Patexia Contest




Welcome to Patexia’s Prior Art Search contest tutorial. Prior art search is all about finding the right information, and Patexia’s contests rely on our members’ ability to locate and submit this information. This tutorial will walk through how to submit your results to Patexia’s contests.

If you’re new to prior art search or don’t know what prior art is, you might want to jump to the "ADDITIONAL NOTES" section below to recap some of the essentials of patents and prior art before getting started.

First, take a look around the contest page. The top of each page shows the title and some related interests. Just beneath are three tabs. The current tab, “Overview,” contains the important information related to the current contest. The “Ask a Question” section is a good place to get more information from Patexia administrators and other members when you’re having trouble, and the “Legal Terms” section contains all the boring (but very important) legal details of each contest. You’ll likely spend most of your time in the current tab.

This is the “PROBLEM” section, where we define the research problem you to solve. The box to the right shows other useful contest information, including the deadline, links to to search tips, and a link to invite a friend you think might be able to answer the contest question. After you’ve read the problem description and are ready to participate, the big green “Enter Contest” button will take you to the remainder of the process. You can also click the "Start Entry" button at the bottom of this section to start your entry--we’ll get to that soon.

Patexia's Contest Questions

We’re trying to make the prior art search process as simple as possible by doing as much of the work for our searchers as we can. When we design a research contests, we decipher the legal claim language, identify important aspects of the patent related to the case at hand, and wade through the bureaucracy to figure out the right priority date. To enter a Patexia contest, all you have to do is find sources that will help you answer a short list of questions.

Let’s go through an example so you can get used to the process. We’re going to walk through a simple example contest for US patent 5,443,036. The priority date on this patent is November 2nd, 1993, but for in this tutorial let’s pretend it’s actually November 2nd, 2010. Based on this patent’s claims, Patexia might pose the following research problem:

Patexia is seeking previously undisclosed prior art for the US patent 5,443,036, “Method of exercising a cat.” This patent describes using a laser point or similar device to exercise a cat.

The method described involves shining a focused laser on an opaque surface to draw the attention of a cat, and then moving it out of reach of the cat, causing the animal to merrily pursue the laser's projection. You will be asked the following questions will help you understand what kind of sources we are looking for in this study:

  1. Does the source show a method of exercising a cat dated before November 2nd, 2010?
  2. Does the source describe shining a hand-held laser on a surface?
  3. Does it describe moving the laser pointer out of the cat’s reach?

If you have taken a look at the patent's claims, you’ll notice that Patexia’s questions are shorter and simpler. This example shows how our question-and-answer contest format allows researchers to quickly understand exactly what information we’re looking for. Patexia also uses these questions to evaluate who the contest winners will be: the first person to provide sources that help correctly answer the most questions will be the contest winner.

Note that some contests have certain “minimum” questions that users must answer to qualify for the contest. Let’s say that in this contest questions 1 and 2 are the minimum criteria. For a user to be eligible for the contest prize, each of their submitted sources must satisfy at least questions 1 and 2.

Searching for Prior Art

Now let's search for some references to submit to this contest. Remember that prior art sources can be any publicly available document that is clearly and reliably dated. We'll give a few examples, but don't limit yourself to these types of sources.

Patents and patent applications are always a good place to start, so let's open up Google Patents for a search. If we type in "laser pet exerciser," we get the following results:

  • The second patent in the list, US 6,651,591 "Automatic pet toy and exerciser," looks like it might do the trick. Let's keep keep the patent number and look for different kinds of sources.
  • Videos may be a good place to look next. A quick Youtube search for "cat exercise laser" returned a few results. I chose the first video that was published before November 2nd, 2010 (the date listed in the contest): "How to Exercise your Cat: laser pointer edition."
  • Finding products that do what the patent describes is also useful if you can find a dated description. A plain internet search led to a product review for the "Frolicat Bolt," clearly dated February 8th, 2010.
  • Academic papers are also an important source of non-patent literature. Searching the IEEE database I found a paper called "Animal-Robot Interaction for Pet Caring," which seems to have the information we need, published on December 15th, 2009.

Entering a Patexia Contest

Now that we've compiled some sources, it's time to enter the contest. Open the contest page in another window or tab so you can still follow along with the tutorial, and click on the big green button to the right. A screen with contest terms and conditions will appear:

Read through the terms and conditions and agree to continue. Next, you'll see the submission page:

Now we can start to answer the contest questions. Click on "yes" to answer the first question and start the process. The system will ask you to add references. Select "patent" from the drop-down menu and enter the details for 6,651,591. Click "add reference" when you're done.

Next, the system will show the "select references" dialog. Click "Add New Reference" to add the other references we found: the video, the review, and the academic paper. Select all the references relevant to this question before clicking next...

