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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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  • 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.

  • hahaohwow (Score:2, Insightful)

    by TheSpengo (1148351) on Friday January 25, 2008 @07:10PM (#22188262)
    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!
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 25, 2008 @07:17PM (#22188342)
    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!
  • 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) on Friday January 25, 2008 @07:26PM (#22188430) Homepage Journal
    Looks like Vonage is safe from being sued this time!
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • This isn't about winning the lawsuits... this is about companies paying them to go away -- usually paying them slightly less than it would cost to defeat them in court. If you can get enough companies to do this, you can make millions off of a bogus patent without ever going to court.

    Of course, if one of the companies calls you on it, you lose in court and that patent's revenue dries up.
  • Seriously (Score:5, Insightful)

    by spun (1352) <loverevolutionary@@@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 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.
  • Re:not very smrt (Score:5, Insightful)

    by reiisi (1211052) on Friday January 25, 2008 @08:05PM (#22188826) Homepage
    Could we say that's the way the system _is_ _supposed_ to work now?

    Evidently, it doesn't.
  • by Compuser (14899) on Friday January 25, 2008 @08:09PM (#22188868)
    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.
  • 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.)
  • by nofx_3 (40519) on Friday January 25, 2008 @08:23PM (#22188976)
    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
  • by zoips (576749) on Friday January 25, 2008 @08:28PM (#22189010) Homepage

    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.
  • by SEAL (88488) on Friday January 25, 2008 @08:33PM (#22189060)

    I would be pissed that all these tech companies rake in the money by ripping off my invention.
    Odds are:

    a) by the time the patent application was filed, it was already obvious
    b) they didn't invent it, or they acquired the patent from someone else
    c) they have made no effort whatsoever to put the invention into production
  • 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 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.

  • Re:Good luck (Score:2, Insightful)

    by elyk (970302) on Friday January 25, 2008 @08:43PM (#22189122) Homepage
    This isn't a software patent though - many of the claims (camera, removable storage, etc) refer to hardware.
  • by jedidiah (1196) on Friday January 25, 2008 @08:55PM (#22189186) Homepage
    Just because the devices didn't exist, it didn't mean that
    people couldn't imagine them as lego blocks built out of
    (then) current devices loosely coupled together.

  • by Atreide (16473) on Friday January 25, 2008 @09:03PM (#22189234)
    you sure are right

    question is what do this kind of company face when their claim is dismissed ?
    they did cost money to society & other companies

    is this abusive behaviour penalized ?

    I could sue you for assaulting me, if i lied or plot I face severe penalties.
    what do these abusive companies face ?
  • 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 billstewart (78916) on Friday January 25, 2008 @09:19PM (#22189348) Journal
    One of the requirements for patenting something is that it can't be something obvious to the skilled practitioner. Most of the features he talked about were certainly obvious not only to skilled practitioners in the 1997-2000 timeframe, but to non-technical marketing people, the Nokia smartphone was out, and friends of mine were working on startups in that space, where the major non-obvious detail was "How do we describe this in a way that a VC will give us $4 million after we shake a tree in Menlo Park?", which, alas, we didn't quite find a satisfactory answer to :-)


    But these trolls are describing a phone that not only had *each* of the features they claim, but in fact had *all* of them and still fit in a hand-held form factor. I'm pretty skeptical about the ability to fit a GPS device into a phone back in 2000 and still have it be hand-held, though hand-held GPS was certainly available. (I'm even more skeptical about the ability to have a satisfactory battery life if you did.) And I'm even more skeptical about the claim that they actually *did* reduce their concept of these devices to practice.

    If you're not required to actually come up with the technology to build the thing, I'm perfectly able to imagine one of these things that fits in your ear canal and runs all year without recharging... So send me my check once you've built the thing.

  • by mOdQuArK! (87332) on Friday January 25, 2008 @09:28PM (#22189410)
    Actually, from a "societal-good" viewpoint, it is actually bad to allow a "small inventor" (or a patent troll) to lock up an idea & prevent anyone from using it, when a larger entity would have the resources to easily take that idea and make it available for the rest of society to use.

    As a society, there needs to be a way to reward the "small" inventor/innovators for their ingenuity, without preventing the exploitation of those ideas by the rest of the society.
  • by sumdumass (711423) on Friday January 25, 2008 @10:06PM (#22189614) Journal

    As a society, there needs to be a way to reward the "small" inventor/innovators for their ingenuity, without preventing the exploitation of those ideas by the rest of the society.
    How about compulsory licensing after a certain amount of time without a product on the shelve and even longer time if you are selling something.

    And something like that could also work for the larger people too.
  • by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Friday January 25, 2008 @10:22PM (#22189702)
    The small inventor gets absolutely nothing if he 'locks up' the idea and nobody builds it. The incentive is clearly there for him to see the invention realized.

    There are abuses in the system w.r.t. submarine patents like this one. Most of these occur because some parts of patent law are not properly interpreted or need reform. A ten+ year lag between initial filing and granting the patent is crazy.

    But requiring the inventor to build the invention breaks all sorts of very productive business models. University research, small research companies, individual inventors, etc. etc. are a very productive part of the true innovative landscape that would be hurt badly by your proposal. Throwing the baby out with the bath water is not acceptable.

  • by elronxenu (117773) on Friday January 25, 2008 @11:27PM (#22190024) Homepage

    As a society, there needs to be a way to reward the "small" inventor/innovators for their ingenuity, without preventing the exploitation of those ideas by the rest of the society.

    We have such a thing already, it's known as a "job".

  • by mOdQuArK! (87332) on Saturday January 26, 2008 @12:04AM (#22190260)

    The small inventor gets absolutely nothing if he 'locks up' the idea and nobody builds it. The incentive is clearly there for him to see the invention realized.

    The problem is, the small inventor may have an unrealistic expectation of what it's going to take for him to bring the idea to full fruit. In the meantime, someone with more resources could implement the idea very quickly, and make it available for society to use.

    Of course, patent trolls have no intention of building anything - they just want to extort as much money as possible without bringing any real value to society.

    But requiring the inventor to build the invention breaks all sorts of very productive business models.

    I'm not sure this is relevant to my response - are you perhaps responding to someone else's message?

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