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Smartphones Patented — Just About Everyone Sued 1 Minute Later 407

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the definition-of-a-patent-troll dept.
This week the US Patent and Trademark Office issued a surprisingly (although I guess it shouldn't be) broad patent for a "mobile entertainment and communication device". Upon closer inspection you may notice that it pretty much outlines the ubiquitous smartphone concept. "It's a patent for a mobile phone with removable storage, an internet connection, a camera and the ability to download audio or video files. The patent holding firm who has the rights to this patent wasted no time at all. At 12:01am Tuesday morning, it filed three separate lawsuits against just about everyone you can think of, including Apple, Nokia, RIM, Sprint, ATT, HP, Motorola, Helio, HTC, Sony Ericsson, UTStarcomm, Samsung and a bunch of others. Amusingly, the company actually first filed the lawsuits on Monday, but realized it was jumping the gun and pulled them, only to refile just past the stroke of midnight. "
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Smartphones Patented — Just About Everyone Sued 1 Minute Later

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 25, 2008 @07:07PM (#22188210)
    I would be pissed that all these tech companies rake in the money by ripping off my invention. Good thing the patent system protects our geniuses from intellectual property theft.
  • not very smrt (Score:5, Informative)

    by brian1078 (230523) on Friday January 25, 2008 @07:07PM (#22188218) Homepage
    no "smartphone" required. my 2 year old Verizon LG VX8300 is a "... mobile phone with removable storage, an internet connection, a camera and the ability to download audio or video files ..."
    • Re:not very smrt (Score:4, Informative)

      by gravesb (967413) on Friday January 25, 2008 @07:13PM (#22188300) Homepage
      A quick glance at the patent shows a priority date of 1997. I'm not sure what all's covered by the initial application they filed in '97, but prior art references will have to be from 1996 to be iron tight.
      • Re:not very smrt (Score:5, Informative)

        by stinerman (812158) <nathan,stine&gmail,com> on Friday January 25, 2008 @07:22PM (#22188404) Homepage
        The main problem here is "continuation filings". Using these, you can take longer and longer to amend your patent. Of course, that means that you can amend your patent to cover things that are already in the market. So file in '97 and file enough continuations until 2000 or so and you've just retroactively patented 3 years worth of progress.

        What needs to happen is that if you file a continuation, the clock gets reset to that continuation. So file in '97 and file a continuation in 2000 means that anything in '98 and '99 now counts as prior art.
        • Re:not very smrt (Score:5, Informative)

          by gravesb (967413) on Friday January 25, 2008 @07:32PM (#22188526) Homepage
          If you add new matter, its prior art date is of the continuation in part that you filed to add the new matter. Otherwise, all of the adjustments must have support in the original filing. Essentially, what you propose is the way the system works now.
        • by Animaether (411575) on Friday January 25, 2008 @08:12PM (#22188894) Journal
          what needs to happen is that they demonstrate, from the get-go, a device that does exactly what the patent describes. Enough of these theoretical patents already - describe, and demonstrate, an actual implementation of the thing and demonstrate how the implementation is non-trivial (+ the usual prior art discovery, etc.)
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by nofx_3 (40519)
            Sure this is great if you are making a smartphone, but what about patenting something like a nuclear reactor or a space ship. You are telling me you do all the proper work to design a new type of nuclear reactor, and then you actually have to build one before you can protect your IP? I don't disagree that the patent discussed in this story is ridiculous, just that theoretical patents should be valid in many instances.

            -kap
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by zoips (576749)

              Sure this is great if you are making a smartphone, but what about patenting something like a nuclear reactor or a space ship. You are telling me you do all the proper work to design a new type of nuclear reactor, and then you actually have to build one before you can protect your IP? I don't disagree that the patent discussed in this story is ridiculous, just that theoretical patents should be valid in many instances.

              -kap

              That is exactly how patents are supposed to work. This "make up shit and write it down with nothing tangible" is a recent abuse of the system.

