Computer prior art

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From: Tim O'Reilly (
Date: Sun Mar 12 2000 - 08:58:50 PST

> Subject: Re: An Open Letter From Jeff Bezos on Patents
> From: Rodent of Unusual Size <Ken.Coar@Golux.Com>
> Date: Sat, 11 Mar 2000 07:48:54 -0500

> To: Adam Rifkin -4K <>
> cc:
> Subject: Re: An Open Letter From Jeff Bezos on Patents
> In-Reply-To: <>
> Message-ID: <>
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> Content-Type: TEXT/PLAIN; charset=US-ASCII
> On Fri, 10 Mar 2000, Adam Rifkin -4K wrote:
> > > On a related issue, to further try to help with the prior art problem,
> > > I've also agreed to help fund a prior art database. This was Tim's idea,
> > > and I'm grateful for it. Tim is poking around to find the right people
> > > to run with that project.
> Such a thing already exists at least for software patents, it's the ACM
> Digital Library. -
> It's by far the most extensive and complete source of information on
> computer sciences in existance. Maybe, just maybe, 1 in 1,000 patent
> applications would make it through this prior art database.
> If Jeff Bezos and Tim O'Reilly are really serious about this idea, I
> would hope they would consider funding the ACM Digital Library project
> in some significant manner while keeping a hands off approach.
> Hopefully some FoRK member has the connections to forward this in a
> manner Jeff and Tim will read it.
> - Adam L. Beberg
> The Cosm Project -
> -

Well, for starters, the ACM has made this very hard to use, with charges
for retrieved information. I "joined" as a non-member, but still had my
search of abstracts denied. Maybe I'm just not figuring out how to work
the maze, but this sure isn't an "internet era" public resource such as
I had in mind, as currently constructed.It would be great if the ACM
made this database freely searchable by the public (including the PTO)
rather than trying to extract revenue from it. And then they could turn
loose some hackers on building a better interface. It may be that the
ACM feels that they'd need some kind of underwriting to free this up,
and if so, I'd be interested in knowing just how much money they think
they'd need.

But beyond that, I don't think that this database goes far enough. It
seems to contain only "published" materials. Not all advances are
accompanied by published articles. In the case of the web, the web
itself is the visible prior art.

What I had in mind was:

1. Something that included the kind of material that is in the ACM
digital library
2. Bodies of publically available computer documentation and computer
3. Perhaps a metacatalog of the various "prior art" databases of
various patent consultants, like Greg Aharonian. Basically, these folks
have done a lot of spadework themselves, but it's all in a patchwork of
databases held by for-pay consultants rather than publically searchable.
4. A public comment database that would allow for submissions related
to existing patents, of the form, "I/Joe Blow did something like that in
1996; here are some supporting documents (code, sample web pages, email
messages describing what was done). A lot of this material might not be
immediately actionable, but it would at least provide leads for further
search. If this were accompanied by a news/activism site that brought
the spotlight onto particular areas, and recruited people knowledgeable
about those areas as reviewers, we could create a kind of open source
process for patents. It would be ideal if patents-pending were put up
for comment before they were issued, but I bet this would be useful even
after the patents were issued, since knowing that there would be public
comment and scrutiny might well raise the bar on obvious or non-novel

Obviously, there's a great deal to think about here. I'm a total
parvenu in this space. I'm glad to be educated about what resources are
out there. I do know that for a solution to work, it needs to be open
as a true internet resource, a harnessing of the collective intelligence
of the software community, and not just a document repository.

Tim O'Reilly @ O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.
101 Morris Street, Sebastopol, CA 95472
+1 707-829-0515, FAX +1 707-829-0104,

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