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Location-Based Search Was Patented In 1999 253

Posted by kdawson
from the can-you-spell-champerty dept.
greenbird writes "Another patent fiasco has begun. Wired reports that a patent on location-based Internet searches was filed in 1996 and granted in 1999 (patent is here). A patent troll company name Geomas acquired the patent and has filed suit against Verizon in none other than Marshall, Texas. They claim this is the first in what will be a long line of lawsuits. Geomas has amassed a $20M war chest in venture capital to use for getting rich off of a clearly obvious idea."
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Location-Based Search Was Patented In 1999

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  • Go Geomas! (Score:5, Funny)

    by andyring (100627) on Tuesday June 12, 2007 @04:43PM (#19482483) Homepage
    As a Vonage subscriber and hating what Verizon is doing to them, I'm all for someone doing a goatse on Verizon.
    • Obvious? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by winkydink (650484) *
      Lots of things are obvious after they have been done for the first time.
      • Re:Obvious? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 12, 2007 @04:57PM (#19482699)
        Lots of things are obvious after they have been done for the first time.

        Yes, but some things that are not obvious become obvious once a suitable infrastructure is put in place. So even if they did think of the idea before it was technologically possible to implement...the idea would have been thought of anyway once the Internet approached its modern state.

        At a bare minimum, a patent application should require a functional prototype. Stating "A device capable of faster than light travel" is not the same thing as inventing a device capable of faster than light travel, so why should the mere description of the technology be sufficient to patent it?

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by hankwang (413283) *

          At a bare minimum, a patent application should require a functional prototype.

          According to the rules, the patent application should contain enough information for someone skilled in the art to build the device or whatever it is that is patented.

          One of the nice things of the patent system is that an inventor can freely talk to investors in order to build the prototype without risking that the idea is stolen and commercially exploited by someone else.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Jim_Maryland (718224)
            I seem to recall learning about geocoding (locating a point on the ground by looking up an address) and site location based on spatial criteria when I was in my Geography classes (Geospatial Information systems) at Penn State back in the 1990. The idea of getting a point from an address and selecting other features based on a buffer (spatial shape around the point) isn't all that original. We did exercises to find suitable locations around a point using ESRI's ArcInfo (think it was version 5.x) software.
          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward
            According to the rules, the patent application should contain enough information for someone skilled in the art to build the device or whatever it is that is patented.

            One of the nice things of the patent system is that an inventor can freely talk to investors in order to build the prototype without risking that the idea is stolen and commercially exploited by someone else.


            That's nice in theory. In practice what it means is someone can patent anything he can imagine, even if he has no clue how to invent one
            • by hankwang (413283) *

              He just needs to know enough techno-babble to convince the patent reviewer that he can invent one (and often he doesn't even need that). Then he can sit on the patent and wait for someone else to do something similar (and make money off it), and sue the pants off the actual inventor.

              The first half is unfortunately correct. But the patent can be invalidated even after being granted if it becomes clear that the patent description was lacking essential information. Although that is also theory...

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by mollymoo (202721)

              In practice what it means is someone can patent anything he can imagine, even if he has no clue how to invent one.

              Assuming they can (I suspect it would be harder than you think), that patent would be worthless (of no commercial value). I could patent a nonsense device for sorting spaghetti shapes, but that does not mean nobody else can patent devices for sorting spaghetti shapes. It means nobody can sell devices for sorting spaghetti shapes which use my useless, patented design. This is not a problem for

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by samkass (174571)
              "When idealistic principles (such as patents) cause more harm than good (as they are right now) they should be rejected on pragmatic grounds."

              No, they should be fixed. It's not coincidence that countries with stronger IP law tend to have stronger economies.

              Software patents seem like an extremely valid concept to me, but the bar for "obviousness" has been set far too low. And patent holders should be required to capitalize on their inventions within a certain time period or lose them, so these sleeper pate
              • Re:Obvious? (Score:5, Insightful)

                by PitaBred (632671) <.gro.sndnyd.derbatip. .ta. .todhsals.> on Tuesday June 12, 2007 @09:20PM (#19485317) Homepage
                When the US was building our strong economy you so cherish, it had much weaker IP laws. IP, especially in it's current form, doesn't do much for society in general, it allows the entrenched to stay so, and get fat on the losses of society as a whole. It stifled creative works, and basically creates a mediocre oligopoly of "art" and technology. Whatever's the safest bet for those who want to keep all their money, and make more. You wonder why Britney Spears is popular, and why Windows is at best passable, rather than brilliant and progressive in technology? People with intellectual property play it safe because they can protect their "intellectual" monopoly, and don't have to take risks with new things that might not go over well. Which basically makes everything play to the lowest common denominator.
              • Re:Obvious? (Score:4, Insightful)

                by ultranova (717540) on Wednesday June 13, 2007 @04:01AM (#19487927)

                It's not coincidence that countries with stronger IP law tend to have stronger economies.