    • no "smartphone" required. my 2 year old Verizon LG VX8300 is a "... mobile phone with removable storage, an internet connection, a camera and the ability to download audio or video files ..." Not good enough United States Patent 7,321,783 Filed: November 20, 2003
  • Good luck (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Weaselmancer (533834) on Friday January 25, 2008 @07:07PM (#22188220)

    These guys will be smashed into paste by hordes of the highest paid lawyers on planet Earth first thing Monday morning.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by jumpinp (1144189)
      There are probably lawyers behind all these crazy patent apps. Just trying to rake in the fees.
    • That's about the time we find out they get kickbacks from the law firms representing the above :D
    • by weston (16146) <westonsd@@@canncentral...org> on Friday January 25, 2008 @08:35PM (#22189072) Homepage
      Seriously. I'm not at all sure that having their patent case demolished is good enough.

      This kind of blood-sucking behavior is so transparently in bad-faith, so anti-productive, and so greedy, that it ought to carry criminal penalties.

      Like the people who throw in clauses that trigger penalties and ridiculous interest rates for early payoff on loans, these are not the kind of people who cooperate in a society, they're psychopathic parasites.

      But for whatever reason, right now we live in a society that rewards them instead of punishing them.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 25, 2008 @07:09PM (#22188240)
    Can you hear me now?
  • abusive behaviour (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Atreide (16473) on Friday January 25, 2008 @07:09PM (#22188242)
    putting abusive people in jail would make them think twice

    they cost money to other companies, but also to state and law
    how can tribunal tolerate such behaviour and not fine a big toll ?
    • by Reality Master 201 (578873) on Friday January 25, 2008 @07:34PM (#22188544) Journal
      Companies that do this kind of bullshit should not only have their officers face legal action, but their corporate charter revoked and their assets liquidated.

      A hardship for the shareholders? Maybe, but also, too fucking bad.
      • Seriously (Score:5, Insightful)

        by spun (1352) <loverevolutionary@nOSPAM.yahoo.com> on Friday January 25, 2008 @07:53PM (#22188734) Journal
        Do this a few times and shareholders will be electing boards with actual morals and ethics beyond "How hard can we screw them." Corporations are a privilege created by the people, for the benefit of the people. If it isn't working out that way, we need to kill them.
      • by Penguinisto (415985) on Friday January 25, 2008 @08:06PM (#22188850) Journal
        Seriously - I'd love to see a clause put into any patent (and copyright) based lawsuit filing, signed by the CEO himself, that says:

        "I hereby swear under penalty of perjury that I am filing this lawsuit in good faith. Furthermore, if my lawsuit is found to be without merit, and is dismissed with prejudice, then my corporate charter shall be dissolved, and my corporation's holdings shall be split and sold to the highest bidder at public auction. Furthermore, my corporate officers, who are members of my corporation's board at time of filing, shall be individually levied personal fines of 3x their individual annual personal income (consisting of, but not limited to: salary, bonuses, incentives, and all other forms of income), as calculated on the year this lawsuit was filed. My corporation furthermore cannot be sold, merged, transferred, or acquired by any other entity until the lawsuit is concluded, nor can board members be replaced except in the event of death or permanent incapacitation. My corporation furthermore cannot issue any further financial instruments during this time period, until the lawsuit is concluded (instruments include but are not limited to: stock issues, bond issues, or any other forms of publicly traded debt)."

        That would simultaneously wipe out the RIAA, the MPAA, and damned near every real patent troll on the planet...

        ...or at least make the fsckers think real hard before they do it.

        /P

        (PS: if you can improve on it or correct dumb mistakes that I was bound to include inadvertently, please, go for it).

