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Patents The Courts Spam

Company Claims Patent On Spam Filtering, Sues World 186

Posted by kdawson
from the guess-where dept.
EvilAlphonso notes news of a "Texas" IP holding company suing 36 actual companies for violating its claimed patent on spam filtering. Techdirt deconstructs the patent itself, No. 6,018,761, which seems to amount to little more than a database lookup. It was filed in 1996 and issued in 2000 (despite the lawyers' press release claiming that it "was awarded... nearly 15 years ago"). Among the companies being sued are 3Com, Apple, Google, AOL, Yahoo, J.C.Penney, IBM, Dell, Citigroup, and RIM. Not Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, or Microsoft, oddly enough.
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Company Claims Patent On Spam Filtering, Sues World

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  • by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) * on Saturday July 24, 2010 @02:30PM (#33015056) Homepage Journal

    ... it's the only way to be sure.

    Seriously, it's bad enough that we have a patent system that allows these patent trolls to exist at all, but it really looks to me like one judge is creating a favorable environment most of the patent troll lawsuits in the entire US (and, given that the US seems to be far and away the number one country for patent trolling, maybe most such lawsuits in the entire world.) Isn't there any way to fire this clown?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Grimbleton (1034446)

      .30-06 ought to do it.

      Other than that, not really, no.

    • by straponego (521991) on Saturday July 24, 2010 @02:48PM (#33015204)
      Yes. Or how about... let's see, it's Texas, and lots of people are complaining about all the violent illegal aliens. I see a solution with a good Bhyrdstone index. Execute a patent troll, free citizenship.
    • by Derosian (943622)
      Make a patent for a system of government that keeps track of who invents what and enforcing fines and rights for who can use it. Then sue the US patent system.
    • by harlows_monkeys (106428) on Saturday July 24, 2010 @03:30PM (#33015464) Homepage

      Nonsense. First of all, EDT isn't even the most favorable district for patent plaintiffs. There are something like half a dozen districts where plaintiffs do better.

      If you nuked EDT, all you would do is cause the suits to spread out to other districts, to the detriment of defendants. The reason so many suits are in EDT is because EDT can provide reasonably speedy trials. There are two reasons for this. First, because there have been many patent suits there in the past, the courts are familiar with patent litigation, which is one of the more complex areas of litigation. When you have a patent case in a court that has not dealt with patent cases, it is very slow going. (And much more likely that the judge will make reversible errors, so if you do fight off the troll, you'll just end up doing it all over again when the troll gets the verdict thrown out and the case remanded for a new trial on appeal).

      Second, EDT doesn't have many Federal criminal cases. Criminal cases take priority over civil cases in Federal court, due to the constitutional requirement of a speedy trial for criminal cases. In districts where there are a lot of federal criminal cases (e.g., any place where the stupid war on drugs is being heavily waged) civil cases can take months or years to even get to preliminary hearings. File a patent case in one of those districts, and you'll be tied up for many many many years--something neither side wants.

      Given a choice between being sued in EDT and being sued in the plaintiff's home district (if that is different from the defendant's home district), I would bet that most defendants would pick EDT, to get it over faster and keep costs down.

      • You're arguing that the outcome (win/lose) is less important than the speed of obtaining a result.

        If speed is truly what people want, then the courts should refuse to take any of those cases at all, and simply have a bureaucrat make a decision within 24 hours, arbitrarily. This could be done as a free service, so the plaintiffs and defendants wouldn't even need lawyers.

        • by Bilbo (7015)
          Since the total cost of settling a patent suit is often proportional to the length of time it takes to settle, then yes, getting the stupid thing over as fast as possible is often the best approach. Even putting it through a lopsided court is going to eliminate the most obvious offenders, so at least you still have a reasonable chance of winning, without wasting a lot of time and money if you do lose.
      • by penix1 (722987) on Saturday July 24, 2010 @09:29PM (#33018042) Homepage

        You forgot the biggest reason...From wikipedia:

        Also of note is the fact that the court's local rules allow any attorney admitted to any state bar--not just that of Texas--to be admitted to practice before the Eastern District Court.

        That means that any ambulance chaser can get in on the act. Add to that the different handling of appeals for patents:

        Appeals from cases brought in the Eastern District of Texas are taken to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, except for patent claims and claims against the U.S. government under the Tucker Act, which are appealed to the Federal Circuit.

        And it become a patent troll feeding frenzy.

