Frequently Asked Questions
What is Ask Patents?
Ask Patents is a collaboratively edited Q&A platform for patent experts, inventors and citizens who wish to participate in the US patent process.
The primary purpase of Ask Patents is to help individuals:
- Solicit help to find Prior Art for US Patent Applications
- Get answers to hard questions about specific patent claims
- Ask questions about the US patent system or process
Any individual is free to post a "Request for Prior Art" for a US Patent Application. Prior Art found on Ask Patents will be presented to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
As a community we believe that identifying overly-broad patent applications and presenting relevant Prior Art to the USPTO will result in fewer patents being issued with overly-broad or obvious claims.
Ask Patents was designed in collaboration with the USPTO and Peer To Patent, whose efforts empowering citizens to help find prior art inspired the crowdsourced approach you see here. We also worked with Google to leverage the power of Google Patents Search and their new Prior Art Finder Tool.
On September 16th, 2012, the America Invents Act (AIA) became law. The AIA is a bipartisan bill with four goals:
- Establish a fast track option to get Patents processed within 12 months
- Reduce the current backlog
- Reduce patent litigation
- Increase patent quality.
To achieve those goals, it’s crucial that Patent Examiners can quickly find any prior art that would apply to an application.
Three new resources now work together to help achieve that goal:
Ask Patents is here to help interested parties ask questions about what type of prior art might be relevant, and to ask for examples of relevant prior art of which the community may be aware.
Google Patents is helping with prior art browsing and discovery. Google’s new Prior Art Finder searches for relevant inventions that precede the publication of a pending patent application. Hit “Discuss” at any patent or application on Google Patents and you’ll arrive at Ask Patents, where you can view questions about the invention or prior art or ask your own.
The USPTO Prior Art Submission Site, scheduled for launch on September 16, 2012, will deliver prior art directly to examiners at the USPTO. While it is possible for patent examiners to search Patents - Stack Exchange for prior art submissions related to a specific patent, the best way to make sure your discoveries are included in the review process is to submit them directly to the USPTO.
What questions can I ask here?
The 3 types of questions you can ask here are those about:
Prior art for a US patent application, whether anyone knows of any that might exist, or whether something you’ve found would qualify
US patent law or the patent approval process
Specific aspects or interpretations of a particular patent claim
If you have a question about the site itself, please ask it in meta.
Some good example questions:
… About specific examples of prior art:
Important: All prior art questions must show that you have put in effort to find and understand the prior art that you are looking for. Questions like, “US8675309 - any prior art out there?” will be closed unless they also include details of what you’re looking for, or what you’ve already done to search.
- "CALL FOR PRIOR ART: Have you seen anything (published before December 09, 2010) that describes the transparency degree setting in this US Patent Application from Nintendo?"
- "CALL FOR PRIOR ART: Have you seen anything (published before September 12, 2011) that discusses (1) scale factors; (2) scale factor sets; AND (3) pixel density range in the manner described in this US Patent Application from Microsoft?
- “There must be prior art for US20120093958. I have done Google ArtFinder and Keyword Searches at the USPTO. Where can I find it?”
… About the US Patent Process:
- “What is the difference between a disclosure document and a provisional application?”
- “Are there guidelines to determine what makes a patent obvious?”
- “Can a YouTube video qualify as prior art?”
… About specific patents or applications:
- “What is the key inventive step of US5640541?”
- “How is US493841. not an obvious improvement upon US3306512?”
- “What is novel about the invention described in application US20120093958?”
“Why does claim 1 of US493841. say the invention is ‘edible’ if it is later described as being made of “webbed” or “laminated” paper?”
What should I NOT ask here?
To keep the Q&A productive, please try to avoid asking questions that…
- Are argumentative or overly opinionated
- Provoke endless discussion or ongoing back-and-forth
- Provide prior art without explanation of relevance
- Seek prior art, but show little effort trying to find it
Other questions you should avoid are those…
relating to trademarks, service marks or copyrights — unless your question relates specifically to how those topics influence the patent system.
with unreasonably broad scope. If you can imagine an entire book that answers your question, you’re asking too much.
with unreasonably narrow scope (‘too localized’), e.g. “Is the sippycup my neighbor’s kid has at my picnic right now covered by any design patents?”
that are requests for legal or governmental advice. If you want to know how something related to patents works, you’re in the right place. If you’re looking for a legal opinion or formal assurances, you’re not.
that are subjective. Subjective questions include those where…
every answer is equally valid: “What’s your favorite utility patent?”
your answer is provided along with the question, and you expect more answers: “I use Balsamiq for mocking up my application illustrations; what do you use?”
there is no actual problem to be solved: “I’m curious if other people feel like Mark Cuban does about patents.”
your question is open-ended, or hypothetical: “What if they banned software patents outright?”
your post is a rant disguised as a question: “Wouldn’t we all be better off if there was no such thing as fishing lure patents?”