        • by afidel (530433)
          So if you're a CEO and want to keep your job all you need to do is start a lawsuit? Oh and stopping a corporations ability to use financial instruments would basically cripple most companies whether they won the lawsuit or not, issuing short term debt is critical to most companies balance sheets.
        • by JesseMcDonald (536341) on Friday January 25, 2008 @08:40PM (#22189102) Homepage

          Seriously - I'd love to see a clause put into any patent (and copyright) based lawsuit filing, signed by the CEO himself, that says:

          "... if my lawsuit is found to be without merit, and is dismissed with prejudice, then my corporate charter shall be dissolved, and my corporation's holdings shall be split and sold to the highest bidder at public auction. Furthermore, my corporate officers, who are members of my corporation's board at time of filing, shall be individually levied personal fines of 3x their individual annual personal income ..."

          Sorry, but the CEO doesn't own the company (the shareholders do) and doesn't have the authority to unilaterally give it way or dissolve its charter. Neither can the CEO levy fines on anyone, any more than you could. He/she could reduce or eliminate their future salary or wages, but then they'd just quit and go somewhere else.

          Anyway, your proposal would be truly unfair to those who didn't have anything to do with supporting the decision to file the lawsuit, or who did support it, but in good faith. For the rest the existing penalties are, IMHO, more than sufficient.

  • hahaohwow (Score:2, Insightful)

    by TheSpengo (1148351)
    Do these people think they can actually win any of those lawsuits? They have to realize that all those organizations have hordes of lawyer minions at their disposal that will beat them into a fiscal pulp!
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Patent trolls wouldn't exist if this type of asshatery didn't work. Not only can they win this but they likely will at least see large amounts of cash from some source that is much bigger than them and seeks to improve their patent portfolio which will be used to trade for the use rights of other corporations' patents.

      No, they will make their blood money, lawyers will be happy, and the barrier to entry in this industry will be raised higher.

      Overhaul the U.S. patent system now!
  • Awesome` (Score:5, Interesting)

    by moogied (1175879) on Friday January 25, 2008 @07:12PM (#22188280)
    Finally, a firm got enough balls to blatantly abuse the living crap out of the patent system. Maybe this will start the much needed rework of the patent system.
    • An even more blatant example: Intellectual Weapons.

      (They buy vulnerabilities from security researchers, and then they try to patent all possible security fixes)
    • ... I've been filing for continuation on a patent that was originally applied for in 1845. When I finally let rip, I'll begin suing people who make not just smartphones, but cellular phones, touch-tone phones, rotary phones, the estate of Alexander Graham Bell, and the guys who wrote the patent being talked about in this story.

      Sincerely,

      SCO
  • Instead of the standard being that you cant patent what's obvious, the standard should be that you can't patent something unless its clever. And the twenty year patent period needs to be shortened in these days of rapid tech progress.
  • Good for them! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nwf (25607) on Friday January 25, 2008 @07:12PM (#22188284)
    I say, "good for them!".

    Perhaps this is just what we need to make congress re-think our amazingly incompetent patent office. Clearly, computers can do all of this stuff, and a cell phone / PDA is just a hand-held version of a computer. Nothing really novel, but that never stopped the patent office.

    Unfortunately, I missed my chance to patent patent trolling and further patenting the patenting of patent trolling. Etc.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by qmaqdk (522323)
      Good idea. I wan't to patent patenting and sue the Patent Office for infringement.

      Hope nobody beats me to it...
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by qmaqdk (522323)
        Noooo. Wan't?! What was that?!?!?

        Wa not? Want not? WAN not?

        *sigh*

        Preview lesson learned.
  • by JonTurner (178845) on Friday January 25, 2008 @07:12PM (#22188288) Journal
    Update kit consists of one drop of superglue, which you apply to the flash card. Presto -- no removable storage.
    Who's laughing now, Mr. Patent Troll?
  • by jorghis (1000092) on Friday January 25, 2008 @07:12PM (#22188292)
    I have always wondered what patent troll companies got out of filing for patents that obviously have loads of prior art. Have any of them ever been successful at sueing a big company for an obvious concept that has tons of prior art? I cant imagine that any of the companies listed would want to just give money to the patent troll for fear of attracting more of them.
  • The company filed a nonsense obvious patent. The examiner was overworked and didn't understand it anyway, tossed a coin and it was heads, passed the patent. Company gets lucky and tries to sue everyone.

