Recently I have been dealing a lot with patents and I have to say this is not easy! Patents although claimed to be written in English are most of the time just cryptic. It is almost impossible to an effective patent search and even when you get results, just decrypting what is written here is an impossible task. In the field of information retrieval patents I guess are considered something very difficult to crack and I heard of many companies trying to solve the puzzle in different ways, I even heard Thomson have a company that takes every new patent and apply to it new descriptive metadata so it can be retrieved at least. I also heard the same company charges 400$ an hour to use their search engine!!
The only way I can see the information retrieval problem solved is by adding crowds wisdom to the patents base the same way Wikipedia works. A web application that would allow you to annotate and add comments/discussions to patents would have been very helpful. I know it might not be the favorite subject for most of the people to annotate patents but I have to admit that I would personally contribute the things I learned from cryptic patents I had to read and understand for the greater good. There might be some issue with privacy here but anonymity can solve this or even some rewarding marketplace can do some good job here as well.
Does anyone know of such a product?