                True. The reason is that only the citizens of countries with strong economies can afford to use enough money for entertainment to make the entertainment industry rich enough to bribe the politicians.

                Strong IP laws are one of the results of strong economy and the large and rich corporations it tends to produce, not a cause for it. Weak IP laws allow economy to develop rapidly since new inventions can be used by anyone; once the economy reaches the natural level for the current technology level and growth stops (or slows to match the rate of technological advancement), the established players start setting up barriers of entry to get a larger share of the now-stagnant market, since there's no new growth to be had.

      • And there are plenty of things that are obvious, even before they have been done the first time.

        Think up possible applications of general AI...

        Oh wait! It's not real, yet? Then I guess the first to implement any particular use, should get the seal of non-obviousness, no?
      • by froggero1 (848930)
        I believe it was the yellowpages who first came out with this groundbreaking technology.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Snowgen (586732)
        And just to put this in historical context, this patent was filed (never mind prep time) a scant 45 days after Alta Vista went live. It would be a couple years before Google would enter the scene. The big search engine of the day was AOL's WebCrawler. Compared to WebCrawler, this certainly is not an obvious idea.
        • I have a post further up describing how this concept was described in my Geographic Information System (GIS) classes back in 1990. Location based search is a simple buffer around a point to select other geospatial features (in this case businesses). The initial point is obtained by doing a geocode against vector line file containing street address information and finding the coordinate point. I'm sure there are plenty of geography text books describing algorithms on how to do this. The only thing unique
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by jedidiah (1196)
          Google, AltaVista and WebCrawler are all essentially just fluffy frontends to databases that have existed pretty much in their current form quite likely since before you were born. Acquire the right sort of data and set algebra from a 30 year old ACM article will easily do this sort of thing (geocoded searches).

          You are confusing the isssue of whether or not it was done in plain view of "consumer" with whether or not it's been done.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by wakim1618 (579135)
          The patent was filed in 1998 and in almost a decade, they have yet to implement a useful location based search engine. Yet by the time the idea has become obvious and more than one party has applications using that idea, the original patent filers still don't have a product. Isn't this example the very reason that software patents outrages intelligent people? It did not contribute to innovation back in 1998. It holds back innovation in 2007.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Qzukk (229616)
          this certainly is not an obvious idea.

          And by God, I'm glad SOMEONE finally got around to figuring it out. Of course you're right, it seems so obvious now, but back in the seventies nobody would have given it a second thought, after all, that's how it had always been done, you wanted to search for a plumber, well, you opened up the National Yellow Pages to the plumber section and start calling until you find one in your city. Sure, the young whipper-snappers here never had to deal with that thanks to the f
      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        Lots of things are obvious after they have been done for the first time.

        Prior art on location-based searching: You open up the map, and look at a location.

        Further prior art: You can look at the key of the map, find out what the scale distance looks like, and then draw a circle on the map with a compass that shows you all locations within a certain range.

        It's time to stand up and invalidate all patents that protect some utterly commonplace activity that people have been doing for years simply because it's

      • The problem with the whole "obvious" thing is this: lots of things become obvious to many people at once. It is the progressing state of the industry that makes it obvious at a specific time.

        It *was* obvious at the time. I remember a website at a university early on that did something similar, for their area. This was like, 1994-95. It was like the coffee-cam (one of the first webcams), interesting but essentially useless; however, it embodied the basics of what this patent covers.

        It was obvious because the
  • At least that's what could result if this patent sticks.
  • I don't know. Profit by patent lawsuit didn't work for the Wright Brothers or the inventor of the modern bullet cartridge (who partnered with S&W and was left spending all the money he made in patent court defending the invention). Can anyone site a successful patent-suing model as a sole means to wealth?
    • SCO may be going down the drain, but he seems to be raking in quite a healthy sum while they continue to circle the drain. Maybe not profit for the investors, but certainly profit for the board.
      • by sconeu (64226)
        Doesn't count. Patents are just about the only form of so-called "Intellectual Property" that aren't at issue in the SCO suits.