    America, America, America. I'm afraid you all have to stay behind after school.

  • They sued WHO? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sirwired (27582) on Friday January 25, 2008 @07:15PM (#22188312)
    They do realize that IBM, from it's lofty perch near the top of the Fortune 500, doesn't take too kindly to patent extortion? Especially pathetic ones like this? The same IBM that is a company that does not manufacture phones of any kind, smart or otherwise? The same IBM that has a larger patent portfolio than the next-highest competitor by a substantial margin? The same company that probably has a patent on breathing and a another patent on filing patent lawsuits? The same IBM with a quite famous, take-no-prisoners legal strategy? The same IBM that just spent more in legal fees fighting SCO than the company was worth?

    Methinks a couple of those plaintiffs are going to get dropped from the suit, quite quickly. Unless of course IBM wants to make an example of them (not out of the question), in which case they will have their patent forcibly invalidated, with maybe some Sherman Act sprinkled on top for good measure.

    SirWired
    • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Friday January 25, 2008 @07:43PM (#22188618) Journal

      The same IBM that has a larger patent portfolio than the next-highest competitor by a substantial margin?
      A large patent portfolio is only a threat against companies that actually make something. Standard operating procedure these days is to spin off separate companies to do the patent trolling.

      The fact that IBM's lawyers are colloquially known as 'Nazgul' should probably be more worrying to them.

  • by jsimon12 (207119) <tzzhc4NO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Friday January 25, 2008 @07:15PM (#22188320) Homepage
    This is one of the best cases for a production phone/pda that is prior to this filing:

    HP OmniGo 700LX [daniel-hertrich.de]
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Compuser (14899)
      I am still looking for something from 1996 or prior which had a color screen and enough memory to play video.
      Seems to me that memory only recently became cheap enough that this is feasible without exorbitant cost.
      So instead of looking for prior art device, maybe the companies being sued should look for design notes and
      visionary statements.
    • The huge number of disjunctives in the claim (not allowed in UK patent applications, they'd need separate "main" claims to ensure clarity) make it hard to determine the true scope - as a UK application I'd say it lacks clarity.

      For example that end clause

      Patent US7321783 claim 1 >>> "said display panel adapted for reproducing images or other data from at least one of said memory or the Internet, said other data including at least one of moving images, combined sounds and moving images, or music with
  • by Jedi Holocron (225191) on Friday January 25, 2008 @07:17PM (#22188334) Homepage Journal
    I'd wager that this is someone trying to make a point about how broke the patent system is.

    Hmmm...maybe it is Vonage!
  • I noticed that they left out God...!!!!
  • Do you think I could patent the business model of patent trolling? Then sue all the companies needlessly tying up our legal and patent systems with this crap. Just a thought... maybe Ive just been at work too long.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by darjen (879890)
      I wonder if I could patent the art of Slashdot trolling... I could make millions!
  • The way to patent troll is to go after a few small companies that can't afford to fight back, score those victories, then use the precedent to go after the big money.
  • by rumblin'rabbit (711865) on Friday January 25, 2008 @07:20PM (#22188382) Journal
    Generally a patent cannot just be a bunch of parts thrown together. There has to be coherence to it, an unexpected synergy that makes the whole more than the sum of the parts.

    I'm trying to find the synergy here. Pure convenience, perhaps?
  • Whew! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Jedi Holocron (225191)
    Looks like Vonage is safe from being sued this time!
  • by BigGar' (411008) on Friday January 25, 2008 @07:26PM (#22188442) Homepage
    It details 125 combinations of things in a hand-held device.

