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Twitter Faces Patent Infringement Lawsuit 236

Posted by Soulskill
from the stupid-but-predictable dept.
Digital Dan writes "Twitter is being sued for patent infringement. Surprised? OK, probably not, but you'd think the plaintiff would at least wait for Twitter to actually make money before striking. According to TechCrunch: 'Twitter is being sued ... by TechRadium, a Texas-based technology company which makes mass notification systems for public safety organizations, the military, and utilities.' The abstract to patent #7130389 describes it: 'A digital notification and response system utilizes an administrator interface to transmit a message from an administrator to a user contact device. The system comprises a dynamic information database that includes user contact data, priority information, and response data. The administrator initiates distribution of the message based upon grouping information, priority information, and the priority order.' Two other patents are involved as well."
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Twitter Faces Patent Infringement Lawsuit

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  • I for one... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by santax (1541065) on Wednesday August 05, 2009 @12:12PM (#28959859)
    think there is bound to be a bit of prior art here... like the teletext, sms, wordprocessors and even digital radiotransmissions. Who grants this stuf anyway?
  • NET SEND (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ThatSteve (1442191) on Wednesday August 05, 2009 @12:17PM (#28959935)
    Maybe they can use net send to communicate the failure of their suit.....
  • Re:I for one... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Cheerio Boy (82178) * on Wednesday August 05, 2009 @12:19PM (#28959965) Homepage Journal

    think there is bound to be a bit of prior art here... like the teletext, sms, wordprocessors and even digital radiotransmissions.

    At the very least the wall command comes to mind as prior art:

    http://unixhelp.ed.ac.uk/CGI/man-cgi?wall [ed.ac.uk]

  • by MickyTheIdiot (1032226) on Wednesday August 05, 2009 @12:21PM (#28960007) Homepage Journal

    Who cares. They are still a patent troll if they're trying to milk money out of somebody because of a bogus patent that never should have been granted.

  • by NecroPuppy (222648) on Wednesday August 05, 2009 @12:25PM (#28960051) Homepage

    No, a patent troll is a company that exists solely for the purpose of patenting things and then filing lawsuits.

    This company, as they actually have products, is not such a troll; I make no statement as to the validity of their patent, or whether or not it should have been granted.

    As they aren't an NPE or NME, the normal defintion of patent troll doesn't apply.

    I do think it's rather dumb to sue a company that isn't making any money and has no real prospects for doing so, but that just makes them dumb too; not a patent troll.

  • Re:Not again (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sixteenraisins (67316) <william@purplea[ ... m ['ndb' in gap]> on Wednesday August 05, 2009 @12:26PM (#28960069) Homepage

    ...is it just me or does the concept of "mass notification systems that allow a group administrator or 'message Author' to originate a single message that will be delivered simultaneously via multiple communication gateways to members of a group of 'message Subscribers'" encompass things such as newspapers and cable TV?

    Yes, it does encompass those things, IMO.

    It does not I believe, include Twitter.

    Why?

    Because Twitter (1) does not use an administrator to originate a message, and (2) doesn't "deliver" a message. It posts a message, where it must then be retrieved. Push vs. pull. Big difference.

  • by Henry V .009 (518000) on Wednesday August 05, 2009 @12:27PM (#28960091) Journal
    You mean that they're only a part-time patent troll.
  • by Shakrai (717556) on Wednesday August 05, 2009 @12:28PM (#28960103) Journal

    I do think it's rather dumb to sue a company that isn't making any money and has no real prospects for doing so, but that just makes them dumb too; not a patent troll.

    Why is it dumb? Presumably they have assets that could be taken to satisfy a judgment. Waiting until they start making millions of bucks and then filing your lawsuit would seem to be more questionable than just filing it. The former suggests that you are only in it for the money. The latter suggests that you may actually care about your patent.

  • Re:Not again (Score:5, Insightful)

    by schon (31600) on Wednesday August 05, 2009 @12:34PM (#28960215)

    Because Twitter [...] posts a message, where it must then be retrieved. Push vs. pull. Big difference.