        SCOX didn't have any, and IBM dropped their patent counterclaims for their own reasons (mostly it wasn't worth it)
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by flyingfsck (986395)
      I suppose Rambus.
    • by pavera (320634)
      The guys who knocked of RIMM last year for 500 million.
  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <[moc.liamg] [ta] [nhojovadle]> on Tuesday June 12, 2007 @04:45PM (#19482525) Journal
    From the patent:

    7. The system of claim 1, wherein said geographical search area is the world.

    8. The system of claim 1, wherein said geographical search area is a continent.

    9. The system of claim 1, wherein said geographical search area is a country.

    10. The system of claim 1, wherein said geographical search area is a state.

    11. The system of claim 1 wherein said geographical search area is a provence.

    12. The system of claim 1, wherein said geographical search area is a territory.

    13. The system of claim 1, wherein said geographical search area is a city.

    14. The system of claim 1, wherein said geographical search area is a point of interest.
    Quick! Patent me up:

    15. The system of claim 1, wherein said geographical search area is ... the universe.

    Laugh now, but thousands of years from now when you're looking for an all night Denny's around Omicron Percei 8, the system that you use will end up paying me patent royalties!
    • Laugh now, but thousands of years from now when you're looking for an all night Denny's around Omicron Percei 8
      Haha, nice try patent troll.

      I own the patent to searching wherein the geographical search area is a star system, sucka. That wasn't a universe-wide search.

      Besides, how can a geographical search area be universe-wide?
      • by Anonymous Coward
        *somewhere in the neutral sector of the galaxy*

        eldavojohn: "Now, your honor, I know my colleague, Red Flayer, here is trying to mystify you with his scientician speak of geo this and graphical that but I am a but a mere country chicken lawyer here to prove that my patent does hold up."
        The Judge: "I'm going to allow this."
        eldavojohn: "... I presume that, like most judges, you are familiar with the Ballmer/RIAA/Lucifer defense, your honor?"
        The Judge: "You mean whereby I award you the patent and
    • Provence (Score:3, Informative)

      by Scrameustache (459504)

      From the patent:

      11. The system of claim 1 wherein said geographical search area is a provence.
      So they patented searching the south of France, but not searching in a province? :)
    • when you're looking for an all night Denny's around Omicron Percei 8, the system that you use will end up paying me patent royalties!

      My planet is tidally locked, you insensitive clod!

    • by ls -la (937805)

      11. The system of claim 1 wherein said geographical search area is a provence.
      Due to a typo in the patent application, this should only apply to Southeastern France [reference.com]
    • by Lane.exe (672783)
      All these mod points and there's not a -1 : Patent Troll option. Boo.
    • by CajunArson (465943) on Tuesday June 12, 2007 @05:28PM (#19483129) Journal
      Those are called "dependent claims" where the first claim (claim 1 in this case) is the major claim and the dependencies all add an extra "limitation" to the claim. Example: Say I make a semiconductor circuit that is novel as my invention and then I say: The same circuit described in claim 1, wherein said circuit is manufactured using gallium arsenide. Now, the dependent claim is narrower than the original which just described the basic circuit since I'm saying the invention is now also manufactured using gallium arsenide. The claims you have spotted are actually narrowing the main claim to more detailed searches. This is a popular technique since the main independent claim is often shot down by the examiner, but one of the dependent claims (that is strictly narrower) can be elected to replace it if the narrower claim actually avoids prior art. Also, most Slashdot stories about patents imply that 1 patent covers the whole Internet or something dumb like that. In real life, the USPTO (and courts) generally keep the scope narrower. Just because this patent describes a method for doing geo-aware searches does not mean that every geo-aware search is covered, companies work around patents every single day.
          You also have to remember, that it is not simply the claims that matter, but rather the disclosure of the actual subject matter in the patent that work. I can claim to cure cancer, but if my disclosed method is to throw ketchup packets at the cancer patient, then somebody else who actually cures cancer will have nothing to fear from my patent even if the claims are the same. If Verizon is using a technique that is substantially different from what is disclosed (or 'taught') by this patent, then it has nothing to fear, simply 'claiming' a technology is necessary but not sufficient to show infringement.
          To those of you including the story poster who cavalierly call this "obvious", you have to remember that it is not the fact that it might be obvious today it was what was obvious in 1996.... so before you say "Google already does this!" Just remember these guys had the idea and applied for the patent in 1996... 2 years before Google even freakin' existed. Finding obviousness requires a careful reading of the patent and the prior art. It reminds me of a story about some digital photography patents that Kodak got in the late 1980's that some moron on this site called 'obvious' because his camera (from 2006) had the same features that were in the patent.....

