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NTP Sues Six Major Tech Companies Over Wireless Email Patents 197

Posted by Soulskill
from the going-for-the-gusto dept.
rgraham writes "NTP, the same company that sued and eventually settled with RIM for $612.5 million over an IP dispute, has now sued Apple, Google, HTC, LG, Microsoft and Motorola for infringement of wireless email patents. In the press release, NTP co-founder Donald Stout said, 'Use of NTP's intellectual property without a license is just plain unfair to NTP and its licensees. Unfortunately, litigation is our only means of ensuring the inventor of the fundamental technology on which wireless email is based, Tom Campana, and NTP shareholders are recognized, and are fairly and reasonably compensated for their innovative work and investment. We took the necessary action to protect our intellectual property.'"
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NTP Sues Six Major Tech Companies Over Wireless Email Patents

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  • by SilverHatHacker (1381259) on Friday July 09, 2010 @03:20PM (#32854592)

    inventor of the fundamental technology on which wireless email is based

    Really? Which technology would that be: wireless or email?

    • I was wondering the same thing.

    • by binkzz (779594) on Friday July 09, 2010 @03:24PM (#32854662) Journal

      inventor of the fundamental technology on which wireless email is based

      Really? Which technology would that be: wireless or email?

      Nono, it's the combination of it.

      Millions of people put peanutbutter on their bread. Millions of other people put jelly on their bread. But it takes a genius to think of combining these things, and should therefore be reasonably compensated for their services to mankind.

    • by Monkeedude1212 (1560403) on Friday July 09, 2010 @03:38PM (#32854842) Journal

      SYSTEM FOR INTERCONNECTING ELECTRONIC MAIL SYSTEMS BY RF COMMUNICATIONS AND METHOD OF OPERATION THEREOF

      Says the United States Patent Office. Yes, it is as ridiculous as it sounds. I need to start thinking abstractly and patenting anything and everything that will be tried. I mean, touch interfaces are becoming popular. Can I patent the use of multi-touch interfaces and Email clients? Can I patent the use of non-touch hand gestures to operate a computer? What else could I just sit on that will be done eventually...

      • by kwerle (39371)

        I'm not interested enough to read details, but I'm pretty sure that folks did UUCP (including email) over HAM radio decades ago.

        http://www.globalspec.com/reference/29627/203279/we-used-to-copy-e-mail-across-2-400-baud-modems [globalspec.com]

        • by N7DR (536428) on Friday July 09, 2010 @04:16PM (#32855348) Homepage

          There were plenty of amateur radio operators (myself included) using the KA9Q stack to implement e-mail over radio in the late 80s.

          As is so frequently the case, though, I haven't been able (yet) to find the details of the patents at issue here. Although possibly they are the same as the ones at issue in the RIM case (the PR blurb from NTP seems to indicate that that's a possibility, but isn't explicit). In any case, without the actual patents (indeed, without the detailed claims from the complaint), it's hard to know whether the action is even, as the lawyers say, colorable.

        • I'm not interested enough to read details, but I'm pretty sure that folks did UUCP (including email) over HAM radio decades ago.

          It doesn't matter what you think you remember. What matters is what is exposed in the body of the patent - not in the introduction and not in an abstract.

        • I certainly know of one guy that was. But there's this bizarre idea that if you take a network transport layer, throw some derivative or work-alike protocol on top of it, suddenly you've got a whole new invention.

      • Apple, Google, HTC, LG, Microsoft, Motorola, RIM, and dozens of others should get together and sue the patent office for issuing the patent in the first place. A brief skimming through the patent seems to indicate that transmitting email over a microwave link, or even reading email over WIFI would be covered.

        Actually, "each of the plurality of electronic mail systems transmits other information from its plurality of originating processors to its plurality of destination processors through a wireline wi
      • by Grishnakh (216268)

        Yes, it is as ridiculous as it sounds. I need to start thinking abstractly and patenting anything and everything that will be tried. I mean, touch interfaces are becoming popular. Can I patent the use of multi-touch interfaces and Email clients? Can I patent the use of non-touch hand gestures to operate a computer? What else could I just sit on that will be done eventually...