    I thought the whole "big thing" about Twitter is that it can send SMS messages to subscriber's phones? That's "push" pretty much by definition, isn't it?

  • by Mordok-DestroyerOfWo (1000167) on Wednesday August 05, 2009 @12:34PM (#28960221)
    You can't patent the sending of messages between people...hold on phone's ringing. Dammit, I'll get my wallet.
  • Prior art (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sqlrob (173498) on Wednesday August 05, 2009 @12:37PM (#28960283)

    So what year was wall created?

  • by WilyCoder (736280) on Wednesday August 05, 2009 @12:44PM (#28960347)

    "The former suggests that you are only in it for the money. The latter suggests that you may actually care about your patent."

    Honestly, whats the difference in today's profit-above-all-else world?

  • by maxume (22995) on Wednesday August 05, 2009 @12:47PM (#28960389)

    It is utterly preposterous that the above claim was not deemed obvious.

  • by Restil (31903) on Wednesday August 05, 2009 @12:48PM (#28960409) Homepage

    And don't forget the entire purpose of the patent in the first place... to provide the patent holder a limited duration monopoly on the products described by the patent. By suing, they can force twitter to shut down, or at least force them into a licensing agreement which will eliminate them as a competitor.

    Now, whether twitter actually IS a potential competitor, or whether the patent should have been granted in the first place, are completely different issues.

    -Restil

  • by LabRat007 (765435) on Wednesday August 05, 2009 @12:50PM (#28960431) Homepage

    The former suggests that you are only in it for the money. The latter suggests that you may actually care about your patent.

    Patents ARE about money. There is probably a strategy behind the timing, but rest assured patents are about money. If they weren't no one would file them.

  • Re:I for one... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Ardaen (1099611) on Wednesday August 05, 2009 @12:50PM (#28960435)
    The claim does sound a little like a subset of the internet.
  • Re:I for one... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Ardaen (1099611) on Wednesday August 05, 2009 @12:54PM (#28960485)

    who grants this stuff? The same people that will control your health care if barack obama and the democrats have their way.

    An underfunded and understaffed department that could do a lot of good if properly run but doesn't due to neglect, abuse and cutbacks for which there are better run equivilants in other countries?

  • Re:I for one... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pak9rabid (1011935) on Wednesday August 05, 2009 @12:57PM (#28960529)

    I do think it's rather dumb to sue a company that isn't making any money and has no real prospects for doing so, but that just makes them dumb too; not a patent troll.

    It's not so dumb if you consider that they could lose customers if their customers realize they could use Twitter for free as a replacement for their product that they're probably paying lots of money for. Maybe they're simply seeking an injunction to protect their business model? I'm not condoning their actions, as I support the notion that increased competition forces competitors to create better products.

  • Re:Not again (Score:3, Insightful)

    by BitZtream (692029) on Wednesday August 05, 2009 @12:58PM (#28960537)

    I am the administrator of my twitter account. The message is delivered when the client retrieves it. Okay, not really, I don't use twitter, but everyone who posts is effectively the administrator of their own account.

    The push vs pull argument is retarded as in almost every case with just a slightly different point of view you can make it appear the exact opposite. In a TCP connection, which side is pushing and which side is pulling? The initiator or the listener? Hmm? Depends on which level you're looking at it and which why you'd like for it to appear. If you look at it at the high level with common sense, its clear, but if you really muck about and throw some one who argues like a lawyer at it, the lines get blurry real quick.

    Either way, if you read the patent, push vs pull doesn't matter the way its written, only that it makes it to a client.

  • Re:I for one... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 05, 2009 @12:58PM (#28960543)

    You read all the claims. You can focus on the independent claims. Then for each claim, make a list of elements. Elements are features, items, actions, etc. Now think Boolean. If that entire list of elements existed before in one place (in prior art), then that claim shouldn't have been granted*. If your device is missing anything from the list, then the claim doesn't cover your device. If there is any ambiguity in what an element is, then you read the specification for clarification. Repeat for each claim.

