Can you recall hearing or seeing a description of an automated inspection system before Sept. 15, 1993? Somebody is willing to pay $10,000 for information that could invalidate Jerome H. Lemelson's machine vision patent. The offer is the first photonics bounty on BountyQuest Corp.'s Internet service that matches people and companies who can pay for information with people who know something. The initial dozen or so "bounties" on www.BountyQuest.com are requests for "prior art" that could prove that a patent is not an original idea. But the site suggests that "other postings are possible." Bounty No. 1011 offers $10,000 to the first person who can provide, before Jan. 26, prior art describing the concepts published in US Patent No. 5,351,078 for "automated observation of objects." The patent is part of a portfolio that Lemelson began amassing in the 1950s. Patent office processes allowed him to revise and extend his applications until the 1990s, when manufacturing technologies using photonics had become ubiquitous. In the 1990s, the Lemelson Foundation began seeking licensing revenues from companies that were using machine vision and/or bar-coding technologies. Countersuits by photonics manufacturers seek to invalidate the patents. The BountyQuest posting fits the dot-com's claim to be committed to patent reform: "The purpose is ... to clear up the patent system and the marketplace from patents that may be overly broad, raising prices for consumers or inhibiting, rather than encouraging, innovation." And in fairness, the company notes, it is also worth $14,159 to prove that somebody else created the BountyQuest concept before BountyQuest did.