What do I need to do to ask a good question?
Search for similar questions. Use the site search feature to make sure no one has already asked a similar question. If you’re asking about a specific patent, you can see any other questions about that patent by doing a tag search. Tag search format simply has brackets surrounding the tag name, like this: [US3141592]
Use a model question. For example, requests for prior art for a patent application should follow the form of RFPAs as closely as possible, as explained here: What should an ideal prior art request look like
Show the community you’ve thought about it. Tell us what you already know in the body of your question. When you post a new question, other users, including civilian experts and those at the USPTO, will see your question and hopefully attempt to provide good answers. The more you can do to include relevant details such as patent numbers, publication numbers, links to prior art, and links to patents and applications at Google Patents, the more likely it is that others will be able to help you.
Additionally, questions about specific patents or applications should be tagged with the relevant patent number (for approved patents) or publication number (for applications). See “How do I use tag?” for more.
Patent numbers (e.g. US5640541) - A patent number is a 7-digit ID (preceded by country code) given to a patent that has been granted by the USPTO. A patent number can be found on the first page of a granted patent or in the left panel of a patent viewed at Google Patents.
Publication numbers (e.g. US2012013973 or US 2012/013973 A1) - A publication number is an 11-digit ID given to a pending patent application when it is published. The country code precedes the publication number, with the first four digits representing the year of publication. If an application is published for the first time, it will be appended with an “A1”. If it has been republished it will be appended with an “A2”. If it has been published and corrected it will be appended by an “A9”.
Link to Google Patents - To help the community help you, be sure to hyperlink or include the URL of the patents and applications in Google’s database that are relevant to your question. Google Patents structures its URLs in a straightforward convention: www.google.com/patents/[patent ID]
How do I use tags?
Every Ask Patents question is required to have at least one tag. Tags are how we group, order, and find questions, so that users can search for specific question types.
So, if you’re only interested in questions that relate to software, you can simply search the site for software.
But how do you determine which tags are correct for your question?
First, 3 Rules:
- If you mention a US or EPO patent in your question, include its patent number as a tag with "US" or "EP" at the front. For example, use tag us7222078 for US Patent 7222078.
- If you mention a patent application in your question, include its publication number as a tag
- If you seek or propose prior art in your question, include the tag prior-art
Otherwise, tagging is up to you.
But we have a few suggestions...
Include the inventor or assignee as a tag if you think that information is relevant to your question
Include the class or subclass of the invention or inventions mentioned in your question
Include the tag [USPTO] if your question pertains to the way the US Patent & Trademark Office issues patents
Include the tag [software] if you are asking about a software patent. Include the tag [fishing-lures] if you are asking about a fishing lure patent. Include the tag that you think most intuitively describes the patent or application mentioned in your question.
Include the tag that you want your question to be associated with. This will help others with similar interests find and answer your question.
Questions can include a maximum of 5 tags. Combine multiple words into a single tag with dashes.
What is prior art?
Prior art is the body of public knowledge that patent examiners (and you) can sift through to determine whether a patent application describes a new and nonobvious invention.
Prior art can take many forms, from patents granted in the 1800s, to diagrams published in foreign scientific journals. High quality prior art, described accurately and submitted to the USPTO is one of the most important things that determine whether a patent is granted.
But what is good prior art?
Good prior art is prior art that is significant to the patent’s claims. To demonstrate this, when you submit prior art to the USPTO, the examiners ask that you submit a short description (no more than a paragraph) that describes the significance of your submission. That should generally include:
- What is it? (Link or attach)
- When was it published?
- What, specifically, did it do first?
Relevant prior art must prove that an infringing application or patent breaches one of 2 tenets of patent law: novelty and non-obviousness. It either proves a patent or application describes an old idea, or it that it is an obvious innovation on the old idea.
Novelty is fairly straightforward. Non-obviousness is not. What’s obvious to you is not obvious to someone else. A non-obvious patent is a patent that takes a substantial leap into the future from the “state of the art” that precedes it. Wikipedia — which is sometimes used by examiners to get an overview of a class of inventions — puts it well:
One of the main requirements of patentability is that the invention being patented is not obvious, meaning that a “person having ordinary skill in the art” would not know how to solve the problem at which the invention is directed by using exactly the same mechanism.
You may have to read that more than once. The gist: find prior art that shares a mechanism and solves the same problem as a patent, and you may have found a good reason that patent should not be granted.