        Reference article:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U.S._District_Court_for_the_Eastern_District_of_Texas [wikipedia.org]

        • You don't actually understand how this works. 1. In the Federal court system, all patent appeals go to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. This is true regardless of what district you are in. Blame congress for this one. 2. Allowing folks who are admitted to any state bar is good. The entire state bar system is a disaster. In any other country, you are either allowed to practice in that country, or not. Here, we've further divided it into 50 states, and require lawyers to take 50 8-10 hour tests
  • by DarkKnightRadick (268025) <the_spoon.geo@yahoo.com> on Saturday July 24, 2010 @02:32PM (#33015076) Homepage Journal

    I will be filing a patent for my method on submitting comments to websites that involve the use of a mouse, keyboard, computer, and monitor.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by TheKidWho (705796)

      I use a touch screen you inconsiderate clod.

      • by slick7 (1703596)

        I use a touch screen you inconsiderate clod.

        I use a wet wire direct cranial link, you insensitive clod!

    • Bio piracy (Score:5, Interesting)

      by rainmouse (1784278) on Saturday July 24, 2010 @04:10PM (#33015778)
      Slightly off topic I know but I found it interesting enough to share

      Some Scottish hippy friend of mine alleged her charity group managed to fight the good fight against patent trolls by applying for their own patent. Back in 1997 some Texan asshats applied for a patent on basmati rice. Of course this is bio-piracy and as insane as it sounds, the patent was actually granted. Clearly the patent system was as bent as a butchers hook (it still is?). Needless to say this would have destroyed countless livelihoods in India and probably left a lot of people to starve to death. In order to raise awareness for this problem and to put huge pressure on the American government to stop allegedly taking backhanders and burying the problem under red tape the hippy group applied for a patent themselves. They decided that seen as people enjoy eating chips (British chips = french fries in the USA) they decided to apply for a patent on a way of eating chips they had invented, and that is of eating chips with salt. They proved it perfectly legal under existing US patent laws and caused enough of a shitstorm to get the press involved and damage the bureaucrats PR until the patent was un-granted.

      I cannot vouch for the truth of this tale she told me but I looked it up and found some pages backing up her claims.

      http://www.purefood.org/patent/frenchfries032602.cfm

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basmati [wikipedia.org]

  • by FlorianMueller (801981) on Saturday July 24, 2010 @02:37PM (#33015114) Homepage

    The list of targets picked by that entity is pretty impressive. Even though the article accurately notes that some big names are missing, it almost reads like a Who Is Who of the industry. Sort of duck shooting, but the really big ones...

    The bad news is that even such an aggressive behavior isn't the worst that can happen with patents. It's bad, and I'm aware of the fact that non-practicing entities (NPEs) can go extremely far and cause a lot of trouble just to suqeeze the maximum amount of money out of their targets. I don't mean to downplay that problem.

    But: form the perspective of a company that gets attacked, an NPE is only the second-worst possibility. At the end of the day, the NPE is just in it for the money and pursues no strategic objectives beyond that. So the big companies that are the targets here (and the IT companies among them are all pro-software-patent regardless) can initially try to get rid of the patent or prove they don't infringe, and if it comes to worst, they can and will negotiate a settlement, write a check and life goes on for them.

    That isn't the case when a strategic patent holder seeks to limit the functionality of a competitor's product, possibly to the extent that the competitor gets driven out of business. Exclusionary strategic use of patents is much worse than anything an NPE will ever do. [blogspot.com] It harms competition and innovation in serious ways. It looks like Apple wants to enforce some patents regardless of whatever royalty the defendant (HTC, and maybe others in the future) would be willing to pay. And there's IBM's use of patents to preserve its mainframe monopoly against such companies as TurboHercules [blogspot.com] and NEON Enterprise Software [blogspot.com].

    • by eulernet (1132389)

      cause a lot of trouble just to suqeeze the maximum amount of money out of their targets

      Did you mean suck or squeeze ?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by RobertM1968 (951074)

      The list of targets picked by that entity is pretty impressive. Even though the article accurately notes that some big names are missing, it almost reads like a Who Is Who of the industry. Sort of duck shooting, but the really big ones...

      Which may be exactly what's needed to at the very least have their patent invalidated and them driven out of business. At least, so I am hoping.