    Here's the first the rest are an extensive list of variations on the theme:

    1. A mobile entertainment and communication device for communicating with the Internet and remotely located telephones, comprising: a housing of a palm-held size; a cellphone provided in said housing, said cellphone adapted for selectively and wirelessly connecting to the Internet and remotely located telephones and adapted for controlling selection of at least one of (1) downloading data or uploading data from or to the Internet, or (2) downloading data to a computer or other electronic device and said cellphone having at least one of (1) voice controlled dialing, (2) a wireless earphone or (3) a wire connection jack earphone with a microphone for operation of the mobile entertainment and communication device; a memory operatively connected to said cellphone; a microprocessor operatively connected to said memory; said microprocessor adapted for storing data to said memory that is received from the Internet or a remotely located telephone; and a display panel operatively connected to said microprocessor, said display panel adapted for reproducing images or other data from at least one of said memory or the Internet, said other data including at least one of moving images, combined sounds and moving images, or music with or without images.

    The whole thing looks like the product of a brainstorming session with everything under the sun included in the list.

    The patent was filed on Nov 20, 2003. It lists an inventor but they haven't invented anything as far as I can tell only tried to be the first ones to list these items together in a patent application. In going over the list I doubt there's anything to terribly non-obvious in there. I'd be surprised if this isn't challenged rather than just paid out, but that's just an opinion and IANAL.
  • Manipulatin' me! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anachragnome (1008495)
    Seriously, soon as I RTFA, the first thought that went through my head was that SOMEBODY has had enough of the USPO and decided to make as big a splash as possible, using a device that most people own, as a means to bring the entire issue to the PUBLIC, at large.

    I doubt they are trying to actually win this thing, but merely point out that there are some SERIOUS problems with the patent system.

    What better way to do so then to do it in grand fashion? The media are going to put up articles stating such stuff a
  • by GaryPatterson (852699) on Friday January 25, 2008 @07:31PM (#22188498)
    Basically you can gather a list of blue sky requirements, write them up in legalese and then apply for a patent. Easy! Any half-witted project manager can do that in their sleep.

    It's trivial to list requirements. Actually solving the many problems in realising the requirements is where all the work is, and applications like this indicate nothing like that.

    There is no technical detail here that indicates the patent applicant ever intended to make anything or worse - ever solved any of the problems involved in designing a product like this.

    That's where I think the patent system fails - you can essentially patent a requirements document without ever needing to progress further. It's not rewarding an inventor, because an inventor would have either created a prototype or created a design sufficiently detailed to allow a prototype to be built.

    Patents like this reward the wrong people.
    • requirements (Score:4, Informative)

      by ProfBooty (172603) on Friday January 25, 2008 @09:05PM (#22189250)
      IAPE (I am a patent examiner). I can not discuss the merits of this case, but I can lay out some of the requirements to receive a patent.

      The specification is to be in enough detail that one of ordinary skill in the art at the time the invention was made would possess sufficient knowledge to know how to make and use the invention based upon applicants disclosure. This does not mean that gate/circuit level designs are required, nor that enough detail must be present to enable a layman to make and use the invention or that the program code to implement the invention is required.

      Examiners can do a 35 USC 101 rejection for enablement/best mode/in possession of the invention etc, if not enough detail is present to detail how to make/use the invention.

  • patent lawyers (Score:4, Interesting)

    by intthis (525681) on Friday January 25, 2008 @07:31PM (#22188514)
    i've been going through the motions of getting some software patented (using a specialist law firm in chicago) and mid-way through the process, i stopped proceedings to entirely rework / rethink the project, because some troll like this had written a patent for something disturbingly simple, and worded it such that it expanded miles beyond it's scope... to a point that it encroached on... well... everything...

    every time i see cases like this, i have to wonder... do i just need shadier patent lawyers? or should i just rely on the people who review these things to be completely blind to all prior art?
  • FYI (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MacarooMac (1222684) on Friday January 25, 2008 @07:39PM (#22188576)
    From el Wiki on prior art [wikipedia.org]