I found prior art. Now what?
You want to stop a patent from being granted in error? Finding prior art is just step one. Succinctly describing its significance is step two, and submitting it to the USPTO is step three. While patent examiners can search this site, the best way to ensure they see your discovery is to submit it using the USPTO electronic filing system.
If you've proposed useful prior art at Ask Patents, there's a good chance a USPTO patent examiner will find that prior art when he or she examines the application in question.
However, to be sure that your prior art counts, submit it to the USPTO.
If you’re going to make a submission, make sure it counts. It’s important to only submit art that seems likely to be relevant. (If you’re not sure, ask a new question about the relevance here on Ask Patents.) The goal is to make a meaningful contribution, not spam a patent examiner’s inbox. You can only submit 3 examples of prior art per patent application before the USPTO charges you a fee.
This Meta post has step-by-step instructions for how to submit prior art to the Patent Office.
Can I get legal advice or official government positions here?
No. This website does not provide legal advice and is not an official government site. While our users may well be lawyers, they are not your lawyers, and their posts are not legal advice. Similarly, while our users may well be government officials, they are here to educate the public and provide citizens a voice, not to change or establish the government’s position on any issue.
How do I ask questions here?
When you post a new question, other users will almost immediately see it and try to provide good answers. This often happens in a matter of minutes, so be sure to check back frequently when your question is still new for the best response.
Answers to your questions and comment replies to your posts will appear as a red indicator in your global inbox at the top left of every page; click it to view them.
If your question needs clarification, you will see comments in smaller type below your question.
If other users ask you for more information in the comments, edit your question using the edit link just below your original question.
Providing clarification promptly will help get you the best answers.
As you see new answers to your question, vote up the helpful ones by clicking the upward pointing arrow to the left of the answer.
Answers are normally sorted by vote score so the most highly voted answers float to the top. Other users will also vote on the answers to your question.
When you have decided which answer is the most helpful to you, mark it as the accepted answer by clicking on the check box outline to the left of the answer.
This lets other people know that you have received a good answer to your question. Doing this is helpful because it shows other people that you’re getting value from the community. (And if you don’t do this, people will often politely ask you to go back and accept answers for more of your questions!)
Civility is required at all times; rudeness will not be tolerated.
Treat others with the same respect you’d want them to treat you. We’re all here to learn together. Be tolerant of others who may not know everything you know. Bring your sense of humor.
Do I have to log in or create an account?
You can ask questions, answer, and suggest edits as an anonymous user, much like Wikipedia. There are some things you won’t be able to do on the site without registering, such as vote. But it’s easy to register.
What is reputation?
Reputation is a rough measurement of how much the community trusts you; it is earned by convincing your peers that you know what you’re talking about. Basic use of the site, including asking questions, answering, and suggesting edits, does not require any reputation at all. But the more reputation you earn, the more privileges you gain.
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A maximum of 40 votes can be cast per user per day, however, to reach the maximum you must vote on at least 10 questions. You can earn a maximum of 200 reputation per day. Please note that votes for posts marked “community wiki” do not generate any reputation, while accepted answers and bounty awards are not subject to the daily reputation limit.
The other way to gain reputation is by suggesting edits to existing posts as a new registered user. Each edit will be peer reviewed, and if it is accepted, you will earn +2 reputation. You can only earn a maximum of +1000 total reputation through suggested edits, however.
Amass enough reputation points and you will be granted additional privileges:
(note that reputation requirements have been relaxed slightly for the duration of the public beta)
If you are an experienced Stack Exchange network user with 200 or more reputation on at least one site, you will receive a starting +100 reputation bonus to get you past basic new user restrictions. This will happen automatically on all current Stack Exchange sites where you have an account, and on any other Stack Exchange sites at the time you log in.
At the high end of this reputation spectrum there is little difference between users with high reputation and ♦ moderators. That is very much intentional. We don’t run this site. The community does.
What if I don’t get a good answer?
First, make sure you’ve asked a good question. To get better answers, you may need to put additional effort into your question. Edit your question to provide status and progress updates. Document your own continued efforts to answer your question. This will naturally bump your question and get more people interested in it.
If, despite your best efforts, you feel questions aren’t getting good answers, you can help by offering a bounty.
Slice off anywhere from +50 to +500 of your own hard-earned reputation and attach it to any question as a bounty.
The bountied question will appear with a special indicator in all question lists, and it will also be visible on the home page Featured tab for 7 days.
Click the bounty award icon next to each answer to permanently award your bounty to the answerer.
There are a few other rules around bounties:
- Questions must be at least 2 days old to be eligible for a bounty. There can only be 1 active bounty per question at any given time.