  • by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Saturday July 24, 2010 @02:39PM (#33015132) Homepage
    By the time this patent was filed for spam filters were already around. Indeed, in 1996 one had such sophisticated filters that used by as Jason Rennie's program iFile whiched used a Bayesian statistical approach to sort potential spam into a junk folder. Prior art is going to kill this quickly.
    • by lennier1 (264730) on Saturday July 24, 2010 @02:43PM (#33015158)

      Don't bet on it. The judicial system and common sense aren't exactly best of friends.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by eln (21727)
      Procmail has been filtering email since 1990. Proving prior art on scanning a message for spam filtering should not be difficult.
      • by udippel (562132)

        Procmail has been filtering email since 1990. Proving prior art on scanning a message for spam filtering should not be difficult.

        But that's not what is claimed. Claimed is sender context information from an external reference.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by phantomfive (622387)
      The patent is not for a spam filter, I don't know why the title of the story mentions that. Here is what is claimed, to find prior art you need to find something that matches this exactly:

      1. A method of obtaining context information about a sender of an electronic message using a mail processing comprising the steps of: scanning the message, usinig the mail processine[sic] program to determine if the message contains a reference in a header portion of the message to at least one feature of the sender's context, wherein the sender's context is information about the sender or the message that is usefiul to the recipient in understanding more about the context in which the sender sent the message; if the message contains such reference, using the mail processing program and such reference to obtain [sender] the context information from a location external to the message; if the message does not contain such reference, using the mail processing program and information present in the message to indirectly obtain the [sender] context information using external reference sources to find a reference to the [sender] context information.

      It looks like conceptually (from reading the patent) he was trying to patent the idea of linking a finger-type service to email. The email program can hit up the original server to find any extra information about the sender (the patent itself mentions a v-card, but it's not in the claim so it doesn't matter if it includ

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by cgenman (325138)

        If my understanding is correct, to simplify that language:

        Step 1. Look at the headers. Does it tell you anything useful about the sender?
        Step 2. If it does, use that information to look up other information about the sender somewhere else.
        Step 3. If it doesn't, scan the message for keywords. Use those keywords to look up other information about the sender.

        This covers anti-spam systems, as you gather an IP address from headers, then look up that IP in a database to see if it is from a known spam source.

        Of

        • by Jay L (74152) *

          Doesn't this patent describe the standard DNS reverse-lookup performed by every MTA on the Received: headers since... nearly ever?

        • by dissy (172727)

          I realize you are paraphrasing from the patent claims, and I have given up trying to understand them long ago, so thought I would ask.

          Does this mean all bayesian filters do not infringe, since they don't use the header to decide which direction to take (IE sender lookup OR keywords) since they will do both checks regardless?

  • by kaptink (699820) on Saturday July 24, 2010 @02:42PM (#33015142) Homepage

    1/ Get ambiguous patent to a seemingly obvious method of spam control
    2/ Wait 15 years
    3/ Sue every IT firm under the sun
    4/ Profit

    What is claimed is:

    1. A method of obtaining context information about a sender of an electronic message using a mail processing comprising the steps of:

    Scanning the message, usinig the mail processine program to determine if the message contains a reference in a header portion of the message to at least one feature of the sender's context, wherein the sender's context is information about the sender or the message that is usefiul to the recipient in understanding more about the context in which the sender sent the message;

    If the message contains such reference, using the mail processing program and such reference to obtain [sender] the context information from a location external to the message;
    If the message does not contain such reference, using the mail processing program and information present in the message to indirectly obtain the [sender] context information using external reference sources to find a reference to the [sender] context information.

    2. The method of claim 1, wherein the reference to at least one feature is a reference to a location where context information is stored.
    3. The method of claim 1, wherein the reference to at least one feature is a hint usable to retrieve a location where context information is stored.

    Is there not some rule that says you cant just sit there for all that time until making an infringement claim? There is something rather dishonest about waiting all this time to make such a claim for what looks like a rather obvious method.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Ghubi (1102775)

      Is there not some rule that says you cant just sit there for all that time until making an infringement claim?

      It's called Laches [wikipedia.org]

      • Actually Laches doesn't stop the suit from coming forward. It costs something like a minimum of $20,000 a month to fight a small patent dispute. The real issue with these trolls is they usually hit up the smaller guys first to build their warchest. They know better than to pursue the big players at least until they have a big warchest (and thats even if they ever bother with those with deep pockets). Their goal is a quick settlement. My work got hit by some asshat claiming BS about EVERY modern cooler that
        • Oh, and one more thing, patents like that one are shakey that they are even being infringed on since it's so drastically different from how coolers are built today. Either way though, payout is still almost always more favorable. I so got into the wrong field.
    • by udippel (562132)

      Is there not some rule that says you cant just sit there for all that time until making an infringement claim?