Next, you'll be prompted to add detail about where in your source the relevant information can be found. This step is very important--if you submit a source but do not include where in that reference the relevant information can be found, your entry may not qualify for a contest prize. Keep your answer short and to the point. Provide information that is as specific as possible to the question shown: chapter, section, paragraph, line number, etc. as well as a quotation.

Because this first source is an academic paper, I've given the page, section, paragraph number, and the relevant quotation. For any non-patent source, make sure to attach a .PDF copy using the "Choose Files" button:

For a patent, for example, make sure to include the column or page number, and the line number as well as an appropriate quotation. If you submit a foreign patent, make sure to include a .PDF copy, again using the "Choose File" button...

When you are done with this question, the system will give you a chance to review and edit your answers. Click "Done" when you're ready to move on to the next question.

Underneath the contest questions a status bar tracks your progress. At any time during the contest process, you'll be able to "Save for later." Once your contest submission is complete (don't forget to double-check; you can only submit once!) go ahead and click "Submit Entry."

Finally, the site will confirm that your entry was successfully submitted. Congratulations on your first entry to Patexia's Prior Art Search contests!

Have a question about this contest? Ask a Question


1Does the source show a method of exercising a cat dated before November 2nd, 2010? 0
2Does the source describe shining a hand-held laser on a surface? 0
3Does it describe moving the laser pointer out of the cat’s reach? 0

Additional Notes

Patent Basics: an introduction

Simply put, patents are a publicly available government-issued documents. Each document describes an invention and gives the patent’s owner the right to prevent others from using it. This means that the owner holds a temporary monopoly on that invention, in exchange for making that information available to the public. Patents rely on novelty; according to the United States Code a patent must describe a “new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof.”

This is important. If we can show that the invention described in a patent was not new when the inventor filed for that patent, we can show that the patent is invalid. This is where Patexia and you, Patexia’s members, come in. We help companies determine whether or not certain patents describe inventions that were new when the patent application was filed. In other words, we help companies determine whether or not patents are valid based on all the information publicly available beforehand.

Prior Art

This information -- everything that was publicly available prior to a patent application’s filing date that is relevant to the invention that application describes -- is known as “prior art.” A “prior art search” is the process of searching through all this information to find evidence that a patent’s invention is not new. This evidence should be in the form of clearly dated sources: academic publications, magazine articles, dated photographs or video, product documentation, et. For those who are interested, the following three articles from our “Patent Knowledge” series provide a little more information on the topics of prior art, search, and Patexia’s crowdsourcing approach:

Patent Knowledge: Prior art search
Patent Knowledge: Prior art and patentability
Patent Knowledge: Crowdsourcing

Patents: a first look

If you’ve never seen a patent before, click on the following link to open Patexia’s research tools and view Unite States patent 5,443,036. The summary page for each patent lists some important information including the unique patent number, the inventor(s) listed on the patent, the date the inventors filed the patent, the date the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO for short) granted the patent, and a brief description (the “abstract”) of the invention the patent describes.

Priority Date

Because our goal is to figure out whether or not the invention this patent describes was new when the patent application was filed, you need to know the patent’s “priority date.” This is the date from which a patent application will have “priority” over other applications teaching the same invention. In many cases the priority date is the same as the patent’s filing date, but in some cases it is not; Patexia contests will always include the priority date clearly in the contest description, so you don’t need to worry about figuring it out--just read the contest description carefully!

Description, Citations

Next, look to the navigation bar on the left of the page. Click on the “description” tab to get more detail into what the patent’s all about. Other tabs also provide important information that may be helpful in a prior art search, including the patent’s citations which may provide insight into what subjects relate to the search. Clicking the big red “download PDF” button allows you to download a USPTO-issued PDF of the patent. This PDF contains mostly the same information as the Patexia patent page but includes drawing which may be helpful. The PDF copy will be important for referring to specific information within each patent.


Let’s take a look at the patent’s claims. Legally speaking, claims are the most important part of the patent. When a patent holder wants to prevent another party from making or selling their invention, the claims provide a concrete legal definition of what that invention is. The patent holder must show that this second party is doing exactly what the claims recite. If so, the second party is said to be “infringing” on the patent.

Because the claims make up the legally enforceable part of the patent, this is the part we’d like to focus on when doing our prior art search. If we can find prior art (publicly available information before the application was filed) which clearly describe the invention recited in the claims (the legally important part of the patent), we can show that the patent is invalid. Patexia’s contests aim to make this process as simple as possible; though it’s good practice to read and understand the dates and claims of each patent, we’ll clearly include all of this information in the “contest description” so that you don’t have to go looking for them.