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Bounty for those who can disprove patent claims

A US start-up, BountyQuest, has launched a web site offering payments to those who can prove or disprove patent claims and providing a means to settling patent disputes between companies. The company hopes to exploit the concerns of those who feel that the US Patent Office is failing to serve the new economy.23 Oct 2000

BountyQuest encourages scientists, engineers, professional researchers or any people with specialised knowledge to find evidence critical to issues of patent validity and share this information with companies involved in patent disputes.

Currently, US companies spend $4 billion per year investigating the validity of patents, frequently after being sued for violating a patent they believe does not represent true innovation.

Before awarding a patent, the US Patent Office does its best to search for "prior art," or evidence that helps determine whether the invention or process in question is actually new. However, because these examinations are largely limited to information held in databases or listed on the internet, they may not capture relevant knowledge that exists in off-line publications and papers, or in other on-line resources.

BountyQuest essentially creates a human search engine of knowledgeable "Bounty Hunters" who track down this type of fugitive information for cash rewards. BountyQuest rewards start at $10,000 and could go higher than $1 million, depending on the value of the information to the company searching for it.

After a Bounty Hunter submits information related to a posting, BountyQuest will work with the company that posted the bounty to determine whether the submission meets the necessary criteria.

All bounties will be held in escrow by BountyQuest and paid to the first Bounty Hunter who submits complete, matching information

"Patents are a double-edged sword. While they encourage creativity and the introduction of new products that improve lives, they can also stifle competition, particularly when they don't represent genuine innovation," says Charles Cella, founder and CEO of BountyQuest and a former patent lawyer.

"Finding information related to patent validity can be like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack it could be written in another language, published in an out-of-date technical manual, or hidden amongst other data on an obscure web site."

"BountyQuest taps into the world's knowledge market to uncover this hard-to-find information, which can be used not only to weed out bad patents, but also to validate good ones," Cella said.

Among the investors in the start-up are Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos and publisher Tim O’Reilly, both of whom engaged in well-publicised debates over the issue of business method patents following Amazon.com’s decision to sue Barnes & Noble.com for alleged infringement of its 1-Click shopping method patent.