      While this is true; by the way with most legal proceedings; it is in practice a no-go. Who is to prove that you were aware of the implied infringement years ago? You could have been travelling, sick, bringing up the kids, and whatnot. Being late will severely restrict the damages; but severely restricting actual damages of tens or hundreds of millions will still result at your point 4/.

      Forfeiting al

      • by Svartalf (2997)

        Actually, it's a bit easier than that. The clock for laches starts when it's a situation of known or should have known about the infringement- and there's this short timeframe for trying to mitigate the infringements before you lose the right to at least enforce with the said infringers. All the things you mention won't count for much if it's in the open that there's an infringement- which is the case with this situation to begin with.

        As an aside, it can be said that if there are any infringements within

        • by udippel (562132)

          While we might differ on opinion on laches, and not all too much, could we agree that future royalties are still in the offing, once procedures are commencing?
          I would not know why, as a proprietor of a legal right, my decision to pursue this right would be adversely affected by earlier lenience.

          If this was the case, Microsoft had no issue in claiming infringement on the famous 235 (or so) intellectual property issues in the Linux kernel alone.
          I for one take it, that - despite of limited damages - they could

  • by iamhassi (659463) on Saturday July 24, 2010 @02:48PM (#33015200) Journal
    Robert Uomini of Kensington CA already won a $22 million dollar lottery in 1995 [sfgate.com]. And yes, it's the same person, because the patent application's name and city matches [uspto.gov] and this article says he's a mathematician [prnewswire.com] and his linkedin says he has a Ph.D in Mathematics [linkedin.com]. Here's his real software website [chiaramail.com], notice anything familiar? [innovapate...ensing.com] Yep, the design is exactly the same, no doubt about it this is our guy.

    Here's his facebook if you want to leave him a message [facebook.com]
    • by Spykk (823586) on Saturday July 24, 2010 @03:05PM (#33015316)
      Never trust a mathematician who plays the lottery...
      • I acknowledge that you were joking, but I am annoyed to no end by the idea that gambling is always irrational behavior, suited only to the illiterate of the working class.

        The expected value of the profit (in dollars) of a given player in any lottery is negative. The expected value of the profit (in dollars) of purchasing insurance is also negative. However, asserting that gambling or buying insurance are therefore irrational reveals a misunderstanding of the mathematics and economics involved.

        A glaring mi

    • Wow, a PhD in mathematics won the lottery? How did he do that? Because any good mathematician will know that the chances of winning the lottery are bad enough that it's foolish to even play; if he did it, he must have figured out some system to getting it right. This whole story is really weird.
      • by nedlohs (1335013)

        Lotteries which jackpot will sometimes reach a point at which a ticket purchase has slight postive expectation.

        Not as much in the US due to gambling winnings being taxable, but it's still feasible.

        There's also a point at which even though the expectation is slightly negative the sheer amount of money involved and entertainment factor (for some people who like planning how they'll escape from their spouse with all the money, for example) make it not unreasonable.

        • Money can also be valued differently given different amounts rather than a flat line. 10,000 dollars is worth more than 100x 100 dollars. Depending on what you do with it. If for example you want to buy patents to troll people for millions of dollars. There is a really good one for 10k then a hundred dollars does you no fucking good, you can buy a new video game. Because of this effect, lotteries become valuable before they reach the break even point.
    • by Culture20 (968837) on Saturday July 24, 2010 @04:14PM (#33015818)

      Here's his facebook if you want to leave him a message

      He probably has it filtered.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      This guy seems to have no moral standards whatsoever (Taken from his software website http://www.chiaramail.com/ [chiaramail.com] ):

      With our revolutionary, patented technology, you can now edit the content of your e-mail after you send it. Even if the recipient has seen the mail already: one moment it reads one way; the next, it’s totally different. The content of any mail you send is entirely in your control, at all times. Even if the recipient has deleted his copy of the message, you are able to edit it. We call this remarkable technology dynamic mail content and it's about to change your life.

  • I really hope Blackberry get issued an injunction, then perhaps our elected overlords would get the message about obvious patents*.

    * That is, amongst the tide of crap they suddenly receive.