          As for the trolls who own the patent now, they can suck it, but at the same time, if the actual disclosures that are actually described in this patent are being used by Verizon, they should pay. If you were the lone inventor and some big company came and took your idea and never paid you for it, you'd probably want to be paid too.
    • Guess they don't check for typos.
    • I know it's a joke, but too bad the patent would only be good for 20 years
    • No need to wait. Sue NASA! I'm sure that they have a universe-associated database somewhere .... and data on the earth too .. down to one or two points of interest.
  • Hmm. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pclminion (145572) on Tuesday June 12, 2007 @04:48PM (#19482575)

    Obvious now, but was it obvious in 1996 when they filed for it? The problem is that this sector advances so damn fast that it's hard to even tell sometimes.

    Of course, holding the patent in their back pocket then arising like a submarine is a despicable action, one which I think should invalidate a patent. I think if you patent something you should be required to at least attempt to make a business off it instead of suing the shit out of people who have more balls than you.

    • by brunascle (994197)
      does it matter?

      if i can come up with an idea completely on my own, without influence from someone else who had the same idea, why should someone else prevent me from using that idea just because they thought of it first?
      • by pclminion (145572)

        if i can come up with an idea completely on my own, without influence from someone else who had the same idea, why should someone else prevent me from using that idea just because they thought of it first?

        What prevents you? I don't know, the PATENT the other guy has?

        If you think the idea of patents is a crock, fine -- SAY SO.

      • To give you an incentive to reveal the secret, inner workings of your invention.

        That's that whole "promote the arts and sciences" part. Instead of keeping your insights secret, as you might be tempted to do, We, The People grant the first person to reveal the secrets the right to control the invention for a limited time.

        Now we all understand that you, or someone else, might come up with the same idea independantly. But we don't want people hording knowledge. Thus the idea of patent protection.

        It would

        • and that's why software patents fail. These guys had no "product" so they didn't actually reveal their invention to the industry. The industry moved in a direction and they just happened to make a guess about how something would work out. That's the problem with the "totality" of software patents... many people that were never exposed to the inventors or there product are now at fault for doing something that came thru the natural order of things... evolution if you will.
          • ... and that's why software patents fail. These guys had no "product" so they didn't actually reveal their invention to the industry ...

            The patent system did not fail, you merely misunderstand it. They don't need a product to reveal their invention, the patent is the revelation. Anyone interested in using the "invention" was free to go to the owner and license it. Requiring a working product, rather than a detailed description, would just shut out the little guy who might have the breakthrough idea but
    • by rolfwind (528248)
      Is it really an invention when it's just the logical combination of things? I don't think so, not in the league of what patents were to protect. Patents were not meant to protect ideas in the first place, but implementations.

      If these ideas would come about anyway through a natural progression, why do we have patents again? What was the purpose of patents again? American Constitution: "To promote the progress of science and useful arts."

      It seems to me that software got along just fine without patents and
      • by pclminion (145572)

        I basically agree with you. But the point of argument wasn't whether patents are a good thing on the whole, but whether this particular "invention" was obvious or not. Fact is, I have no idea, and without a time machine to skip back to 1996 I'm not sure we could ever answer that question.

        That's the whole problem. These guys laid in wait for so long that when it finally might go to court, it's harder to answer question like "Was it obvious?" Maybe that's a part of the strategy. I dunno.

        • As a Geography student back in 1990, I can tell you that we were taught the concept patented here minus the web interface. The idea of locating a point based on an address is geocoding. You can then generate a buffer around that point to select other spatial features (in this case businesses). I don't see anything unique or new here except that he slapped on a web front end, and plenty of other companies were doing similar things with their applications.
    • by jedidiah (1196)
      Nevermind 1996. This idea was obvious in 1496. Describe the technology to Columbus and he would probably ask you where's the google mapping service that will tell him how to get from Venice to Cuba.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Vornzog (409419)

      Obvious now, but was it obvious in 1996 when they filed for it?