        You could make a nice business out of patent trolling like this. You just need the capital to file all these bogus patents, and then

      • by jo42 (227475)

        SYSTEM FOR INTERCONNECTING ELECTRONIC MAIL SYSTEMS BY RF COMMUNICATIONS AND METHOD OF OPERATION THEREOF

        So, shouldn't every single laptop/notebook/netbook/tablet with WiFi manufacturer also be on the lawsuit list? After all, any and every single laptop/notebook/netbook/tablet with WiFi is also "INTERCONNECTING ELECTRONIC MAIL SYSTEMS BY RF COMMUNICATIONS"...

      • by unix1 (1667411)

        First of all, there are 665 claims in that patent [google.com]. Isn't that a little overboard?

        But let's look at the first one:

        What is claimed is:

        1. In a communication system comprising a wireless system which communication system transmits electronic mail inputted to the communication system from an originating device, mobile processors which execute electronic mail programming to function as a destination of electronic mail, and a destination processor to which the electronic mail is transmitted from the originating device and after reception of the electronic mail by the destination processor, information contained in the electronic mail and an identification of a wireless device in the wireless system are transmitted by the wireless system to the wireless device and from the wireless device to one of the mobile processors connected thereto, the originating device comprising:

        a programmed processor which executes electronic mail programming to originate the electronic mail, the electronic mail containing an address of the destination processor and the information contained in the electronic mail to be transmitted to the destination processor.

        After you parse all this mumbo-jumbo, doesn't it just say e-mail over wireless system? Filed in 1999? Didn't we have e-mail on laptops in 1999? What's wrong with this picture? What if you just remove the word "wireless" from the claim and read it again?

        The claim is so broad, it seems to me it covers the pagers too.

  • Step 2: FUD+Lawsuit
  • NTP (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 09, 2010 @03:23PM (#32854644)

    Nasty Patent Troll?

  • Hmmm..... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ducomputergeek (595742) on Friday July 09, 2010 @03:23PM (#32854650)

    First, it seems they forgot to sue Nokia.

    Second, I see six very big companies who suddenly have a reason to work together. The $600M NTP got from RIM is a penitence compared to what these people can afford on legal.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 09, 2010 @03:25PM (#32854680)

    Email is over 20 years old, so there's no way they could patent it. Combining email with IP-over-GSM is simply combining two existing technologies, which isn't patent worthy, so they couldn't have patented that. And, if they had patented something at the transport layer or higher, they wouldn't have called their patents "wireless email patents", they would have called them "wireless networking patents". So, their patents can't possibly be valid. I'd look them up and show exactly why - but they were so ashamed of how much they abused the patent system, that they wouldn't even tell us which patents they are. FTA:

    What are these patents? We can only guess, as the one-page release issued by NTP's public-relations firm does not name them.

    • True, but that doesn't stop NTP from suing and wasting everyone's time and money.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Mods, please read the back story. [slashdot.org]

    • by prgrmr (568806)
      e-mail is actually over 40 years old, as it dates back to 1969.
    • by stevew (4845) on Friday July 09, 2010 @03:51PM (#32855022) Journal

      What I don't understand is why Ham Radio Packet communications wouldn't be considered prior art for all of these patents. Hams were sending email through automated gateways to MOBILE stations back in the 80s. Why isn't this adequate prior art?