  • Seriously, I think the claims of the patent are far too vague. It covers any kind of lookup you could do based on information in the email headers. No specific mechanism for doing this is defined. I really, really hope someone with a clue litigates this.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 24, 2010 @03:20PM (#33015402)

    The patent claims obtaining context information about the sender. However, spam filters obtain context information about the message not the sender. In general, spam filters care little about the sender as the sender is almost always forged.

    • by shentino (1139071)

      I would like very much if Gmal allowed you to specify custom filters, which include the option to REJECT mail instead of just spam filter it.

      In particular, any mail that fails either an SPF or DKIM check is automatically either sender-forged or tampered with mid-transit, so it's bogus by definition.

  • by karvind (833059) <karvind@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Saturday July 24, 2010 @03:22PM (#33015408) Journal
    I got notification from them as well but it went to the SPAM folder. Sorry.
  • Guess they've never heard of SCO.

  • Well, 'nearly' is sort of vague..

    Hopefully they goto court, and it becomes a big expensive mess for a LOT of companies that have powerful lobbying arms. Then the patent system might get a 2nd look.

  • by alanw (1822) <alan@wylie.me.uk> on Saturday July 24, 2010 @03:46PM (#33015566) Homepage

    ... without looking at the headers.

    1) the IP address of the originating end of the TCP connection, for lookup in a block list, is not in the headers
    2) the SMTP HELO/EHLO - not in the headers
    3) the envelope from and to addresses - not in the headers
    4) the triplet of IP address, from and to for grey listing - not in the headers
    5) the text of the body
    6) the domains in any URLs in the body, for looking up in blocklists
    7) the IP addresses that the domains in 6 resolve to.

    The patent is very badly worded. I would claim that every header would contain some information which would be "usefiul (sic) to the recipient in understanding more about the context in which the sender sent the message".

    In that case, how could any message "not contain such reference".

    Is the patent just claiming to cover the headers, or the body as well. And as for the misspelling!

    Things in the header that might possibly be covered might be any pre-existing "received-from" IP addresses for looking up in blacklists, X-Mailer, Mime and Content type headers.

    What about "Missing Headers"? could this patent be claimed to cover looking for something which doesn't exist in the headers?

  • How did J.C. Penney get on the hit list? Have they updated their line of polyester slacks to include spam filtering in addition to stain resistance?

  • Perhaps a realistic solution would be for all of the companies to band together and instead of fighting the trolls one at a time, send all of that money - figure a billion+ dollars at Congress to solve this idiocy once and for all. 36 major companies surely can cough up 20-30 million each. They probably spend that much every few years on dealing with trolls and other legal issues surrounding patents anyways. The downside, of course, is *of course* they would make it favor them.

    Other options of course wou

  • by ciaran_o_riordan (662132) on Saturday July 24, 2010 @05:16PM (#33016294) Homepage

    I'm working on documenting it here:

    * http://en.swpat.org/wiki/InNova_v._36_companies_(2010,_USA) [swpat.org]

    Help welcome.

  • In fact, there are probably a number of business-process patents that could be construed as covering this technique. Surely some of them are licenseable or for sale.

  • Lets hope someone who was sued is willing to take this all the way and get the patent overturned (especially in light of what was said in Biski) instead of just caving in and writing this scumbag a cheque to make them go away.

    At the very least, someone needs to appeal this to a higher court than the one in Texas. The court of appeals for the federal circuit is less likely to just rubber stamp things in the way the courts in Texas seem to do.

  • Not sure if they're actually located in Marshall, TX. I found this public record:

    INNOVA PATENT LICENSING, L.L.C.
    16055 SPACE CENTER BLVD STE 235
    HOUSTON, TX 77062-6212

    Taxpayer Number: 32042021249

    If anyone can get corporate officials' names and phone numbers that would be interesting.

  • I hope they win... then I hope that Hormell foods sues them for damaging thier previously valuable IP reguarding processed pork products.
    If these guys invented Spam filtering, them they must have been a driving force behind calling it Spam, infringing Hormell's valuable Trademark.

    jeesh, these guys sound like someone from a Monty Python sketch. ...

    bloody vikings.

  • IBM has the largest patent portfolio of any company in the world. I'm pretty sure that somewhere in there they probably have a patent on "method and process of transferring Oxygen to erythrocytes through periodic pressure changes" (a.k.a. breathing) They will bury these trolls alive with paperwork, lawyers, motions, depositions, etc. They probably have more IP lawyers on staff than this company has dollars of annual revenue.

    And they don't settle IP suits. Ever.

    They can as SCO how its IP extortion attem

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