    Notice that the abstract doesn't come into play. That's why some of us groan when people quote the abstract.

    *obviousness is a trickier defense. Best to stick with prior art.

  • by Teancum (67324) <robert_horning@n ... minus physicist> on Wednesday August 05, 2009 @01:04PM (#28960627) Homepage Journal

    The concept of patents for the designs of mechanical engineers seems to have at least the fundamentals of a good idea. It takes quite a bit of effort to get some mechanical device created, a process developed to make the thing, distributed to various retail outlets (or to potential customers for devices intended more for businesses than ordinary consumers), and the cash flow coming back to the group that made the thing in the first place.

    Keep in mind that the constitutional provision asserts that purpose of both patents and copyright is to "promote the useful arts and science".

    Where the problem has come in not only this case but a great many others is the expansion of the role of a patent to cover things like business methods, genetic sequences, computer software (originally unpatentable), and other more nebulous ideas and theoretical constructs that have nothing to do with an actual tangible item. None of these should have patent protection, and IMHO it is an abuse of constitutional authority to even grant these kind of patents.

    Furthermore, I would have to agree that patents in and of themselves, even in regards to mechanical patents, are a waste of government bureaucrats and courts. They don't do what they claim (protecting the independent entrepreneur/inventor), nor to they really provide any benefit for society as a whole, nor even promote scientific endeavors. I dare anybody to show an independent private "inventor" who creates something and makes money by selling the idea to some mega-corporation for royalties. It doesn't happen.

  • Re:Not again (Score:2, Insightful)

    by R2.0 (532027) on Wednesday August 05, 2009 @01:17PM (#28960817)

    "

    Yeah, fails on the obvious part. It appears to be just a database hooked to a bunch of different communication devices that can be rigged for group broadcasting. Interesting perhaps, useful perhaps. Patentable? Maybe, just maybe, the specific implementation but as a general concept can we say "broadcast fax"? I knew we could!"

    You are contradicting yourself. You state the claim as "a database hooked to a bunch of different communication devices that can be rigged for group broadcasting". But then you claim that an example of 1 means of group broadcasting "Broadcast fax" is sufficient to serve as prior art for the whole claim.

    It would have been more accurate to say "as a general concept can we say "broadcast fax that, if it gets a busy signal, calls one persons cell phone, another person's pager, another persons email; and then if they don't work calls the first person's email, the next person's home phone, the third persons wife's cell phone..." - oh, wait - that didn't exist before. Hmmmm..."

  • Re:Claim 1 (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 05, 2009 @01:23PM (#28960915)

    Finally, someone who understands that the abstract is meaningless. The claim is what matters here.

    And speaking of the claim. 1.i.2.: "user selected priority information that indicates a contact order for the user contact device;" I am not aware of Twitter allowing a user to prioritize contact order.

    And 1.iii.1.: "user response information that indicates individual user contact devices have received the message;" Again, I am not aware of Twitter doing this. Perhaps for ad tracking purposes, but otherwise there is no indication that this occurs at all.

    Thus, I would go so far as to say that there is no infringement here - aka nothing to see, move along.

  • by Zordak (123132) on Wednesday August 05, 2009 @01:34PM (#28961049) Homepage Journal

    Other than this piece of nonsense, which I take to mean "you can use just about any channel for communications", the patent is very similar to a soccer team call-down list.

    The problem is, you can't just generalize a claim term like that. The patentee cannot just go into court, and say, "Your honor, this limitation just means that you can use just about any channel for communications. So they infringe." And the defendant can't go into court and say, "Your honor, this just says ... so this prior art anticipates it." Each and every word in that big, long, messy clause has a meaning and limits the scope of the claim. You can't just discount the fact, for example, that the message is transmitted through at least two industry-standard gateways simultaneously. If Twitter doesn't do that (and I have no idea if it does), it doesn't infringe. What I am certain of is that a 10-second reading of the abstract by a mob of angry Slashdotters is utterly insufficient to determine whether the patent is (1) valid and (2) infringed by Twitter.