      In looking at the patent:

      "A system (100) for connecting a plurality of mail systems (1-N) each transmitting information from one of a plurality of originating processors (A-N) to at least one of a plurality of destination processors (A-N) which may be transported during operation in accordance with the invention includes at least one interface switch (304), an interface switch being coupled to each of the plurality of electronic mail systems of receiving information originating from an originating processor in one of the electronic mail systems for transmission to a destination processor in another electronic mail system; and a RF information transmission network (302), coupled to the at least one interface switch, for transmitting stored information received from one of the at least one interface switch originating from an originating processor in one electronic mail system by RF transmission to at least one RF receiver which relays the information to a destination processor within the another electronic mail system. "

      The big difference is that there is an RF link....Ham Packet Radio fits the bill.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Grond (15515)

      So, their patents can't possibly be valid. I'd look them up and show exactly why

      It's no secret which patents NTP owns [google.com], and the patents will necessarily be named in the complaint filed with the court, which like most federal court documents will be available on the PACER [pacer.gov] system for a nominal fee. I don't why you'd expect NTP to name the patents in its press release.

      Combining email with IP-over-GSM is simply combining two existing technologies, which isn't patent worthy, so they couldn't have patented that

      In

      • by mea37 (1201159)

        I have no position on the validity of the specific patents, and I do agree with what you've written here... but I would point out that the age of the patents is a double-edged sword. You mention one case whre prior art would have to be from 1990, so I assume you mean that one was filed in 1991; when was it issued? Isn't the patent term 17 years?

        • by Grond (15515)

          You mention one case whre prior art would have to be from 1990, so I assume you mean that one was filed in 1991; when was it issued? Isn't the patent term 17 years?

          That patent (5479472 [google.com]) issued in 1995. The patent term used to be 17 years from the date of issue. It is now 20 years from the date of filing, but it was 17 years from issue when that patent was filed. Anyway, so that patent will be in force until approximately 2012. But remember that the statute of limitations on patent infringement is 6 year

      • In one case your prior art will need to be from around 1990. What seems perfectly obvious now was probably not so obvious back then.

        HAM radio BBSes.

      • The problem is that the lawyer devised test for obviousness are not obviousness tests at all, they are in fact exercises in doublespeak. They basically come down to redefining lack of prior art as something not being obvious, with a lot of words and procedures to hide that fact.

        Yes, it is impossible to objectively decide obviousness and hindsight clouds the judgement ... but regardless, a purely subjective decision by experts is the only reasonable way to decide obviousness. The lawyer devised tests are all

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by GooberToo (74388)

        if the combination is new, useful, nonobvious

        And that's the problem. Far, far, too many patents are OBVIOUS technology combinations. Since SMTP is in fact one of the oldest Internet age protocols, its pretty easy to argue any wireless layer capable of transporting SMTP is an obvious implementation. In fact, its easy to argue any generic network layer intended to transport IP, SMTP is an obvious implementation. After all, that's entirely the fucking point of using IP and SMTP!

        Every time these patent trolls pop up with incredibly obvious patents, I can'

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by MightyMartian (840721)

          As someone else mentioned, look at UUCP, which on top of allowing copying of files across telephone lines and similar networks, was used for many years to push email and newsfeeds. I had my own UUCP account, and some of my earliest posts to Usenet are archived on Google Groups and still show the old bang paths. Push email has been around a loooong time.

    • by Idbar (1034346)

      Combining email with IP-over-GSM is simply combining two existing technologies

      Like a screen and a mouse pad and call it a touch screen? The patent system needs to be reviewed.

  • by by (1706743) (1706744) on Friday July 09, 2010 @03:26PM (#32854698)
    Network Time Protocol sues NTP for maligning their good name.
  • by Just Some Guy (3352) <kirk+slashdot@strauser.com> on Friday July 09, 2010 @03:29PM (#32854736) Homepage Journal

    You know, I think society was fundamentally better when people were physically afraid of screwing over their neighbors too badly. Yeah, I understand the downsides to vigilantism and a lynchmob mentality, but I'm not completely convinced that the tradeoff has been worth it.

    • by mcgrew (92797) * on Friday July 09, 2010 @03:39PM (#32854860) Homepage Journal

      There was a Hostory Channel show on the vigilantes. The cause of the vigilatteism was corrupt government and police that were not accountable to anyone and perverted democracy. In the case of our own corporate-run governments these days...

