October 2003

From: Richard K. Belew
Subject: What happened to BountyQuest?

You and I were both enthusiastic about BountyQuest when it first emerged, and your use of it to challenge Amazon certainly increased its visibility. But I haven't looked in for awhile, and just went to show it to a friend, and it's gone! The WaybackMachine shows pages only until November 2002.

Anybody know what happened to this venture in particular, or better, what the next generation of community-based prior-art searches looks like these days?

Richard K. Belew

I had high hopes for BountyQuest, too; it seemed like a great idea. But while I still believe that the failure to search for prior art remains a major problem for the patent system, the company was not able to make a successful business bridging the gap. Of course, this could simply have been an execution issue, or market timing. But it could also have been the fact that the patent mess is a thorny thicket that doesn't lend itself well to penetration by amateurs. I know that when we did the bounties on the Amazon 1-click patent, there were numerous people who sent in what they thought was important prior art, but which the attorneys who reviewed it didn't find useful. Of course, we did find some really good stuff, too--some months after we'd awarded the bounty, splitting it three ways for prior art that wasn't completely on the money, someone sent in a killer piece of prior art. I still have it on my bookshelf, in the odd event that Amazon loses its senses and sues anyone else over 1-click. (As you may recall, Amazon and B&N settled the suit, and Jeff Bezos seems to have eschewed offensive use of patents for now, partly as a result of the awakening that he had after the Net protest I led back in 2000.)

As to the next generation, my guess is that as patent attorneys get more Internet-savvy, googling for prior art and posting queries to relevant mailing lists or newsgroups are just going to become part of the routine toolkit of anyone doing patent searches.


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