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Patents The Internet

URLs Patented, Domain Registrars Sued 650

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the getting-worse-before-getting-better dept.
theodp writes "A newly formed company is suing Network Solutions and Register.com for infringing on its e-mail and domain naming patent, which covers assigning each member of a group a URL of the form 'name.subdomain.domain' and an e-mail address of the form 'name@subdomain.domain.'"
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URLs Patented, Domain Registrars Sued

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  • Newsflash (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 15, 2004 @08:43PM (#7993015)
    Anybody can sue anyone about anything. It's only newsworthy if there's a slightest shred of the plaintiff winning.
  • by dnoyeb (547705) on Thursday January 15, 2004 @08:44PM (#7993036) Homepage Journal
    No, its the USPTO this time.

    Only the money ladden will survive.
  • by lukior (727393) on Thursday January 15, 2004 @08:46PM (#7993063)
    Am I the only one that thinks the patent system is out of control. I thought patents were designed to further scientific knowledge for the betterment of mankind or something like that. Now there are cases where research is being hindered because you're not allowed to use prior patented research. Patents helped a lot of scientists in the early days make a living but now it is just a way to strengthen megacorps. It disgusts me when a big company is sold not because of anything produced by it or because of it's quality of it's employees but because of the size of it's patent library. Changes need to be made.
  • Right (Score:1, Insightful)

    by iswm (727826) on Thursday January 15, 2004 @08:47PM (#7993065) Homepage
    How silly.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 15, 2004 @08:52PM (#7993121)
    Considering IE is the most installed browser, I'm surprised MS hasn't hard coded functionality in the browswer that would allow them to set up and sell non-official domains like .msn, .ms, etc., and have calls to these domains routed to their own DNS lookup servers. They literally have an unexploited cash cow on their hands here. What is barring them from doing this?
  • by cujo_1111 (627504) on Thursday January 15, 2004 @08:53PM (#7993131) Homepage Journal
    I know this is going to sound wrong but I really hope Network Solutions and Register.com win this and then countersue their asses.

    Even though NS and R.com are both companies who screw people royally, this group of f*ckwits is even worse. I will take the lesser of the 2 evils thanks.
  • by rcpitt (711863) on Thursday January 15, 2004 @08:53PM (#7993133) Homepage Journal
    IMHO the prior art is in the proposal to create the .name TLD since the use of second and third level domain names for owners' names was implicit in its creation
  • by chrootstrap (699364) <chrootstrap&yahoo,com> on Thursday January 15, 2004 @08:56PM (#7993179) Homepage
    ...and see for yourself how techno-jargon and a tremendous effort at obfuscation through over-complexity passed this patent through the filter. CowboyNeal's pithy sentence describes the near totality of the patent yet the patent itself spews reams of steps, trivia, and jargon to hide as well as possible the actual application of the patent. What a bunch of bullshit!

    I think there ought to be penalties for the use of these nuisance patents. A judge then could not only strike down the patent's validity (which will obviously happen here), but could also impose a heavy fine to deter this kind of litigious crap from happening.
  • US Laws (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 15, 2004 @08:56PM (#7993182)
    This is precisely why US needs the "loser pays" style of laws ...
  • It's a joke, folks (Score:5, Insightful)

    by donutello (88309) on Thursday January 15, 2004 @09:03PM (#7993255) Homepage
    The patent application was filed in 1999. Reading through the text of the patent, it describes something completely different: an email-to-fax/telephone/snail mail gateway and not the idea of having blah@foo.bar

    My guess is this is someone trying to prove how idiotic the USPTO is.
  • by Beolach (518512) <beolach.juno@com> on Thursday January 15, 2004 @09:06PM (#7993276) Homepage Journal
    Filed: November 23, 1999

    The patent abstract just screams "email addresses", which were (IIRC) widely popular & known about prior to 23 Nov. 1999.

    This is why I hate the language used in patents & other legel documents - they are purposly obfuscated so that the patent is granted, when if it clearly stated "email addresses and URLs", it wouldn't get a second glance. And then we get more stupid litigation.
  • by CaptainStormfield (444795) on Thursday January 15, 2004 @09:08PM (#7993308)
    If all these things are as obvious as people like to claim, why don't they patent them?

