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I have lots of ideas and, not expecting them to be unique or profitable (or knowing how to profit from them), I discuss them online, expecting the information to be helpful to others or expecting others to help me develop them further.

Later, I've found very similar ideas patented at a date after my public discussions. (Not that I think they directly copied me, it was likely just multiple invention.)

Considering I'm not going to spend money trying to defend something I never intended to profit from in the first place, is there anything I can do to invalidate the patent so no one has an exclusive right to it, or at least help weaken it?

These are probably weak prior art, though. (Postings on forums or now-defunct wikis, Google Docs, etc., all seen by only a handful of people...) How much detail would my postings need to be considered prior art? What if, in private, I had sufficiently detailed the workings to constitute prior art, but my public postings didn't contain enough detail?

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To qualify as prior art, a reference needs a verifiable date attached to it. Depending on the provenance, a blog posting might suffice in and of itself. Even if it fails, the content of the blog post might lead to other published material that does qualify as prior art.

Also, the proposed prior art has to be "published." Publication means that it is (somehow and reasonably) available to the public.

Think of it this way: the bargain the government offers to an inventor is exclusive rights to his invention in exchange to revealing that invention (which would presumably remain secret otherwise) to the public. If the invention is already known to the public - because it has been published - then the inventor is not upholding his end of the deal. But if the invention was already know to only a select few - who were keeping it secret (whether intentionally or unintentionally) - the inventor is aiding the public by exposing the details of his invention through publication of his patent.

Your generosity in offering your insights to the public is commendable, but could be ineffective as prior art if it is not verifiably prior to the invention date or if it is not actually published.

I should add that a lot of material that may at first blush seem to be prior art is not sufficiently specific to communicate the same material as a well-crafted patent. I have not encountered a patent that was awarded on a general idea. Unless a blog post gets into the nitty gritty of a truly new device or method, it is unlikely to be sufficient to take out an issued patent.

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Considering I'm not going to spend money trying to defend something I never intended to profit from in the first place, is there anything I can do to invalidate the patent so no one has an exclusive right to it, or at least help weaken it?

The short answer is yes, but only by investing a decent amount of money in the process with no guarantee of success - something that doesn't seem particularly practical for someone in your position. (There is a really good explanation of the various options here.)

That being said, writing a detailed post on a site like this one, citing the patents, linking to your sources to the extent they're still available, and asking if others here are aware of other prior art, could certainly make a difference if the patent owners ever try to enforce them.

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So, like, do one of these and then answer it myself? –  endolith Oct 6 '12 at 19:12
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Exactly, although there's no need to answer it separately of course - just explain the prior art you already know about in your post and see if anyone knows of any more - who knows, maybe there are anticipatory references out there that predate your 'invention' date too. –  Jay Smith-Hill Oct 6 '12 at 19:26
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