    The guys approving these patents must not be spending more than 5 minutes on them.

    A little exaggerated, but sadly more or less true. The patent examiners are under tremendous pressure to process cases quickly, and I know from personal experience that this can result in both bad rejections and bad allowances.

  • Re:I for one... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by YouWantFriesWithThat (1123591) on Wednesday August 05, 2009 @01:37PM (#28961099)
    what the GP thinks is relevant.

    this isn't the court case. the GP doesn't need to produce citations just because you demand it. this is a bunch of people discussing the filing of the lawsuit. the nature of a casual discussion is to share opinions, not list facts. the GP is allowed an opinion. you are not the judge. get over yourself.
  • Re:I for one... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 05, 2009 @02:13PM (#28961563)

    Yes... the USPTO is controlling your health care already for a long time. Why do you think medication is so expensive?

  • Re:I for one... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Red Flayer (890720) on Wednesday August 05, 2009 @03:32PM (#28962663) Journal
    Just to expound on that a bit... there is a logical reason for it.

    Letting a bureaucratic patent examiner be the final arbiter of patent claims leaves the potential for errors with far-reaching (for the applicants) consequences, never mind the potential for abuse.

    The Patent Office's current practice seems to be "If everything appears to be in order, grant the patent -- any disputes can be settled in court".

    The reason this is a somewhat logical approach is because in court, both sides of the dispute have the ability to present their cases, which theoretically results in a fairer result.

    The downside, of course, is the cost (both public cost, and the litigants' costs) of hearings and/or trials. As usual, when lawyers write the laws and regulations, lawyers benefit from them.

    And while court costs and legal fees have a way of squeezing out the little guy, it's reassuring to me that patents can be argued in court, and applicants aren't *entirely* dependent on the whim of a patent examiner or two.
  • by arkenian (1560563) on Wednesday August 05, 2009 @10:01PM (#28967113)

    I dare anybody to show an independent private "inventor" who creates something and makes money by selling the idea to some mega-corporation for royalties. It doesn't happen.

    Huh? This happens all the time. Its a well-known business model. An entrepeneur comes up with a new idea, if its patentable typically patents it, develops the business, and then sells it to a larger company for big bucks. While IP isn't the only thing being bought in these cases, its typically a non-trivial portion of it. I don't really know where this myth that the founding fathers were all talking about random inventors in their homes etc. came from. It is worth bearing in mind that the period American government was being developed pretty much coincides precisely with the lifetime of Adam Smith and the development of the corporation -- and more than a few of the founding fathers were heavily involved in some of those concepts. Benjamin Franklin, who more or less got the patent stuff in place, not least of them. And, for that matter, its worth noting that Benjamin Franklin, while he certainly felt that it would benefit the nation as a whole, was not exactly a disinterested party when it came to the subject of Patent Law. Patent law is, at least in theory, one of the most innovative things in the US constitution, and is almost certainly responsible for a great deal of our success in technology innovation. It was created in an environment where it was quite common for small companies to invent things and large companies to just outright steal it. And while you can argue about how well patent/copyright law protects actual content creators, it is certainly the case that things are better now than they were in, say, the days of Shakespeare, where anyone could make a copy of his plays once a single version was out (Shakespeare himself was somewhat involved in the creation of the concept of Copyright, and even at that time it was heavily weighted towards the publisher. At least that's what my vague memory of research I did some years ago says.) Fundamentally a number of the founding fathers were pretty ruthless businessmen, and while the level of abuse of patent and copyright law we see today was not what they intended, I don't think you should overestimate the extent this was intended to protect the individual creator vs. the investor in the creation. Patent and Copyright laws have done a lot for innovation in our country. Which doesn't mean that they haven't also been systematically abused in recent decades as well. But lets not throw out the baby with the bathwater, hmm?

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