    "Every country other than the United States uses a first-to-file system. This means that, regardless of who the first inventor was, the person or legal entity who files a patent application first is the one who can be granted a patent for the invention. The first-to-invent versus first-to-file rule is one of the major differences between U.S. patent law and the patents systems of other nations."
  • Literally (Score:3, Funny)

    by kidcharles (908072) on Friday January 25, 2008 @07:49PM (#22188690)
    I thought the title of the submission was just figuratively describing the speed of the lawsuits by saying "1 minute later" but that's exactly what happened.
  • by mpoulton (689851) on Friday January 25, 2008 @08:01PM (#22188790)
    First and foremost, the claims of this patent are not innovative or novel. They are merely obvious incremental advances in product complexity. The reason these people were able to list them all in a patent application years before the technology hit the market is simply because there were significant technical barriers preventing manufacturers from making a device with these features at the time. Without the basic technology to actually build the device, it's not possible to adequately describe the implementation for patent purposes. That brings us to the second major issue: Failure to reduce the idea to practice. The claims are stated, but at the time the patent application was filed there were significant technical limitations that prevented such a device from actually being built by anyone - and the application did not provide solutions to those problems. Moreover, the company did not undertake any ongoing research to find a solution to those problems (they just waited 10 years for others to do so). Consequently the application fails to provide enough information for one "skilled in the art" to reproduce the invention. In other words, it's a "flying car patent" - an idea is described that is not technically feasible and no practical implementation is detailed. I doubt the legal eagles will have too much of a problem shooting this one down. I think the interesting part is that it was ever granted in the first place. This is a fairly clear indication that the USPTO is relying on subsequent litigation as part of the review process.
  • Apple (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mandos (8379) on Friday January 25, 2008 @08:07PM (#22188858) Homepage
    So the story says they sued Apple among others. Isn't one of the complaints that some people have against the iPhone that it Doesn't have removable storage? That would seem to exempt them from this patent.
  • by bleh-of-the-huns (17740) on Friday January 25, 2008 @08:26PM (#22188988)
    I goggled the company that is the holder of the patent, apparently they also hold patents on Seat Belts and Air bags...... wtf!! http://www.gigatec.com/index.asp [gigatec.com] is the site that lists the other patents.
  • by X (1235) <x@xman.org> on Friday January 25, 2008 @08:37PM (#22189086) Homepage Journal
    It looks to me like the '97 patent actually might have some merit. The continuations area pain/annoyance, but it seems like either way, this guy might be owed some money.

    The one thing that annoys me about this is I remember seeing promotional videos for PCS when the technology first came out (prior to '97) which suggested that some day basically everything covered in this patent would happen. At some point we just need to recognize that some things are just an inevitable result of progress, rather than innovations in their own light?
  • Idiot patent troll (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Eternal Annoyance (815010) on Friday January 25, 2008 @09:06PM (#22189260)
    Somehow I think the companies in question will /want/ this to drag on, and on, and on... until the patent troll realizes all of its resources are sucked dry. At which point the patent troll will be toyed around with some more in court and finally killed.

    HP, Apple, etc. will want to make an example out of this one.
  • by knarf (34928) on Saturday January 26, 2008 @03:19AM (#22191260) Homepage
    And here we see again what happens when laws are made by lawyers, for lawyers. Anyone who looks for the lawyers in shining armour who will knock these leeches into pulp come the next day fail to see the point. As far as the lawyers are concerned the law does fullfill its intended purpose by making society fully dependent on their 'services'. Kind of like the way rat catchers in days gone by might have spread rats through the city, thereby creating panic and calls for their service.

    A politician who wrote a law which stated that from this point in time on anyone who wished to engage in economical activity could not do so until he paid due to his party would immediately be recognized for what she is. A lawyer writing a similar law telling the public to pay due to their caste is for some strange reason not recognized for what he is.

    In many countries it is practice to have a civilian head the armed forces. This is supposed to ward off the danger of having those armed forces take over the government. A similar construction might help to avoid creating the current abysmal state of (parts of) the legal system which has turned into a sort of social security for the legal caste. Sure, lawyers will still be needed to work on the nitty-gritty details - like soldiers deployed on the battlefield. But in the same way as most societies do not tolerate those soldiers to impose a constant state of emergency and military rule those societies should not tolerate a constant state of legal emergency.

    Laws should be written to benefit society as a whole. Not just to feed part of it.

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