Positive news about the U.S. patent system today is a rare find, but not all hope is lost.
Google has put its search technology to good use and has extended its patent search site with a "Prior Art Finder". The implication is, of course, to help those who are filing patents to credit appropriately and help them define their patent and judge whether they should really file the patent they have in mind.
Another implication is a much more robust defense against patent trolls that acquire old patents and attempt to monetize them via patent infringement lawsuits. The Prior Art Finder invades the territory of expertise typically held by law firms that specialize on patent law, but holds the potential to level the playing for those who do not have the necessary resources researching patents.
"In a blog post, Google Engineering Manager Jon Orwant said that Google's "hope is that this tool will give patent searchers another way to discover information relevant to a patent application, supplementing the search techniques they use today." He promised that Google "will be refining and extending the Prior Art Finder as [Google] develop a better understanding of how to analyze patent claims and how to integrate the results into the workflow of patent searchers."
Conceivably, NPEs - non practicing entities, a common euphemism for patent trolls - can take streamline their businesses with the tool as well. According to Patent Freedom, there are currently 43 known NPEs that hold more than 100 patents in the U.S. The largest company is Intellectual Ventures, founded by former Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold, which holds an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 patents. Round Rock Research has 3,652 patents and Rockstar Consortium 3,428.