It's widely accepted that the United States patent system is broken. Alexander Reben agrees, and his response has been to create a website that aims to make it harder for people to patent new ideas. His website, All Prior Art, is an attempt to "democratize ideas, provide an impetus for change in the antiquated patent system, and to preempt patent trolls". To achieve that, the website uses algorithms to generate new prior art which it publishes under a Creative Commons licence — thereby making the concepts harder to patent. He explains how it works:
The system works by pulling text from the entire database of US issued and published (un-approved) patents and creating prior art from the patent language. While most inventions generated will be nonsensical, the cost to computationally create and publish millions of ideas is nearly zero — which allows for a higher probability of possible valid prior art...
The particular Creative Commons licence was chosen to prevent commercial use of the text along with restricting derivatives, since the point of the prior art is to be publicly published unmodified as it is to be a valid reference point. If you want to do something interesting with this data and for some reason this licence does not work for you, please contact me.
He's right when he says some of the results are non-sensical. Here's one example:
Switch sample metadata defining switch sample sets associated with multimedia data is created. The clamp may include a housing, a rod clamping assembly, and a bone anchor clamping assembly. Upon transmission of a driving force to the rotary shaft, the fan blades and hub are rotated to cool the engine driven generator. The invention further relates to the inbred and hybrid genetic complements of plants of variety CV971868.
Right. There are plenty that seem believable though — about everything from plasma spraying and hard disk drives to immunisation and rotary drilling instruments.
It's not the best way to fix the patent system, of course. But it is a rather silly one.
Image by Amber Case