Farhad Manjoo of Slate describes the brilliant business model of Article One Partners, founded by patent attorney Cheryl Milone. One of the reasons it is so difficult to fight so-called “patent trolls,” non-practicing entities that accumulate patents of dubious merit to extract resources from productive business enterprises, to put it somewhat polemically, is that invalidating patents by proving “prior art,” i.e., that the “innovation” in question had been in use before the patent in question was filed, is very labor-intensive. And so Milone embraced crowd-sourcing to get the job done:
In 2008, she founded Article One Partners, a firm that invites amateurs to look for prior art and rewards successful researchers with cash. Over the last few years, Article One Partners has helped hundreds of companies discover prior art to defend against “nonpracticing entities”—jargon for patent trolls—and to protect themselves in new areas of innovation.
All those searches have resulted in a great deal of winnings. Article One recently announced that it has paid out $2 million in rewards to researchers. Some members of its patent-sleuthing community have even gone full time. A Canadian woman named Stacey Anderson-Redick, a former computer network administrator, is the site’s top earner. She’s made $75,000 in total patent-search winnings.
Why does Article One’s model result in better patent searches for clients? Milone cites several advantages. First, patent-search contests can attract researchers from all over the world, which is important because prior art found in any language anywhere on the planet is usually applicable in court. Second, because Article One’s search inquiries go out to a large crowd, there’s a good chance that someone in the group can solve a problem without needing to search for the solution.
Recently, a friend reminded me of Linus’ Law: “given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.”