% of recently active users on SO have also visited MSO in the past month.

So I don't think just passing the posts off to other sites is a feasible idea.

That said, I'd like to offer an alternate suggestion. Rather than directing arbitrary requests to other sites as a question, what if:

  • A moderator on AP, upon seeing a prior art request that is not receiving enough input, may mark it as "needs expert input" or whatever you want to call it. Note: See below for an alternate approach that doesn't give anybody the power to "push" questions to the HNQ.

  • When that happens, the question is placed on the HNQ list, shuffled in amongst all the other HNQ's and displayed according to the usual rules. Covered in alternate approach below.

Benefits of leveraging the HNQ:

  • Non-intrusive (unlike e.g. a new sidebar area for AP questions, which sounds good in theory but in practice would essentially require SE to have a major public philosophy shift in support of patent policing, which for the record I totally support but I don't see that realistically happening).
  • Uses an existing site mechanic, no new features or policy changes really need to be explained.
  • Draws general traffic to Ask Patents.
  • Does not require anybody to select a particular site, is exposed to all users of all sites equally.

There is an alternate way to accomplish the above in a fuzzier manner that does not involve AP moderators pushing content to the HNQ (which doesn't seem to be a popular idea). Instead of a mod choosing something, this can be done within the confines of the current HNQ algorithm:

  • This is how the algorithm currently works.
  • There is a per-site traffic adjustment. AP's traffic weight could be increased.
  • Then, a tweak to the algorithm: Give it a per site ability to only select questions with specific tags (in this case, prior-art).

And that's it. In this way, nobody is artificially pushing AP questions to the HNQ. Instead, the same algorithm is used, but AP just gets a bit higher chance of getting a question in there than it currently has, and only prior-art would be candidates (if there's no decent, active prior-art questions, then AP gets no HNQ spot, same deal as every other site right now).

So this still requires good, interesting, well-received posts on the AP side and gives no manual control. It's essentially no change except that it becomes a bit easier for AP questions to end up in the HNQ list (and right now, they're basically never in the list at all, ever).

  • 1
    No. The HNQ is not supposed to work this way and I generally dislike the concept of being able to force content into the HNQ. It really isn't appropriate for one site to be able to inject themselves across the network.
    – Catija
    Mar 31, 2017 at 1:11
  • @Catija I can't see it upsetting any kind of balance in reality, though. I also don't view it as inappropriate, for this site, for this situation, and given that AP questions, unlike the rest of the sites, pretty much never get any time in the HNQ.
    – Jason C
    Mar 31, 2017 at 1:13
  • I suspect the problem is that Ask Patents would thus be empowered to bump some questions from the other 160 or so sites which might otherwise benefit from HNQ exposure.
    – PolyGeo
    Mar 31, 2017 at 1:15
  • @PolyGeo In reality, I can't see that tangibly affecting traffic to other sites. AP is one of those 160 sites that might otherwise benefit from that exposure (but currently doesn't, in practice). Plus, if a priority is to not bump sites that would benefit, a stronger argument along those lines could be made to drop sites that don't need the exposure (like SO or SU) out of the HNQ entirely, but nobody makes that argument (nor should they, we're generally OK with e.g. SO bumping questions from sites that could benefit from the exposure). So, I don't see that as a convincing factor here.
    – Jason C
    Mar 31, 2017 at 1:19
  • The two sites I moderate would love more HNQ exposure for their questions, especially the one that is in Beta.
    – PolyGeo
    Mar 31, 2017 at 1:24
  • @PolyGeo The presence / absence of AP in the HNQ has no effect on the lack of exposure those sites are currently getting. Also keep in mind that at any given time there are many candidates for the HNQ, only a random subset is chosen. An AP question wouldn't really bump anybody else out in any significant way, the next page a user goes to would just show a different random subset. Same as any other site in that list. I mean, you're argument also amounts to never wanting to let any new sites in the HNQ ever again. This is not an AP-specific issue.
    – Jason C
    Mar 31, 2017 at 1:32
  • @PolyGeo See also stackexchange.com (click the 'hot' tab) for the first few hundred in the candidate list of what's randomly displayed on each page load. If you imagine adding one AP question there, the effect is not so large. Essentially, no matter how many questions are on the HNQ, virtually every user sees all of them as they navigate through a site. Adding one from AP would not prevent any of the other questions from being shown to the same users. Did you ever reload a page on here and see a couple of questions reappear in the HNQ after that reload? Replace one with AP.
    – Jason C
    Mar 31, 2017 at 1:34
  • I'm not disputing that the effect is tiny but why should AP get that sniff of HNQ rather than a question from my Beta site?
    – PolyGeo
    Mar 31, 2017 at 1:37
  • @PolyGeo There is no "rather than". If you want to make a feature request that involves giving your beta sites more exposure on the HNQ, then you should go do it (it seems like a fine request). That is unrelated to this. We're not faced with some choice between AP vs your sites pushing questions to the HNQ here. The two things are completely orthogonal. You could even combine them into one bigger request: Let all sites who haven't had an HNQ in a while have more weight in the HNQ. Then the only thing different about AP would be a filter for prior art requests only.
    – Jason C
    Mar 31, 2017 at 1:39
  • I'm only mentioning my site as part of saying that every other site has any appearances on HNQ selected by precisely the same algorithm (as I understand it).
    – PolyGeo
    Mar 31, 2017 at 1:44
  • @PolyGeo Yeah. That's how it currently works. There is one per-site parameter in the algorithm AFAIK: per-site traffic weight is artificially scaled back to keep e.g. SO from dominating the list. Within the confines of that algorithm you could simply scale up the traffic weight for AP / beta sites. Then the only change becomes the ability to add a tag-based filter of some sort. Doing that, you could drop the part of my idea where a mod explicitly marks something, and instead just make it way easier for a prior art request tagged post on AP to make it to the HNQ using the current algorithm.
    – Jason C
    Mar 31, 2017 at 1:50
  • @Catija Check out the alternate approach I just appended to the answer.
    – Jason C
    Mar 31, 2017 at 1:57
  • Also, as Robert Cartaino notes, there's been only one prior art request so far this year. I mean, even if all prior art requests on AP were just automatically pushed to the HNQ (not a suggestion, just an example), it wouldn't really affect anything else...
    – Jason C
    Mar 31, 2017 at 2:04
  • You may want to post something like "Give HNQ a per site ability to only select questions with specific tags" as a Meta SE question tagged feature-request.
    – PolyGeo
    Mar 31, 2017 at 2:08
  • @PolyGeo Yeah. I'm rolling it in to this one for now, I actually do not support exposing that ability to moderators of all sites, for various reasons outside the scope of these comments. My current purpose of describing it here is that SE would have to add support for it since it's not currently part of the algorithm (afaik), but that it would still be SE controlled, and not generally tweaked except for very specific situations (like this one). (Although Puzzling would certainly be happy with it.)
    – Jason C
    Mar 31, 2017 at 2:11

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