      YES. Painfully obvious.

      I have prior art. It is called a "phone book".

      You shouldn't be able to patent something that already exists just by putting it on the internet. There is no innovation there. As long as the patent system continues on its current money-grubbing descent into the realm of anti-innovation lawsuits, I can't help but think that the current state of the economy is a mirage. We, as a nation, don't produce anything and just sue each other. When the bottom drops out, a whole bunch of peo

      • by pclminion (145572)

        You shouldn't be able to patent something that already exists just by putting it on the internet. There is no innovation there.

        Agreed, but there are a zillion patents already based on exactly that. If you're going to toss THIS one out, you have to toss them ALL out. That's probably a good thing, but I don't see it happening.

    • As the previous child said, the yellow pages are a good example of a location based search, and they were already deep into innovation wars by 1999.

      As a side note, you'd think that something becoming ubiquitous before a patent troll surfaced would indicate obviousness.
    • And that's why things like this shouldn't be patentable.

      The purpose of patents is to encourage people to openly document their techniques. We give them a temporary protection on the idea in exchange for a concise explanation of how to implement it. The trouble with a patent like this is that it really is obvious. What would they need to explain here? All we're talking about is a relational database with another indexed value, namely, the physical location of something.

      The problem is that the value equat
  • by Overzeetop (214511) on Tuesday June 12, 2007 @04:48PM (#19482579) Journal
    if the patent isn't defended within (name your short time frame - I say 90 days*) from the first commercial, non-licensed implementation, the patent automatically expires and falls into the public domain.

    Show of hands on the proposal?

    *For those who say 90 days is too short, let me preemptively reply that if you are so involved in a particular industry that you can patent something in that field, you damned well ought to notice when someone announces or commercially uses that idea _in your field_ within three months. Otherwise, you really are just a troll.
    • by Lockejaw (955650)

      *For those who say 90 days is too short, let me preemptively reply that if you are so involved in a particular industry that you can patent something in that field, you damned well ought to notice when someone announces or commercially uses that idea _in your field_ within three months.
      The country is a big place to monitor, especially for smaller inventors.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by QuantumG (50515)
      1. Fix the patent system, don't just come up with bullshit bandaids. This should require registering prototypes and reference implementations, like it did in the old days.
      2. Make a good keyword searchable database for patents with an RSS feed for all the various categories so developers can remain up-to-date on the truly novel ideas that are being registered (as they all will be now, see step 1)
      3. Encourage developers to remain abreast of the patents in the field, when they expire and how much they can lic
    • by AusIV (950840)
      While I agree that something to this degree ought to be done, what's to keep someone from releasing a commercial non-licensed implementation very quietly, not promoting it for 90 days, then when the patent gets challenged they could claim it had been commercially available for 90 days without being challenged. I'd think you could invalidate almost any patent that way. Like I say, I'd like to see something to block submarine patents, but the legislation needs to be careful not to create a method for invalida
    • by gurps_npc (621217)
      90 days works fine if you are a big firm. It is TOTALLY unfair if you are a tiny little firm, working in say New York city and some other too bit firm starts violating it in Hawii, and you don't even hear about it for one year.

      Your method just invites people to QUIETLY violate the patent for 90 days, then publicise that "hey, we have been doing this for 3 months in the small townin alabama and you did nothing".

      Try again.

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      For those who say 90 days is too short, let me preemptively reply that if you are so involved in a particular industry that you can patent something in that field, you damned well ought to notice when someone announces or commercially uses that idea _in your field_ within three months.

      What if I go on vacation for three months? And I filed the patent on my OR, not with corporate help?

      Your proposal is horrible. At the least, the time period should be a year.

      I have a better idea, though. Let's stop granting

  • by reebmmm (939463) on Tuesday June 12, 2007 @04:54PM (#19482649)
    Let's put slashdot's money where its mouth usually is. Here's the very first claim:

    A system which associates on-line information with geographic areas, said system comprising:
    • a computer network wherein a plurality of computers have access to said computer network; and
    • an organizer executing in said computer network, wherein said organizer is configured to receive search requests from any one of said plurality of computers, said organizer comprising:
      • a database of information organized into a hierarchy of geographical areas wherein entries corresponding to each one of said hierarchy of geographical areas is further organized into topics; and
      • a search engine in communication with said database, said search engine configured to search geographically and topically, said search engine further configured to elect one of said hierarchy of geographical areas prior to selection of a topic so as to provide a geographical search area wherein within said hierarchy of geographical areas at least one of said entries associated with a border geographical area is dynamically replicated into at least one narrower geographical area, said search engine further configure to search said topics within said selected geographical search area.