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by natehoy (1608657)

        vigilatteism

        People making their own espresso-and-steamed-milk-based beverages? Savages!

        (I know what word you meant, but I liked the typo better.)

        • I'm a vigilettante. I deal out fairly rough justice to suspected lawbreakers, but only when I've nothing better to do.

      • The cause of the vigilatteism was corrupt government and police that were not accountable to anyone and perverted democracy.

        Vigilanteism, if not the name, predates government. It would be more accurate to say that the cause of law, government, and particularly the policing function of the latter in enforcing the former is largely the desire throughout society to contain vigilanteism.

    • How do you go vigilante on a megacorp? I mean, you can certainly try, but the odds are very much not in your favor.

      • How do you go vigilante on a megacorp?

        If you're a bigger megacorp (or a group of six such corps), and no one bigger (e.g., government) is restraining you, its pretty easy.

        • It's not "vigilante" if you do it by the laws.

          And if you are a big megacorp, and there is no government, then you are the government.

  • by lumbercartel.ca (944801) on Friday July 09, 2010 @03:31PM (#32854764) Homepage

    Prior art probably already exists for this patent...

    I had an assistant print my eMails for me so that I could read them years before wireless internet routers were even being produced (back in the early 1990s). By holding those hardcopy eMails in my hands to read them, I was reading my eMail in a wireless fashion.

  • by Irick (1842362) on Friday July 09, 2010 @03:32PM (#32854770)
    I hold the US patent 38967, regarding the design of generally worded patents with the goal of making a quick buck off of multinational corporations well after the fact. The wonton disregaurd of my IP will not go undealt with.
  • by blackdragon07 (1357701) on Friday July 09, 2010 @03:34PM (#32854800)
    Quick we need to patent an idea so we can sue someone and make money...i hate these damn patent trolls... Open Source all the way then anyone using any open source has to publish under that so no more patent trolls or would that make more because they would go after the idea and concept then???
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_J._Campana,_Jr. [slashdot.org]

    It looks like he wrote a bunch of patents regarding wireless data communications.

    He isn't even alive anymore which is funny that they mention his name and getting recognition

    I don't expect apple et.al to take this sitting down.

  • by Grond (15515) on Friday July 09, 2010 @03:43PM (#32854918) Homepage

    While it's true that NTP received a $612.5 million damages award from RIM, it's important to remember that NTP initially offered to settle with RIM for approximately $6 million. Remember too that RIM was found to have been a willful infringer, so its damages were increased and included attorney's fees. It also engaged in some courtroom shenanigans that likely contributed to the increased damages award. Another reason the eventual settlement was so high was that it was a full and final settlement (i.e., accounted for future use of the patented invention), not just a payment of damages that had already accrued. Finally, the litigation took 6 years, and in that time (2000-2006) the market for smart phones exploded, so RIM effectively racked up a lot of damages.

    The point is that a lot of the large settlement was RIM's fault: it chose to fight a losing battle, it was a willful infringer, and it behaved unethically in the courtroom. It's hard to have a lot of sympathy for them.

    In any event, the cost to end users was not that great. RIM has sold ~100 million BlackBerries. The cost of the settlement amounts to roughly $6 per unit, which is about a 2-5% royalty on the cost of each device. Compared to the cost of owning a smartphone (often well over $1000 per year when you factor in the voice and data plans), $6 isn't much.

    Many of you may now be saying, sure 2-5% isn't much, but it adds up fast if you have to settle with multiple patent owners, each of which wants their 2-5%. That's true, and a significant litigation reform effort is building behind allowing defendants in patent infringement suits to present evidence regarding the royalty rates for patents other than the ones in suit. Right now, the jury doesn't get to hear that you have to pay royalties on X other patents for each device sold and that those royalties are typically very small (e.g., pennies per unit or .1% of the cost or somesuch), so it's common for the jury to award comparatively high royalties. There is an effort to change that to allow juries to work with a much more complete picture of how royalty structures work in the real world rather than viewing only the patents in suit in isolation.

