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Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and Google Chase 'Got Milk?' Patents 250

Posted by timothy
from the object-lesson dept.
theodp writes "Among the new iOS 5 features is Reminders, which Apple explains this way: 'Say you need to remember to pick up milk during your next grocery trip. Since Reminders can be location based, you'll get an alert as soon as you pull into the supermarket parking lot.' But does Reminders infringe on a newly-granted patent to Amazon for Location Aware Reminders, which covers the use of location based reminders to remind a user 'to purchase certain items such as, for example, as milk, bread, and eggs'? Or could Reminders run afoul of Google's new patent for Geocoding Personal Information, which covers triggering a voice reminder or making a computing device vibrate when a user approaches a location if 'one of the user's events is a task to pick up milk and bread'? Not to be left out of the 'Got Milk?' patent race, Apple also has a patent pending for Computer Systems and Methods for Collecting, Associating, and/or Retrieving Data, which covers providing a reminder to a user whose 'to do' list includes 'get milk' when the user's location matches 'a store that sells the item "milk."' (Continues, below.)
theodp continues: "That should not be confused with Microsoft's pending patent for Geographic Reminders, which allows users to specify reminders such as 'pick up milk if I am within a ten minutes drive of any grocery store.' That all four tech giants chose to pursue remember-the-milk patents — and the USPTO is considering and granting them — is all the more remarkable considering that Microsoft suggested location-based reminders were obvious in a 2005 patent filing, which informed the USPTO that 'a conventional reminder application may give the user relevant information at a given location, such as 'You're near a grocery store, and you need milk at home.' So much for that immediate patent quality improvement promised by the America Invents Act!"
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Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and Google Chase 'Got Milk?' Patents

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  • by Eightbitgnosis (1571875) on Sunday November 20, 2011 @11:36AM (#38116482) Homepage
    To the strongest lawyers go the spoils
  • Ugh... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by The Living Fractal (162153) <banantarr AT hotmail DOT com> on Sunday November 20, 2011 @11:38AM (#38116502) Homepage
    This is where out US patent group, judicial branch, executive branch, I don't know who exactly, needs to step in and say "YOU DID NOT INVENT REMINDING PEOPLE TO DO STUFF!" and prevent these companies from spending (wasting) money and time on winning the patent to do it. Their struggle to win that patent is not value adding for the country in any way whatsoever, but they'll do it anyway for their own gain. It's wasted money that could better go into R&D, for example.
    So tell them now, level the field... and prevent all that wasted effort.
  • Re:Ahhhh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Haedrian (1676506) on Sunday November 20, 2011 @11:43AM (#38116540)

    Someone discovered you can make money much easier if you suffocate the competition using the law than producing better products.

  • Re:Ugh... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JoeMerchant (803320) on Sunday November 20, 2011 @11:48AM (#38116568)

    ...I don't know who exactly, needs to step in and say "YOU DID NOT INVENT REMINDING PEOPLE TO DO STUFF!" and prevent these companies from spending (wasting) money and time on winning the patent... prevent all that wasted effort.

    Yes, but whoever it is that might step in and stop the madness, remember, they likely are lawyers themselves, or sons of lawyers, or otherwise deeply connected to the legal profession. Effort is not wasted when it leads to remuneration of yourself, your family, or your colleagues.

  • by JoeMerchant (803320) on Sunday November 20, 2011 @11:49AM (#38116580)

    How exactly does one get a patent on location-based reminders? I know I'm not the only one who has considered that idea and the actual implementation should be fairly straightforward (when you consider that APIs and hardware required for it all exist, hell even if you go the "IN THE CLOUD" route it would be relatively easy to figure out (Track position constantly, periodic "pings" to "The Cloud" that pass along your approximate coordinates, in return you get a JSON/XML reply with any nearby reminder positions which are cached locally, if/when you are close enough to a reminder position your device reminds you, new reminders are automagically submitted to the same "Cloud server", for local storage you just skip "The Cloud" and store everything locally)).

    The whole concept of "obvious to a person skilled in the art" has been ground into the dirt for 20+ years now.

  • by webdog314 (960286) on Sunday November 20, 2011 @11:58AM (#38116652)

    And the only reason that this hasn't been patented in the past is that nobody honestly believed that the USPTO could be so freaking stupid. Boy did we underestimate THAT...

  • Re:Patent Reform (Score:4, Insightful)

    by JoeMerchant (803320) on Sunday November 20, 2011 @12:05PM (#38116690)

    Can someone who is shed some light on what would need to happen for this quagmire to end?

    A gradually increasing restriction on granting new silly, obvious patents. A gradual raising of the bar in what it takes to defend a patent successfully.

    The real problem is: any shock to the status quo will make the people with money nervous, they'll feel uncertain about the future and less confident in predicting how they are going to turn their giant pile of cash into a more giant pile of cash, and in the face of that uncertainty, they'll just sit on their piles and watch them shrink slowly instead of putting the money at risk (in use).

