As you may have noticed over the past several days, IPWatchdog.com has a new Super Sponsor — Article One Partners. Long time readers of IPWatchdog are likely familiar with Article One Partners, or AOP as they are sometimes called, because I have written about their endeavors on many occasions in the past. Until now, however, AOP has not been a sponsor. I have written a lot of positive things about them in the past because I think what they are doing is innovative and serves a real need within the industry, regardless of whether you are one looking for prior art to challenge a patent, or you are looking to see if there is prior art you need to know about to sure up patent rights prior to licensing or enforcement activities. We are happy to have them as a sponsor and this article is to introduce the AOP story to those who may not be intimately familiar with the company and its history.
In November of 2008, Article One Partners announced the launch of what they characterized as a new global community to legitimize the validity of patents. Community members, called Advisors, would have the opportunity to send in previously hard to find evidence that challenges the validity of high profile patents. It was believed that by tapping the knowledge of Advisors it would be possible to collect valuable publicly available prior art, particularly non-patent literature. I was initially quite skeptical of the plan, but on the heals of that initial article I was contacted by Cheryl Milone, who is the President and CEO of Article One. She asked if I would be willing to talk about the business model and learn more. I accepted Cheryl’s invitation and over the last nearly 4 years Cheryl has become one of the people in the industry I reach out to on a periodic basis to help me keep my finger on the pulse of everything patents and intellectual property.
Almost immediately upon that initial discussion with Cheryl I suspected that my initial reaction was going to be inaccurate, so I wrote Musings on Patent Trolls & Bad Patents and in one part said: ” I have a feeling that Article One might be more successful than I originally anticipated.” Was that an understatement! Article One has been extremely successful. On Monday, March 7, 2011, AOP announced that they had just awarded $1 million in reward money to researchers who submitted relevant prior art, a little less than 2.5 years into the experiment. It was less than a year later, in February 2012, that AOP announced they reached the $2 million milestone — another $1 million in reward money in just 11 months. As of today they have awarded over $2.8 million and are rapidly closing in on $3 million. Obviously they are doing something right.
So why has Article One Partners been more successful than the previous “bounty hunters” that tried and failed? As far as I can tell it is due to two things, both of which I have written about in the past. First, AOP is agnostic. This came to light when I spoke on the record with Marshall Phelps, a member of the AOP Board and himself something of a living legend in the patent community for his roles as the top patent man at both IBM and Microsoft. Phelps told me:
We started out with a manifesto on that exact point, that we were agnostic. We didn’t care what the result was as long as it was an adequate result. It could be thumbs up, or thumbs down, or thumbs sideways. That is not our concern. Our concern is running the human network, if you will. Our job is to be ruthlessly agnostic because once we are not agnostic then the value proposition is gone.
It seems to me the fact that Article One is “ruthlessly agnostic” is what allows them to count as clients many Fortune 500 companies, who themselves have significant patent portfolios. If they were just a bunch of patent haters looking to bust patents the innovation industry would not ever embrace them. They are, however, a service provider. If you want to know what prior art is out there that may otherwise be impossible to find you can do a study with Article One.
In essence, they provide valuable services. How great would it be to be able to say that after an exhaustive international patent search and an exhaustive non-patent literature search conducted by Article One Partners there were no references found that call into question the patentability of any claim? So their services are not just for those seeking to defeat patents. I have in the past recommended patent owners commission an Article One search as part of due diligence prior to filing a patent infringement lawsuit. It is better to know what is out there that can be found while you can still do something about it.
The other reason AOP has been so success is also eluded to in Phelps’ quote above as well. Article One runs a “human network.” When I asked Cheryl what made Article One so successful she immediately responded “our researchers.” Indeed, their researchers are what makes the system work, and they have well over 1 million people registered as researchers and well over 23,000 active researchers who routinely submit prior art. These researchers are located all across the world, with roughly one-thrid in the United States, roughly another one-third in Europe, about 10% in Japan and the rest spread elsewhere around the globe. In addition to this geographic diversity, nearly 50% of researchers hold advanced degrees.
As important as the researchers are to the entire AOP equation, I think the real secret sauce is the synergy between the Article One platform and their researchers. The AOP platform connects all of the researchers together, which is what makes the crowd sourcing model feasible. It also enables those who know something about a particular field to be informed automatically about searches that they are most interested in and likely to be able to assist.
When you do a study with Article One they harness the power of their system — the AOP platform — to reach those 23,000+ active researchers and a million or more registered researchers. The AOP platform offers tools for the researchers, and training as well. In a nutshell, Article One is a technology company. They use their platform to leverage the knowledge and intellectual curiosity of their researchers to produce some of the most complete patent research you will find, with a particular focus on the most difficult to find relevant prior art — non-patent literature.
Throughout this article I’ve provided a variety of links to my previous writing on AOP so you can see for yourself that the nice things I say about them are not just because they are a sponsor. I have had a high opinion of Article One Partners for quite a while, and think it is pretty clear that Cheryl has put together a first rate management team and Board of Directors.
For those who are interested in learning more about some of the studies AOP currently has with open calls for prior art submissions take a look at these studies, which represent only a small fraction of the ongoing research through the AOP platform by their growing team of researchers. For more information on each search follow the links below.
Athletic Performance Monitors — This study is looking for references that disclose the use or potential use of one or more of the following features: (1) GPS-enabled; (2) Computes athletic performance (e.g., distance, duration, speed, route, calories) based at least upon GPS data; and (3) Presents the athletic performance to the user, whether via visual output, audio output or both. References need to be dated before January 1999. There is a $5,000 reward that will be paid to 1-2 submissions that best match the call.
Branch Control System for ROM-Programmed Processor — References of interest will describe a computer apparatus that provides an efficient means for providing substitute code for superseded ROM code and for providing a substantially seamless jump to substitute code when superseded code is reached in a ROM. The $5,000 reward is subject to the Shared Reward program. The desired prior art will have a date from before February 2, 1994.
Complementary Logic Input Parallel Logic Circuit Family — References of interest will focus on a logic cell that use complementary field effect transistors. The logic cell of interest uses an AND-OR-INVERT or an OR-AND-INVERT logic gate, has a logic input and a clock input signal, and is designed to latch the logic input during a clock pulse interval. The $5,000 reward is subject to the Shared Reward program. The desired prior art will have a date from before January 30, 1990.
Endomannosidase in the Modification of Glycoproteins — This Study relates to a method for modifying glycosylation structure in a plant, insect, yeast or filamentous fungi host cell. The Reward is guaranteed to be paid to the Researcher who submits the highest quality prior art. The desired prior art will have a date from before September 2, 2004.
Barrier Stack with Low Oxygen Transmission Rate — References of interest will have barrier assemblies with at least one barrier stack with an oxygen transmission rate of less than 0.005cc/m2/day at 23 C and 0% relative humidity. The barrier stack should also have an oxygen transmission rate of less than 0.005cc/m2/day at 38 C and 90% relative humidity and a water vapor transmission rate of less than 0.005g/m2/day at 38 C and 100% relative humidity. The $5,000 reward is subject to the Shared Reward program. The desired prior art will have a date from before October 24, 1994.