    Because obvious stuff isn't patentable?
  • by goon america (536413) on Thursday January 15, 2004 @09:11PM (#7993337) Homepage Journal
    Why is this a good thing? Because this time, the fake-patenters got overzealous and attacked someone who actually has the legal resources to fight back. If they get smashed (and I hope they do) it will create a legal precedence that will make this practice much harder to do in the future.
  • by Pharmboy (216950) on Thursday January 15, 2004 @09:15PM (#7993358) Journal
    Wish I had a mod point for you. I knew this existed, although I thought it was older than this. You are absolutely correct, this RFC is much more descriptive of the process than the actual patent is, and describes in better detail the exact same contents of the patent, 22 YEARS before the patent was applied for.

    It explicitly covers email addresses for subdomains, and even how some older software (pre-87) will break with it. (Thus the Request For Comment, to set a standard).

    There needs to be some kind of punitive damage for people who attempt to patent things that are not only covered by prior art, but are in the Public Domain, for over 20 years before the application.
  • by Cecil (37810) on Thursday January 15, 2004 @09:20PM (#7993419) Homepage
    Do you have a couple hundred bucks to spend on patenting every idea you've ever come up with? If so, you're either one of the richest people in the world, or earth-shatteringly stupid, so I'll assume the answer is no and let my point stand.

    Nevermind the fact that a great majority of people don't feel that something should be patentable, much like people who think their programs should be open source. What's the easiest way to allow an idea to be unpatentable? Think of it, do it, don't patent it. Apparently that doesn't work so well.

    Finally, do you honestly believe that any of the ISPs who started offering this service have ever read this patent before, even if it was after the patent was filed? No? They came up with it on their own? Well in that case, even though these guys may officially own the rights, it is pretty clear that the patent is OBVIOUS. And therefore VOID.

    Let me put it to you this way. I have noticed they're sending a lot of landers and such to Mars right now. Well, perhaps I should patent sending a rover to Pluto. NASA has never done that, no prior art, they have not patented it so clearly it's not obvious and they've never thought of it... Sure...
  • Nonsense (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mlg9000 (515199) on Thursday January 15, 2004 @09:22PM (#7993429)
    One more example of why this country needs a loser pays legal system and capped awards. It's become so bad that if you have anything of value it's almost assured someone is going to come up with some way to sue you for it. Odds are they'll get something too. They may have no chance of winning but it's often cheaper just to settle with them. If the individual/company doesn't settle and they go to court... there's still some chance they'll some yahoo judge or jury to side with them and get a huge payout. So even if they sue 10 times and win once it still pays off. This nonsense is killing business, driving jobs overseas, raising insurance prices, and prices on everything in general. You make the loser pay that cuts some of that off. You put REASONABLE caps on awards you cut of some more. I really don't want to sudo finance idiots that do stupid things, sue, and end up getting rich because of it anymore. Of course there are times when something happens that's so outragous huge judgement are justified.. so in that case you have some panel of judges that examines these cases and comes up with something suitable. Of course this is probably wishful thinking to think this would ever happen. Trial lawyers are getting rich off this crap now and they have a bought a whole lot of political influence in the Democratic party and Republicans are too afraid to take them on (who wants to get in a fight with a lawyer.. not to mention ALL of them).
  • by Geekenstein (199041) on Thursday January 15, 2004 @09:24PM (#7993461)
    Don't be silly. Obvious things are patented every day. If a rule isn't enforced, it doesn't exist.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 15, 2004 @09:30PM (#7993509)
    Back in the days, before the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals was created by corporations and Reagan, Patent Examiners used to be able to reject patent claims.

    Sometimes, when someone files claims as blindingly obvious as these, the Examiners would be permitted to reject the claims as an "obvious design choice". This was something appropriate to do when the choice made by the "inventor" did not add any new functionality to the thing sought to be patented, but was merely shuffling around design features that did nothing in and of themselves.

    That is exactly what is happening here with these claims. The naming scheme here is no more functional than is a scheme of naming your own children.