    Patents are a big part of that security blanket for investors, it makes them feel warm and fuzzy knowing how they can strike back at other kids who might try to steal their lunch money, it's kind of like that line "God created man, but Mr. Smith & Wesson made all men equal." A smaller version of nuclear detente'. If you have access to a sufficient nuclear arsenal of patents, you can go up against much larger companies and hold your own with a threat of mutual annihilation.

    I put part of the blame on the .com bubble - investors were feeling all warm and fuzzy then, and the patent office was helping them feel that way by granting them patents on whatever they wanted. Change the rules quickly, and you'll have negative economic consequences.

  • Re:Ahhhh (Score:3, Insightful)

    by GPLHost-Thomas (1330431) on Sunday November 20, 2011 @12:27PM (#38116832)

    I can't take it anymore! What has become of this planet?

    Please do not confuse USA with the rest of the world!

  • by Raenex (947668) on Sunday November 20, 2011 @12:33PM (#38116876)

    The whole concept of "obvious to a person skilled in the art" has been ground into the dirt for 20+ years now.

    Yup. Before it was patenting X, "on the Internet". Now it's patenting X, "on the mobile".

  • by GrumpySteen (1250194) on Sunday November 20, 2011 @12:40PM (#38116928)

    You shouldn't ignore the stupidity of the patent system any more than we should ignore a burglar who only targets the opposite of your gender. Sure, you may not be directly effected directly, but it affects society.

    Patent trolls stifle innovation, make the development of new products more expensive and have a negative effect on us all, even if it's only an indirect effect.

  • by green1 (322787) on Sunday November 20, 2011 @12:51PM (#38117020)

    Except that many patents these days are so broad as to not include any way of implementing what they describe (which means they are no better than a trade secret) AND the "limited time" isn't even applicable anymore when you realize just how long that time frame is and how fast the technology is progressing.

    I'm not an expert on patents in the 19th and early 20th centuries to know for certain if they did in fact encourage invention at that time or not (I suspect it was really a bit of a mixed bag). But I am quite certain that by the end of the 20th century and in the early 21st century they do no such thing, and in fact actively stifle innovation to large degree. At this point there is no way to invent ANYTHING without running afoul of one patent or another. Even something new and novel that nobody has ever even dreamed of is likely to run afoul of one patent or another on the shape of it's case, the method of powering it, or the user interface to run it (among other ridiculous things).

    Patents today are badly broken. They protect mega-corps at the expense of small time inventors. they protect exactly the people who need it least against those who would require it the most. It's time they were abolished, or at the very least, subjected to a MAJOR overhaul.

  • by icebike (68054) on Sunday November 20, 2011 @12:56PM (#38117056)

    Actually I was thinking the opposite might happen.

    The court might just line them up and bitch slap the whole lot of them.

    If a whole bunch of people come up with the same invention at roughly the same time it becomes the perfect definition of TRIVIAL AND OBVIOUS.

    Once you have bricks generally available in the market place, you can't patent the brick outhouse.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 20, 2011 @01:09PM (#38117154)

    This behavior is perpetrated by the corporate executives who don't want any businesses to be able to compete. The lawyers are gun, but the executives are the hand that fires it.

  • by Jackie_Chan_Fan (730745) on Sunday November 20, 2011 @01:39PM (#38117348)

    Turn Left 5 miles.

  • by R3d M3rcury (871886) on Sunday November 20, 2011 @03:40PM (#38118176) Journal

    One of the things that has me curious...

    I have a Garmin Edge bike computer, which I got back in 2006. I can create courses on this and have it notify me of important things along the route (eg, "slow down", "right turn"). This seems like it's the same concept. Even though it has nothing to do with milk, could this be shown as prior art?

    Heck, I would think any Navigation application could be shown as prior art, as it reminds you to turn right or left.

  • by fredmosby (545378) on Sunday November 20, 2011 @04:56PM (#38118846)
    That's the problem with asking "who can we blame?". When something bad happens usually there are many people who contributed to it happening. So people usually blame the person they dislike the most. In this example you dislike unscrupulous corporate executives more than you dislike unscrupulous lawyers, so you blame the executives. The person you responded to blamed the lawyers. They're both responsible.

    A more useful question would be "how can we prevent this in the future?". There is no shortage of unscrupulous lawyers and corporate executives. As long as the patent system exists in it's current form someone will abuse it. The only way to prevent abuses like this is to change the patent laws.
  • Implementation. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Holi (250190) on Sunday November 20, 2011 @06:18PM (#38119366)

    I see no problem with three companies having patents for location aware reminders, remember patents are supposed to protect an implementation. To use a car analogy, how many patents are their for carburetors.

    The problem stems from overly broad patents. It breaks down to "I have a patent for location aware reminders now no one else can do it." is bad, while "I have a patent for doing location aware reminders in this way." is good;.

  • by Moryath (553296) on Monday November 21, 2011 @01:21AM (#38121336)

    No, the problem is that under the "obviousness" and overbroadness standards, 99% of the patents of the past 20 years probably should not have been granted, but the patent office is overwhelmed and incompetent in equal measure.

"And do you think (fop that I am) that I could be the Scarlet Pumpernickel?" -- Looney Tunes, The Scarlet Pumpernickel (1950, Chuck Jones)

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