US law, perhaps in an effort manage the practicalities of examining a patent application, puts timing and financial roadblocks in the way of 3rd parties access to patent examiners. If you have knowledge of prior art, you must submit that within two months of the application date, and pay a fee for the privilege. A patent is a legal monopoly on the making, use and sale of a mechanism or process. The law prevents independent inventors and those with knowledge independent of a patent from using or selling something that violates the claims of a patent without a license. Your tincture may be an old family recipe, but if someone gets a patent, they can sue to prevent and punish you for selling your product. If the patent should not have been granted because of prior art, you will have to pay lawyers to prove your case and maintain your freedom to practice your ideas.
So, it is in all our interests to only allow new and novel inventions to get patents. And there are pilot programs to encourage the collection of prior art in a timely manner. But for now, in the US there still remains the legal and financial obstacles to submit directly to the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
So what else can you do if you know of prior art? There are for fee databases of prior art that make themselves available to patent examiners. The most prominent one online is at IP.com. They have a free and comprehensive article on the benefits of defensive publishing via technical disclosure. That is recommended reading. However, I wonder about the need to pay to have an effective technical disclosure. As far as I can tell, IP.com is the go to place for defensive publishing. If there is a cheaper or free alternative, please let me know. The Linux community will pay your costs for defensive publishing at IP.com, but I assume they are looking for Linux and software relevant ideas and methods.
There is a free system created as a pilot program with the USPTO to create a community examination effort. Peer to Patent allows the public to submit prior art, and help sort and filter already submitted prior art, which is then submitted to the USPTO. And free members of Peer to Patent also get free search access to the prior art database at IP.com which is generally a fee product.No matching videos
Another online effort called WikiPatents also will let the public contribute to the patenting process. This site does require a membership to participate, and membership costs $14.95 for a lifetime. So if this is something you are interested in, this is a nominal cost.
Any publication, even if not searched by patent examiners, is still prior art. If you publish online, and get archived at archive.org, you have created a record that can prove prior art. Also producing your invention and actually selling it to the public establishes the methods of your invention as prior art (35 US Code 102(b)).
I believe patents must be held to the social contract of value for value. We grant patent rights for a limited time so that in return, what would otherwise be trade secrets, become published knowledge for us all. The purpose of patents is to advance science and the useful arts. If the net effect is to slow that advancement, then we should not be granting patents, or we should change the rules until we are again promoting the growth of science and the useful arts. Patent examiners are not effectively searching for all prior art, and the result is bad patents. Those bad patents retard progress. By helping find prior art, you can restore patents to their useful purpose.