Back in September 2006 the USPTO banned patent examiners from using Wikipedia as a source of prior art information, citing its unreliability and lack of authority. Well, this apparently hasn't stopped examiners or inventors from citing the popular online encyclopedia in patents. The number of Wikipedia articles cited in patents in 2007 jumped to 293, almost three times the number cited in 2006.
Of course, this pales in comparison to other sources of scientific and technical information. Patents that cited IEEE publications totaled 14,440 in 2007. There were also 3,268 citations to ACM publications and 972 to Chemical Abstracts. Heavily cited science and engineering publishers included Elsevier (2,106), McGraw-Hill (1,089), Springer (1,538) and Wiley (2,963). Online sources are increasing in popularity: websites were cited in 10,870 patents issued in 2007.
I'm the librarian for research services in the Engineering and Science Library at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. I've been working with patent information since 1991, including seven years at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. I believe that the dissemination of patent information is a public good and should be promoted, especially in the education of science and engineering students.