Crowdsourcing and Intellectual Property: From open-ended bounties to targeted IP strategy

Eric Baer 20 Jun 2022 5 mins
RWS Crowdsourcing
To stimulate proactive participation in market research, awards, prizes and success fees (especially in Crowdsourcing research), have all been used to solve difficult problems for centuries. This longstanding tradition continues today largely credited to the success of the model and its ability to solve difficult problems and questions. For example, technology companies and even the U.S. Department of Defense (see ‘Hack the Pentagon’) are enticing hackers to track down bugs and test their defenses in ways that traditional methods might have missed.  In the Intellectual Property (IP) world, companies such as RWS use similar rewards and methodologies to locate hard-to-find prior art, especially non-patent literature, that traditional methods may not uncover.

Surveying the field of crowdsourcing

Prizes or success-based awards have proven an effective way to solve hard problems. One of the first large-scale examples, deploying a prize based reward scheme, was when the UK government employed this method to solve the problem of calculating longitude while at sea (see ‘The Longitude prize’). The winner used an ingenious strategy that the “experts” of the day had not dreamed of, even after years of trying. Unique problems can benefit from the combinations of skills and experiences of a large scale ‘crowd’. Even the lack of some experiences (which create limiting paradigms) can be an advantage, as the Longitude challenge demonstrated. Today, this problem-solving technique is used by companies and governments to scour the world for needed innovation in the intellectual property space.  
In the tech world, ‘Bug Bounties’ have emerged as a tried and tested way that technology companies can work to get ahead of the next embarrassing and costly security breach. Google, Apple, Microsoft, and many others offer large prizes for previously unknown exploitations and vulnerabilities of their systems.  Of course, these companies also have traditional testing and security teams, but a prize system will often discover unique strategies for finding the weaknesses in these systems.   
The crowdsourced testing industry is thriving on real world testing where many novel testing strategies are used to earn smaller payments. Depending on resources, some companies choose to run their own programs, but companies of almost any size can run bug detection programs on third party platforms, such as HackerOne.
Crowdsourcing has also proven effective in the world of intellectual property (IP) where it is now used for multiple use cases.

Crowdsourcing in intellectual property

Twenty years ago, a company called Bountyquest pioneered the concept of prior art bounties.  An initial challenge was funded by technology author Tim O’Reilly to invalidate the Amazon patent for one-click ordering online. The prize stimulated interest in patent reform for software patents and helped to change the patent system. Although their initial “bounty” model was still in its formative stages, it provided a necessary business case that crowdsourcing demanded a serious consideration with respect to its applications to intellectual property.
Article One Partners (now a part of RWS) followed with a mission to improve patent quality through better prior art and an improved compensation model that paid out for every challenge presented to the “crowd.”  Article One Partners pioneered a platform to allow anyone to access prior art research contests on-demand.  Like the technology industry, RWS’s crowd-based search models have become time-tested methods to help companies and law firms to take advantage of the unique skills and access that only a crowd can deliver.
RWS’s crowd-based searches allow for a client to post a challenge to the 40,000+ crowd of patent researchers and pay the best researcher(s) for their responses. The initial use case was to help clients invalidate poor quality patents by finding a “silver bullet” piece of prior art, demonstrating that the invention was not unique at the time of filing. Since then, it has branched into an effective tool for competitive landscaping, providing “evidence of use” of patented technology in products that exist in the marketplace, performing market surveys to find products or to test compliance on product markings/trademarks and more. With the size, flexibility and experience of both RWS’s crowd and its search management team, the now mature model allows the searches to scale to the needs of the client.
When these sorts of challenges are presented to our crowd, you can leverage incredibly unique combinations of education, experiences, cultural backgrounds, and personal interests that you would never have known to exist let alone considered to solve your problem. While conventional wisdom would have you assess personal profiles and CVs for formal education and experience, the Longitude Prize referenced earlier demonstrates that this can actually limit your ability to solve a problem by excluding exactly the person you need because the solution is not found in traditional skills and information.
More importantly, a mature crowd-based search model, such as RWS’s, is no more complicated than a traditional search in terms of receiving your results or formulating the parameters of your search. Both the crowd-based and traditional searches offered by RWS are delivered and administered through our easy-to-access web-based AOP Connect platform. With over a decade of IP-focused crowd-based patent search experience, RWS has developed multiple novel solutions to streamline your patent searching experience, ensuring the best results and most cost-effective methods are applied to your unique set of search parameters. A cross section of both leading-edge technology and the professional experience of our search management and internal search teams places RWS in the best position to deliver a search experience that is unparalleled in terms of quality and transparency, guiding your search each step of the way.
Talk to RWS today to learn how we can help improve your success with intellectual property and prior art search challenges, whether it be for IPRs, litigation or patent troll defense, or even finding new ways to monetize and approach how you review your portfolio.
Eric Baer

Eric Baer

Vice President, Product, IP Research
RWS IP Services
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