Welcome to the Stack Exchange Podcast #56 recorded on Thursday, March 6th 2014, aka the 4th of Adar II 5774, aka the second day of Lent. Today’s podcast is sponsored by Patent Trolls of America. Today’s guest is Micah Siegel, Senior Patent Advisor at Stack Exchange and Professor Emeritus at Stanford.
But first, Community Milestones!
We’ve already talked at length about The Workplace, but it should be noted that the Workplace community has just graduated. They are now a fully-fledged site, so go check out their design!
Arduino is our newest public beta site. (An Arduino is a tiny little computer board thing, according to Jay.) We’ve tried it in the past and didn’t have enough activity, but this iteration is looking much stronger and we’re excited to see where it will go. Also, March 29th is Arduino Day.
- At long, long last, Personal Finance & Money has graduated. We love money! Longtime beleaguered designer Jin finally has assistance on his design team, so we are working through the backlog of graduated site designs.
To commemorate Money’s graduation, we’ve made it Community of the Week. Here are some of the cool questions we discussed:
- Why does gold have value?
This site grew out of an SE 1.0 site on the same topic, and it’s therefore one of our oldest sites. Check it out!
Next up, we have New Features. Or, we don’t, because we haven’t done anything, and David is demoted. Just kidding: we do!
We added the ability to customize your list of communities in the top bar switcher.
We made some tweaks to the close vote review queue on Stack Overflow in an attempt to get it down from approximately nine billion flags. You can also sort by tag (or type of close vote), which you could always do, but now it’s much more visible. Here’s how it works.
- Work is ongoing on our mobile apps, as always. Reminder: you can download our Android app or sign up to alpha test our iOS app.
Okay! Let’s talk patents! (Jay loves them, but David says they’re the worst.) It’s been a year since we started the Ask Patents project. Joel walks us through why we got into this area in the first place, and we fixed the problem. Done. Solved! (Kinda.) It’s confusing, because code is both copyrightable and patentable. About 7% of the patent applications submitted to the USPTO are what we call problematic. We decided to pick out the ones we are most concerned about and post them on the site for our communities to peruse and choose prior art. Micah talks through how we chose the patent applications to post, and how it’s been going. (Fun fact: we are the first entity to get a YouTube video accepted as prior art!)
- By the way, here’s the Planet Money podcast Joel was talking about.
We came up with a hack about six months ago to help us make this process scale. Instead of filling out the janky confusing form, we simply started emailing the relevant Ask Patents link directly to the patent examiner. Magic!
So is it working? We’ve proven as far as we can tell that if we target a bad application and put enough eyes from Stack Overflow on it, we’ll get good prior art. We know how all of the numbers break down: exactly how many people on Stack Overflow have to see the bad software patent in order for us to get enough prior art that enough of it will be good enough prior art to trigger an email to the patent examiner.
Micah is consulting for a few other companies on patent issues, so you can contact him if your company wants to pick his brain. He knows a lot about the current Supreme Court case that might outlaw software patents altogether (but not for a long time).
Thanks for listening to Stack Exchange Podcast #56, sponsored by the Patent Trolls of America. See you next time!