  • All these patent trolls make me want to just come out and make a list of "ideas" just to establish "prior art". So, say I think teleportation would be cool. The fact that I thought of it here will be prior art for anyone who invents it later and patents it.

    So ya, I hearby already thought of teleportation. Any of you really smart physics majors out there thinking of inventing it, don't bother, its mine.
    • by MiniMike (234881)

      You have violated my patent on listing random ideas as a method of establishing prior art. Prepare to hear from my lawyers!

  • by dragisha (788) <dragisha&m3w,org> on Friday July 09, 2010 @03:54PM (#32855056)

    http://news.cnet.com/Patent-office-issues-final-rejection-of-NTP-patent/2100-1047_3-6042049.html [cnet.com]

    The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has issued a final rejection of one of the five patents at issue in NTP's long-running case against BlackBerry maker Research In Motion.

    The final rejection was posted on the Patent Office's Web site for the NTP-held patent, which covers a system for sending e-mails over a wireless network to a mobile device. The Patent Office has already issued nonfinal actions rejecting the claims in four out of the five NTP patents in question, but a final rejection is required before the appeals process can begin.

    All in 2006...

  • by CompMD (522020) on Friday July 09, 2010 @04:09PM (#32855248)

    ...because they have a track record of smacking down patent trolls, like today. [bizjournals.com] Maybe some of those companies can toughen up and follow the example.

  • by robp (64931) on Friday July 09, 2010 @04:50PM (#32855680) Homepage

    Thanks for the attention. One of NTP's PR folks just e-mailed a copy of the company's complaint against Google. There's a copy embedded after the jump of my post [washingtonpost.com], and you can also read or download the PDF via Scribd [scribd.com]. I encourage you all to give that document a careful read, then look through the patents claimed (I've linked to the relevant USPTO pages in the post as well).

    - RP

  • In particular 5,436,960 [uspto.gov], and I note that something like half of the paragraphs in it, though numbered differently, all say:

    the identification number is added to the originated information by matching an identification of the at least one of the plurality of destination processors with a stored identification of the at least one of the plurality of destination processors and adding an identification number stored with the matched identification of the at least one of the plurality of destination processors to the originated information as the identification number.

    Which sounds like a particulary contorted way to describe a router taking the data out of a packet routed to it, and routing it to another system based on the destination address.

    Then, in the Description he lies:

    Electronic mail services are basically a wire line-to-wire line, point-to-point type of communications. Electronic mail, similar to facsimile transmissions, provides a one-way message. A recipient typically does not have to interact with the message. Electronic mail, unlike facsimile, is a non-real-time message transmission architecture.

    Email has always had a send-to-multiple recipients functionality, and has always used store-and-forward servers over packet networks and/or instances dial-up lines. It is not "point-to-point" except rarely when sending to the same host where the mail originates.

    Basically, when you realize that an Ethernet is an RF frequency network, this patent describes email being forwarded by an outgoing mail server and being routed to one or more destinations. Pretty much what SMTP over TCP/IP had been doing for over 20 years at the time this lame-o patent was filed. I can't wait to see what the other ones look like (shudder).

  • Prior art (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Coward Anonymous (110649) on Friday July 09, 2010 @05:17PM (#32855936)

    3Com press release of the Palm VII in October of 1999, two months before this patent was filed. The press release explicitly mentions wireless e-mail. http://investor.palm.com/releasedetail.cfm?releaseid=338689 [palm.com]

    There is probably even earlier prior art as the idea is trivial and was plainly obvious when 3Com released the Palm VII (microwave stations anyone?). This patent also seem to cover any computer using Wifi.

    It was stupid when it was filed and is stupid now.

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