Crowdsourcing, which involves outsourcing tasks to a distributed group of people largely via the Internet, could become a key part of the patent examination process, particularly given the increasing role of third parties.
Under provisions of the America Invents Act that took effect on in 2012, third parties can identify prior art references to patent examiners in any given examination. The goal is to provide examiners with all of the information necessary to determine the novelty of a given application and to prevent the issuance of patents with overly broad claims.
As detailed by the USPTO, efforts are already underway in the private sector to use crowdsourcing to identify prior art. Stack Exchange recently launched one of the first initiatives, called Ask Patents, with the support of the USPTO. It allows subject-matter experts to volunteer to suggest prior art for given applications, as well as to offer their input on the proposed value of those suggestions from others.