    Hey, here is a patent claim for ya that I just made up!
    1. A method comprising: a set of parents naming their first child Thomas, their second child Zebedee, and their third child Squeamish.

    Since a patent examiner looking at such a claim could not find a "motivation" in the "prior art" for one to name their children those precise names in that exact order, one could easily get a patent.
    Time to name the Enemy: the Court of Appeals, Federal Circuit. They are the malfeasors who have tied the hands of the US Patent Examiners so that they can no longer apply the laws of obviousness, but instead have to jump through absurd hoops looking for "motivation" to do that which take zero mental effort, like.... naming URLs (or kids, for that matter).
  • by ConceptJunkie (24823) on Thursday January 15, 2004 @09:31PM (#7993520) Homepage Journal
    ...when someone obtains a ridiculous patent, gets some goofy Federal judge (and there are plenty of those) to uphold it in such a way to completely devastate an industry or even adversly affect the whole American economy.

    It's like the Iraq WMD situation... except this time they're waiting for someone to drop the Big One before doing something about it.

    Of course if I'm the one with the patent, then everything will be OK. ;-)
  • by Random Guru 42 (687672) <chrisNO@SPAMcoldacid.net> on Thursday January 15, 2004 @09:31PM (#7993521) Homepage Journal
    All IP law needs a complete reworking. Patents should be limited to no more than 5 years (with perhaps 5 more with a renewal - only one allowed), and at the most, copyrights should last no more than 40 years past creator's death (or if corporate owned, 40 years from creation).

    And so on...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 15, 2004 @09:43PM (#7993587)

    > When did the business model "I created a patent just so I could sue you" a socially acceptable business practice?

    Isn't that the American Dream? To sue someone who has money and become filthy rich yourself?

  • Re:Newsflash (Score:3, Insightful)

    by owlstead (636356) on Thursday January 15, 2004 @09:58PM (#7993697)
    Uh, does that mean no more SCO articles? Dang!
  • by pvera (250260) <pedro.vera@gmail.com> on Thursday January 15, 2004 @10:10PM (#7993791) Homepage Journal
    My first reaction was that it is a bit too early for April Fool's jokes.
  • by thogard (43403) on Thursday January 15, 2004 @10:28PM (#7993971) Homepage
    Maybe they need to change their own rules so they can reject a patent "with prejudice" just like the courts and do with stupid cases. That would mean the idea is dead and gone and won't ever come back. Maybe they should publish such things too.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 15, 2004 @10:36PM (#7994044)
    > ...when someone obtains a ridiculous patent, gets some goofy Federal judge (and there are plenty of those) to uphold it in such a way to completely devastate an industry or even adversly affect the whole American economy.

    Won't happen.

    The goal of a successful parasite is not to kill the host, but live off it such that the host lives for a looooooooong time.

    Expect a company holding such a widespread patent to offer reasonable terms for its yearly licensing, guaranteeing both a neverending revenue stream and the continued health of the host industry.

    Also, buy stock in that company when the patent is announced.
  • by cujo_1111 (627504) on Thursday January 15, 2004 @10:54PM (#7994190) Homepage Journal
    It was only awarded early this year though... How can it take 5 years to process a patent?
  • by msobkow (48369) on Thursday January 15, 2004 @11:19PM (#7994343) Homepage Journal

    I completely fail to see how one can patent the use of domain names in this fashion. That strikes me like patenting the concept that a "record" corresponds to a physical object, citing an employee table as an example.

    Obviously this patent was never examined by anyone with enough neurons to spark a thought.

    Maybe it's time companies affected by these nonsense "patents" start suing the patent office to recover costs and damages for defending against such garbage.

  • by LS (57954) on Thursday January 15, 2004 @11:20PM (#7994350) Homepage
    No, I don't like this idea - you will get law firms that make their living invalidating patents. They will go after the little guys first. Only the large corporations will hold patents if they implement your idea.

    LS
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 15, 2004 @11:56PM (#7994681)
    Wahahaha a couple hundred bucks. That's hilarious.

    Lowest I've ever heard is $3,000. Typical for someone doing their own prior art research is $20k - $40k. Patent lawyers doing the research is $200k.
  • by Kwil (53679) on Friday January 16, 2004 @12:03AM (#7994748)
    Actually, there's a bit more to see here than that.