- Users must have at least 75 reputation to offer a bounty, and may only have a maximum of 3 active bounties at any given time.
- The bounty period lasts 7 days. Bounties must have a minimum duration of at least 1 day. After the bounty ends, there is a grace period of 24 hours to manually award the bounty.
- If you do not award your bounty within 7 days (plus the grace period), the highest voted answer created after the bounty started with at least 2 upvotes will be awarded half the bounty amount. If there's no answer meeting that criteria, the bounty is not awarded to anyone.
- If the bounty was started by the question owner, and the question owner accepts an answer during the bounty period, and the bounty expires without an explicit award – we assume the bounty owner liked the answer they accepted and award it the full bounty amount at the time of bounty expiration.
In any case, you will always give up the amount of reputation specified in the bounty, so if you start a bounty, be sure to follow up and award your bounty to the best answer!
As an additional bonus, bounty awards are immune to the daily reputation cap and community wiki mode.
Why are some questions closed?
Questions that are not a good fit for this site may be voted closed by experienced community members. Closed questions cannot be answered, but are eligible for improvement (and eventual re-opening) through editing, voting, and commenting. See How to Ask for guidance on editing your question to improve it.
Common reasons a question may be closed include:
This question covers exactly the same content as earlier questions on this topic; its answers may be merged with another identical question.
Questions on Ask Patents are expected to relate to patents within the scope defined in the FAQ. Consider editing the question or leaving comments for improvement if you believe the question can be reworded to fit within the scope. Read more about closed questions here.
As it currently stands, this question is not a good fit for our Q&A format. We expect answers to be supported by facts, references, or specific expertise, but this question will likely solicit debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion. If you feel that this question can be improved and possibly reopened, see the FAQ for guidance.
not a real question
It's difficult to tell what is being asked here. This question is ambiguous, vague, incomplete, overly broad, or rhetorical and cannot be reasonably answered in its current form. For help clarifying this question so that it can be reopened, see the FAQ.
This question is unlikely to help any future visitors; it is only relevant to a small geographic area, a specific moment in time, or an extraordinarily narrow situation that is not generally applicable to the worldwide audience of the internet. For help making this question more broadly applicable, see the FAQ.
Users with 250 reputation can cast up to 24 close votes per day. When a question reaches 5 close votes, it is marked as closed, and will no longer accept answers. Closed questions may be opened by casting reopen votes in the same manner. However, you may only vote to close or reopen a question once.
Why are some questions or answers removed?
Questions that are extremely off topic, or of very low quality, may be removed at the discretion of the community and moderators.
Over time, closed questions that are not useful as signpoints to other questions may also be removed, as well as questions which have no significant activity over a very long period after being asked. For additional guidance, see How to Ask.
Answers that do not fundamentally answer the question may be removed. This includes answers that are …
- commentary on the question or other answers
- asking another, different question
- “thanks!” or “me too!” responses
- exact duplicates of other answers
- barely more than a link to an external site
- not even a partial answer to the actual question
If you wish to improve an existing answer, click edit. For additional guidance, see How to Answer.
What if I see bad things happening?
Each post and comment has a small flag link. Click the flag link to let us know about problems and we'll follow up.
We actively moderate our community, but we need your help to do so. Anything that is getting consistently flagged by our community members will be investigated and followed up on. And of course you can always email us directly if you feel the matter is urgent.
Most importantly, don't feed the trolls! Replying to abusive, off-topic, or inappropriate content only encourages it – whereas flagging allows removal without providing undue attention.
Can I use a signature or tagline?
Please don’t use signatures or taglines in your posts, or they will be removed.
Every post you make is already “signed” with your standard user card, which links directly back to your user page.
Your user page belongs to you — fill it with information about your interests, links to stuff you’ve worked on, or whatever else you like!
Other people can edit my posts?!
All contributions are licensed under Creative Commons and this site is collaboratively edited, like Wikipedia. If you see something that needs improvement, click edit and help us make it so!
All edits are tracked in a public revision history. To view revisions, click the edit date on the post.
If you are not comfortable with the idea of your contributions being collaboratively edited by other trusted users, this may not be the site for you.
May I promote products or websites I am affiliated with here?
Be careful, because the community frowns on overt self-promotion and tends to vote it down and flag it as spam. Post good, relevant answers, and if some (but not all) happen to be about your product or website, so be it. However, you must disclose your affiliation in your answers.
If a huge percentage of your posts include a mention of your product or website, you're probably here for the wrong reasons. Our advertising rates are quite reasonable; contact our ad sales team for details. We also offer free community promotion ads for open source projects and non-profit organizations.
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