    To invalidate it as obvious, you have to find one or more documents/patents or example of a system that contain all of the elements of the claim (or enough sources that show that it was obvious to combine).

    Remember, you have to be able to find documents that existed on or before the date of filing Jan 31, 1996.

    Frankly, it would probably be easier to show that the disclosure was not enabling. But, let's have at it.

    • I believe that the prior art has to predate the filing by more than one year, so we need something before January 1995.
      • It doesn't have to. However, if it does you will have a statutory bar on their application, preventing them from swearing behind your reference.
    • Easy way around it would be to use a database that does not use that method.

      a database of information organized into a hierarchy of geographical areas wherein entries corresponding to each one of said hierarchy of geographical areas is further organized into topics;

      EX: every point is a specific lat and longitude.
      DB has 2 indexes latitude and longitude.

      Select * from loc where (lat loc_lat - 10) and (lon loc_long - 10)

      EX2: Database of information organized into topics that are further organized into a hier
    • My problem is not with it's obviousness. I think in 1996 it was a very novel idea. But I have two problems with the lawsuit.

      1) The Idea had previously been novel, but at this point, 11 years after filing, the idea has become extremely obvious with a large number of public and private investments and markets already coming to play with absolutely no opposition from the patent holder. Personally, I don't think patents should cover anything for more than 5 years. I also think that any organization that doesn't
    • by Greyfox (87712) on Tuesday June 12, 2007 @05:29PM (#19483151) Homepage Journal
      I'm pretty sure the Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy would qualify as prior art. That it is fictional in no way keeps it from embodying those ideas.
    • Well, since I'm not going to be appearing in court I'm not going to drum up all the documentation... But the only thing that would be remotely hard to find evidence of predating 1996 would be the part about "at least one of said entries associated with a border geographical area is dynamically replicated into at least one narrower geographical area".

      The first two bullets are simply describing the client-server model of networking which was old hat in the 60s.

      The third bullet just describes a database with
    • All you need is the database.

      All the database has to do is be able to form queries suitable for returning the sort of search you are looking for. The whole thing is probably in some 50 year old math textbook somewhere.

      Oddly enough, the library database at OCLC probably qualifies.

      This ties into my earlier rant about how libraries are actually organized and locations are coded based on what the local organizational algorithm is.
    • by russotto (537200)
      Two words: Oracle Spatial
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Well, from 5 minutes in google, here's a paper that touches on several similar topics [psu.edu], published in 1996. Here's another one by Larson, published in 1995 [berkeley.edu] (look up the title: "Geographic Information Retrieval and Spatial Browsing" and you'll find citations to it that indicate a publication date of 1995). The relevant process even has a term: Geographical Information Retrieval (GIR). Larson's paper also makes mention of a system called "Virtual Tourist" for finding and browsing web sites by their geographi
    • A phone book. Is adding the computer to the equation worthy of a patent?
  • Way back when, you used to be able to pick up the phone and ask for the phone number and the address of a particular place. The nice lady at the other end of the phone would access the proper directory and give you the address. (I know, I am old.)
  • Yellow Pages (Score:5, Insightful)

    by borgasm (547139) on Tuesday June 12, 2007 @05:28PM (#19483119) Journal
    um, the Yellow Pages ?
    • The yellow pages may have made a decent primary reference. However it may have been a bit of a stretch to knock out all the claims under a "obvious"-type rejection based on it. Specifically:

      5. The system of claim 1, wherein said hierarchy has a structure comprising plural geographical levels into which the geographical areas are geographically categorized by size to provide a low level, one or more intermediate levels and a high level, each of the geographical levels above the lowest level encompassing a

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by thejuggler (610249)
        The yellow pages does apply here. Back in 1993,94,95,96 all the rage was the white pages and yellow pages on CD. I had a CD set for the entire country that let be do location based searches on people and businesses. This IS prior art. When did the first online version of the phone book start? I remember using them back in 1996 or 1997 on the internet.