    You see, by the USPTO basically passing their work off on to the Court system. They are tying up our courts from doing the real work that needs doing for the justice department and at the same time basically leeching off of public funds by simply not putting the effort into their own work.

    And on top of this, they are charging people who have reasonable patents for this complete lack of service.

    Patents should not be abolished, but the USPTO should be made into a smoking crater, it's staff fired en masse, and then we can restart with some people in there who actually give a damn.
  • by DarthWiggle (537589) <sckiwi@gm a i l .com> on Friday January 16, 2004 @12:06AM (#7994778) Journal
    What's the difference between a geek with a perfectly normal rectuma and a geek with a disatrously distended rectum?

    One had a lawyer to defend him after he was busted by Constitution-shredding RIAA private investigators after forgetting to load PeerGuardian while he downloaded the Complete Led Zeppelin off Suprnova, and the other one didn't.

    As to the argument that "if the laws weren't so messed up, then the RIAA goons couldn't come after me" I'd ask /. collectively, when was the last time those of you who live in democracies voted? Do you vote eagerly? Do you wake up (in the US) on Primary Tuesdays and cast a vote so you won't be stuck with party candidates you hate?

    And to keep this on point, when you look at the broken patent system and you see that the USPTO is backlogged with frivolous patent applications that take advantage of examiners' overburden, underpay, and (perhaps) ignorance of the technology, and when you see that this broken patent system allows the issuing of patents like this one that allows some over-egoed plaintiffs lawyer to see his big payoff day by filing a case that would be frivolous if it were based in equity rather than a letter patent issued by the US Government, do you write your representative or senator? Do you write the president? Do you organize a get out the vote campaign to support candidates who will fix what's broken?

    Corporations control America today not because the American system is broken, but because people bitch and bitch and bitch but aren't willing to do the hard work necessary to make sure the system does what it's supposed to. You wouldn't fill your car's gas tank up with water, right? And you wouldn't use a 10-year-old rubber band in place of a bike chain? You wouldn't build your beach house out of sand, would you?

    You forget that abusive plaintiff's lawyers (the ones you're really griping about) only survive because the system is currently so chaotic and broken that they're able to make loads of money working the nooks and crannies of the broken system, just like a few college students and VCs made wads of money off of ignorance and exuberance in the mid-to-late 1990s. They went where the money and the opportunity to take it were.

    This patent mess makes me sick. Why isn't there a good-faith requirement in the patent code?

    Arg, sorry... People make lawyer jokes, and they're funny, I suppose. But just remember something someone who was in prison after having a crappy court-appointed lawyer lose his case for him told me: the only lawyer you ever wished you could have is the one you realized you needed after a lifetime telling yourself they weren't wanted.

    As for the author of the parent, I apologize, you just got caught in a drive-by... :)
  • by Betelgeuse (35904) on Friday January 16, 2004 @12:37AM (#7994978) Homepage
    I've heard they have Ph. D. working at the patent office

    I find that the respect that I have for people with Ph.D.'s is inversely proportional to the time until I recieve my own Ph.D.
  • by GSloop (165220) <networkguru@ s l oop.net> on Friday January 16, 2004 @01:14AM (#7995201) Homepage
    That's the idealist take on "how it ought to be."

    What's more likely, is that some huge faceless corp will blatantly steal your invention and then rack up millions of dollars in legal fees and crush you like an ant. When it's all over, you'll have no money, be bitter, deranged and living under a bridge.

    Your best bet, is to partner with a cash rich mega corp with tons of cash, and go around either squishing peons and stealing their patents, or, as in this case, using bogus patents to extort cash from others for no purpose at all.

    Finally, the reasons patents and copyright were given legal standing was that they were to enrich the public commons.

    Since it's clear that copyright isn't doing that at all anymore, as virtually nothing under copyright gets released into the public commons, and patent law seems to be fashioned to make *only* lawyers loads of money, then perhaps we ought to get rid of both.

    Either reform them, and do them as the framers of the constution intended, or simply scrap them. Their cost to society is huge, and IMHO, outweigh the benefits provided.

