Let's face it. The patent system is a mess. Applying for a patent can be a process that takes years. Then there's the issue of prior art. Is this patent valid? Was it obvious? Should it have been granted in the first place? And that's without getting into whether or not other devices infringe. It can be a huge cluster of ugly. Enter AskPatents. This new Stack Exchange site has been set up to crowd source the finding of prior art and researching whether or not patents are valid.
The site functions very similarly to other hivemind information hubs like Metafilter or, you know, Stack Exchange. Users can ask questions and respond with their own research to others' queries. There are upvote mechanics, badges that are awarded for various accomplishments, and even a reputation system to let everyone know how reliable the community finds your answers.
AskPatents was set up at the request of the Director of the USPTO, which is kind of a big deal. Not only because of the official involvement, but because we all know the patent office is overwhelmed (hence the years-long delay). While it's unlikely this new forum will significantly decrease wait times for patent applications, every little bit helps.