        This is the problem with our patent system. You are not required to show your idea is unique. You are not required to show you are the inventor. Y
  • by dwheeler (321049) on Tuesday June 12, 2007 @05:30PM (#19483161) Homepage Journal
    Once there was something called a "phone book". The "Yellow pages" let you do geographic searches based on keywords; the "White pages" let you do geographic searches based on name. You could do this by hand, or dial an operator to do this search for you.

    Say it again: "No software patents".

    • by geekoid (135745)
      This isn't a software patent, it's a method, which is worse.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Phateus (987983)
      A) A phone book did not have on-line information in 1996
      B) A phone book is not connected to a computer network.
      C) A phone book does not duplicate items into different regions.
      D) This is definately not a software patent. Claim 1 clearly states that they are patenting a sytem comprising a network and a organizer (server).

      You can get a patent on a system running software, just not on the software itself. A CD or hard disk with the code is also patentable.

      I'm not saying this was novel at the time, but it
  • If you filed a patent on a process that the patent office would need to use in the future to protect the process of filing patents, what would happen ?
  • Root for Verizon or root for software patents? My head's exploding.

    I need to see this positively. It's a Win-Win situation. Whatever the outcome, the bad guy loses.
  • by nothings (597917) on Tuesday June 12, 2007 @05:47PM (#19483377) Homepage
    I see a lot of comments talking about this idea being non-obvious in 1999.

    You do not get a patent on a problem or an idea. You get a patent on a solution to a problem, an implementation of an idea.

    "Location-based search" is an idea. "A machine that can trap/kill mice" is an idea. "A sturdy container made from cardboard" is an idea. "Heating water to create steam to power the motion of a vehicle" is an idea shading towards an implementation. The intention of patents was not to patent the idea. Yes, ideas are often clever, creative, novel, or "innovative": "nobody ever thought of doing that before". But that means very little; somebody has to think of it the first time. In the grand scheme of thing, ideas are cheap, and not what patents are supposed to protect (in the interests of encouraging).

    You are supposed to patent an implementation of an idea: a detailed, specific approach to solving the problem. The solution is not supposed to be "obvious to a skilled practitioner", but there is no enforcement of this in the patent system, which is where many valid grumbles about patents arise.

    I don't know anything about cardboard box patents, but there are some obvious constraints on the problem. You'd probably like to be able to tile the plane with the unfolded shape, so you can cut them out of a larger run of the material. You'd like to be able to fold the thing up into something along the lines of a box (a rectangular parallelpiped)--boxes pack well for shipping. You need overlapping flaps to allow sealing it.

    Given those constraints, there are probably only a few basic plausible methods for a design for making a cardboard box that's efficient and effective. Given so few plausible designs, somebody who invents one and patents it is not significantly helping or advancing science (because the constrained solution space is so small, any skilled practioner could invent one of the few possible solutions). Actual advances are what patents are intended to encourage, but (at least as I've characterized the problem) I doubt anything like that happened in the basic design of cardboard boxes. (I also know nothing about what, if anything, got patented. This is just trying to offer an analogy.)

    This happens constantly in software; most of the time the idea is the only novelty, and the patent is either interpreted as covering all possible solutions to the idea (making alternative implementations irrelevant), or it patents the obviously best solution (if you're going to draw a cursor in a manner that's reversible, XOR is the most effective algorithm; there were apple ][ / Atari 800 games that drew sprites the same way--but the patent only covered uses of the algorithm for drawing cursors on windowed workstations). Someone long ago patented the idea of a networked game with sound and was semi-recently extorting game companies with it; the patent was old enough that the most viable candidate for prior art fell through, because although people used a port on the old Commodore Pet computer to create a networked game, and used the same port to drive a simple sound output, nobody ever did both at the same time (I guess it only had the one port); and without prior art, nobody involved in the patent system accepts that the idea that combining the two is obvious, or at least that the two or three obvious ways of implementing game-sound-in-networked-game are, indeed, obvious. Or (more accurately, I expect) they've abandoned all pretense of 'obviousness' as meaning anything other than 'prior art'.

    • by nothings (597917)
      Correction: since I posted the parent, some other comments have bubbled up that point out (without detail) that the KSR ruling by the Supreme Court has changed [law.com] the rules [nytimes.com] for obviousness [washingtonpost.com].

      Somehow I missed when this happened, but it should mean patent litigiation is going to totally rebalance issues of obviousness vs. prior art.

    • The assignee, ZLand, was supposedly an ASP. They had a novel business model: franchising. It didn't work out for them, and some googling around (using the assignee's and inventors' names) reveals the company may have been just the slightest bit sketchy. So the patent's origins may turn out to be troubled.

