In past years it wasn’t uncommon for a law firm, hired to defend a lucrative patent, to send associates and law clerks on time-consuming, poorly directed missions to scour old filings and Internet databases in search of prior art to determine the origins of the invention in question. No more. Lawyers and clients are harnessing the collective search power of online global communities to uncover a single piece of existing artwork that could turn a multimillion-dollar lawsuit. They’re crowdsourcing.
Crowdsourcing isn’t just for the patent set. Consumer reviews on a social media website provided important evidence in a trademark dispute in June when fast-food chain Chipotle sued another establishment called Chipotles for infringement. One key factor in the court’s decision to grant the plaintiff injunctive relief was the actual confusion among consumers demonstrated on customer review sites Urbanspoon and Yelp, where reviews erroneously linked the plaintiff and defendant.