Information Today
Volume 18, Issue 3 — March 2001
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BountyQuest Awards $40,000 for Information Challenging Patent Validity

BountyQuest has announced that, just 3 months after launching in October 2000, it has named its first four $10,000 winners. As predicted by the company's founders and investors, BountyQuest's human search engine of scientists, engineers, academics, and intellectual property experts successfully tracked down critical evidence missed by traditional patent searches.

The four winners submitted prior art—evidence that helps determine whether an invention or process is actually new—that challenges the following patents:

  • A method for online music sampling, held by Intouch Group
  • A method controlling access to an event venue through alterable tickets, held by Walker Digital
  • Technology for database copying, held by Oracle
  • Technology for single-chip network routers, held by Cisco Systems
(For more information about each of the four winners and the patents for which they submitted prior art, visit

According to the announcement, BountyQuest's fast start exceeded high expectations. After launching in October, the company anticipated that 5 percent of its Bounty Postings would receive winning submissions from Bounty Hunters. Instead, the company's success rate was 20 percent, with four individuals each winning $10,000 bounties out of the first 19 postings whose time period has expired. According to rules detailed on the Web site, a bounty reward is paid to the first person who submits scientific or technical evidence relevant to the patents posted.

"These early victories clearly validate the BountyQuest business model and show the power of human beings in finding information. Companies can't afford to rely on traditional search engines to unearth the most valuable technical data," said Charles Cella, founder and CEO of BountyQuest and a former patent attorney. "Essentially, BountyQuest reaches into the desk drawers and file cabinets of knowledgeable people across the world to uncover the one piece of information necessary to settle a patent dispute." By doing so, Cella points out that "BountyQuest has changed the standard of care for professionals who examine patents for any reason."

The submission of prior art for the online music sampling patent held by Intouch Group is a prime example. Intouch is currently involved in a patent-infringement suit with, Liquid Audio,, Entertaindom, and Muze, Inc., claiming that each of the defendants violates its patent by allowing users to download and preview digital music, video, or other media samples. BountyQuest's winning submission on this patent came from Perry Leopold, a musician and co-creator of the MIDI digital audio standard, who authored a conference paper on downloadable digital audio in 1987.

"I had invented downloadable digital audio in the mid-'80s as a way for artists to share music files with one another," said Leopold. "So I was flabbergasted when I found out that somebody else had actually patented it. In my mind, I had already put that invention in the public domain." While questions of patent validity are ultimately decided by the federal court system, evidence like Leopold's can be critical to the case.

Intellectual property is a "hugely important and growing niche," according to Tim O'Reilly, a BountyQuest investor and founder of O'Reilly & Associates, a well-known high-tech information provider. O'Reilly, a strong advocate for Internet standards and open source software, says that "Patented ideas can command an entire marketplace. As consumers, it is in our best interest to use powerful tools like the Internet to ensure that only true innovation is rewarded."

Since its launch, BountyQuest has received 161 submissions of prior art from across the globe, including foreign literature from Germany and Japan and documentation from trade conferences, Web sites, and out-of-print articles. BountyQuest users register at the Web site to keep up-to-date on new postings in industries like biotechnology, telecommunications, and Internet technology.

Source: BountyQuest, Boston, 617/542-8166;

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