      Also, both the abstract and the claims don't describe a modern location-based services system or the main functions of an LBS system. It looks like they patented a hierarchical Web directory (like Yahoo!, c
  • Have been doing this as long as there has been networking... and there are quite a few that have "really deep pockets" and tons of "prior art" to squish this - perhaps the legal folks at Ma Bell will go on a rampage.

    Mix a few words around and you have locating a computer in a building based on its network address, corporate yellow pages, and a floor map...

    Which is what we did in colledge 30 years ago to see what cute chick was sitting at that terminal.
  • Ok, solution (Score:3, Interesting)

    by pavera (320634) on Tuesday June 12, 2007 @05:56PM (#19483481) Homepage Journal
    Seems like every company that wants a website has to do the following anymore:
    a) create a subsidiary for the website
    b) incorporate subsidiary in non-software patent country
    c) host website and everything related to it in said country

    These are just the patents I know about, but they pretty much preclude anyone from making an ecommerce website:
    a) 1 click patent
    b) CC payment over the internet is patented
    c) "find nearest location" is patented

    So if you want to accept money, allow customers to find your physical locations, or conveniently store customer information for repeat purchases (all normal, rather obvious things) then you have to pay licensing fees for each of these features (if licensing fees are available). The owner of these patents could just as easily say "No you can't license it, you have to pay me $100,000 to develop your website with this feature". Or, "No I'm the only one that can have a website with these features".

    Basically, if software patents aren't done away with soon, all progress in the US will halt. The writing is on the wall.

    For those of you stating that this is "non-obvious" in 1996, have you ever heard of the yellow pages?! This is a patent on online yellow pages. I'm 100% certain that the yellow pages companies have been storing their directories in DATABASES and accessing them across a NETWORK for decades. I'm also sure that whatever function they use internally to convert the digital yellow pages into a physical printed yellow pages book would violate this patent, running an SQL query on a database across a network would constitute a search engine on a database based on location and topic.

    Creating an online web based interface to an existing database of listings which can be searched by location and topic is not novel, its not even an idea. It's been done for decades, just because its online doesn't make it any different.
  • two words... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by josepha48 (13953) on Tuesday June 12, 2007 @06:58PM (#19484129) Journal
    ... star trek!

    Do I really need to say more?

    Well for those that don't get it.. on-line is a really broad term. Usually it means on a computer. Thier first claim, basically consists of a computer on a network, that is looking at goegraphical information via a search engine. Who patented this, mapquest?

    Claim 1 is so broad, that Google and just about anyone doing mapping (GPS included) could fall under this defination. Now considering that I was using a GPS when I was in the army back in 1991, and that a GPS is a specialized computer, this claim can be invalidated under that.

    But back to star trek.. they tracked people on that show and scouted planet surfaces using computers and GPS stuff. This was all talked about years before these people patented this stuff.

    Who do I talk to about working to invalidate this patent? Seriously!

    • by geekoid (135745)
      Star trek didn't use GPS. They used some magic technology, they did not implement a satalite array.

      I would like to point out that if I invented anti-matter/matter mixer using crystals I would still get a patent because Star Trek didn't say HOW it was done.

  • by grapeape (137008) <mpope7@kc.rrBOYSEN.com minus berry> on Tuesday June 12, 2007 @07:07PM (#19484213) Homepage
    My phone book has been used for location based searches since the 1900's.
  • by dghcasp (459766) on Tuesday June 12, 2007 @08:49PM (#19485095)

    A /. reader and a businessman go to a garage sale, where they discover a copy of Action Comics #1 priced for 35 cents.

    The slashdot reader launches into a diatrabe about how it's wrong that he can't photocopy and sell the copy because, man, information wants to be free. He then launches into arguments railing against how capitalism has assigned a value to the comic other than its value for recycled paper, and for good measure complains about his city's recycling program and how few people take advantage of it.

    While he's busy making cracks about how "In Soviet Russia, comics read you!" to the poor housewife, who is fearing for her life and is trying to hide under the table, he completely misses the fact that the comic is no longer there; the businessman bought it, resold it, and is driving by in his new Ferrari.

    Verizon didn't search for the patent. Someone else found it and discovered they could make money by buying it cheap. It's the market in action; what's the problem here?

    And why exactly is this filed under "your rights online?"

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