    Cheers,
    Greg
  • by billstewart (78916) on Friday January 16, 2004 @02:59AM (#7995765) Journal
    The patent was filed some time in 1999, and under US law, you can file up to one year after disclosure of the invention. (That part isn't non-sensible, although there are debates about whether it's a better approach than Europe's file-before-you-publish rule.) I don't _know_ when they disclosed it (e.g. before the patent was filed or not?), and US law is actually first-to-invent, not first-to-file, and I don't remember seeing any documentation on when they invented their method.

    Fortunately, BIND treats name.subdomain.domain as an email address for name@subdomain.domain, and I'd be really really surprised to see these Bozos get away with claiming that they were doing this prior to BIND's existence, since it's the canonical DNS server implementation since about a decade before their alleged invention. Also, the IAHC IETF Ad-Hoc Committee, which was trying to do a set of new TLDs (unsuccessful politically) before ICANN was formed to pretend to address the same problem, had proposed a ".nom" gTLD which is substantially similar to ".name" - Their report was in February 1997, and it had been discussed widely in the mailing lists that many of the skilled practitioners hung out in for a while before that.

  • by jjgm (663044) on Friday January 16, 2004 @04:55AM (#7996164)

    At least one specific recommendation by a governing body for using hostmaster.example.com. as a DNS label to represent "hostmaster@example.com" can be found here [ripe.net], published well before this patent was filed.

    This can also be seen in RFC 1912 [ietf.org] (section 2.2), published in 1996.

    These muppets have patented something published in one of the very standards they should be familiar with.

    - J

  • by jjgm (663044) on Friday January 16, 2004 @05:08AM (#7996194)

    Forgot to paste in; of course, also RFC 1034 [ietf.org] (section 3.3), published in 1987.

    The patent itself is effectively fraud. Most of the document is occupied with long-winded noise designed to disguise the claim in a torrent of drivel by describing, in excruciatiating, irrelevent and confusingly-numbered detail, a webmail and fax system. The claim itself is only tangentially related to what is written.

    Stealing the ideas in a decades-old technical standard? This is yet another embarrassing failure by the USPTO. - J

  • Re:WTF? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mabinogi (74033) on Friday January 16, 2004 @07:13AM (#7996562) Homepage
    The thing that bothers me the most is the second claim.

    The first one is ridiculous enough, and obviously the one that they're getting uptight about, but the second one shows a far scarier thing.

    "Exactly the same as 1, but different when doctors use it"
    The proffession of the members of the group should have no bearing on the technical implementation of something like this, so why the hell is it in the list of claims?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 16, 2004 @07:45AM (#7996700)
    The USPTO does not exist to hand out patents to those who deserve them, it exists to hand out as many patents as possible to bring in money for the government. Very, very few patents get rejected, mostly those that patent something that is already patented. The whole system is designed to maximise the number of patents that can be approved, and it rakes in tons of dough. As a result, patents today impose a huge cost on US society, which due to the fact it is divided equally across the economy the politicians can disregard as non-existant. Eventually the patent system will require reform though, but don't hold your breath for it.

    Amusingly, patent reform in the EU has been predominated by the meme that it should avoid becoming like the US system, and any proposal that even resembles something the US is doing gets a lot of opposition.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 16, 2004 @09:18AM (#7997069)
    this is pretty standard practice among big corporations. it works like this :

    * go to another country, say, India or Burma
    * take some folk remedy, or an agri product or seed they have been using for ages - like turmeric, or rice.
    * patent it in US, whose patent office wil grant the claim the company discovered it, because according to them the other country is nto a part of the universe.
    * wait for the other country to join some WTO treaty which forces them to honor this patent from US.
    *start demanding royalties for every villager using turmeric as a medicine or cooking rice - in eality from every seller of rice in that country.

    in short, these companies have been taking advantage of the fact that patent office employment in US requires only highschool diploma or something similar for yeaaars. only now it becomes news.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 16, 2004 @12:05PM (#7998428)
    A better way to make the Patent Office self sufficient would be to charge applicants the same amount whether or not their patent is accepted. Or tack an extra fee on if a patent is rejected (a Wasting our Time Fee).

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