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Patent Infringement Suit Includes Linking URLs In an Email 124

Posted by Soulskill
from the also-claims-ownership-of-using-words-in-a-sentence dept.
An anonymous reader points out a report at Groklaw about another new lawsuit from patent firm Intellectual Ventures against Motorola Mobility (they have an earlier patent suit against Motorola underway already). The suit seeks damages from alleged infringement of seven patents, most of which involve wireless communications and Motorola's use of Android. One of the patents, US5790793, is "A method and system for sending and receiving Uniform Resource Locators (URLs) in electronic mail over the Internet." Intellectual Ventures' complaint (PDF) says Motorola product that implement MMS violate this patent. PJ at Groklaw thinks this is another patent attack on Android: "And guess where IV got these patents? Not directly from the USPTO. I'll give you a big hint. Some of them, from what I'm seeing, are from working companies. Don't they call that privateering, when active companies outsource their patents to trolls to do their dirty work? Why yes. Yes, they do. Can you guess one company in this picture? Someone helping Microsoft in its anti-competitive attack on Android and Linux, you say? Yes, one of the companies that seems to have transferred two patents to IV for its holy quest is Nokia, Microsoft's 'partner in crime', as I like to think of them. I know. You are shocked, shocked to know that patents are being used anti-competitively in a court of law."
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Patent Infringement Suit Includes Linking URLs In an Email

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  • 1995, damnit. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ZorinLynx (31751) on Friday June 21, 2013 @01:29PM (#44072423) Homepage

    I was doing this in 1995. I think it's safe to say there's prior art. And it's mine. I'm such an artiste!

    • by Anonymous Coward

      But did you archive any copies of your e-mail from then that include URLs? That's the key.

    • by Creepy (93888)

      You need to prove you did it before April of 1995 though (the filing date). I have to wonder if the patent is valid though - they had ample opportunity to sue Netscape by now, and they were using embedded html in email in the mid-to-late 1990s. I seem to recall if a company sits on their hands until the technology is ubiquitous, their patent claims usually get thrown out.

      • by roc97007 (608802)

        I'm pretty sure I have proof I did it earlier than 1995, but the proof is probably on 9 track reel-to-reel tape.

        • Re:1995, damnit. (Score:4, Informative)

          by garyebickford (222422) <.gar37bic. .at. .gmail.com.> on Friday June 21, 2013 @04:26PM (#44074027)

          This was a thing in NextStep back in the late 1980s - early 1990s, I believe. It did not link to WWW, because that had not been created yet, but did link to items anywhere in the Andrew filesystem, which used the same link format - that format was adapted by Berners-Lee when he created WorldWideWeb. An Andrew file location looked like //some.dns.domain//some/path/to/file. It also opened up other applications, including FTP, image viewers, sound files, etc. and an email in NextMail looked a _lot_ like an early web page. Lee's work was really a pretty logical extension of NextStep applications.

      • I seem to recall if a company sits on their hands until the technology is ubiquitous, their patent claims usually get thrown out.

        Nope. You are thinking of trademarks, which have to be enforced to remain valid. Patents have no such "use it or lose it" provision.

        • by jrumney (197329)

          The Doctrine of Laches [wikipedia.org] does apply to patents. Basically this patent has had widespread "infringement" since before it was approved, due to the fact that it was obvious to anyone skilled in the art at the time. And only now in the final moments before it expires do they start selectively enforcing it against a competitor that Microsoft wants to make go away.

      • by Gr8Apes (679165)
        I might have actual emails dating all the way back to at least 94. I know we were sending URLs back and forth then for new sites of interest. But why would I need that when URLs, or URIs, specific purpose was to be able to transmit link information and email's primary purpose was to transmit information? What will they patent next - cars picking up people from point A and dropping off at point B?
      • I reckon anyone at university at that time would have been doing so. Sure, they were probably gopher URLs, but it is still a URL.

      • by nobodie (1555367)

        I have to agree since I had a Netscape.net email account (and still do BTW) in 1994.

  • by SirGarlon (845873) on Friday June 21, 2013 @01:33PM (#44072445)
    Does that mean we can sic the patent trolls on the spammers? Hold on, lemme get some popcorn!
    • by b4dc0d3r (1268512)

      No.

      I only reply because you somehow got up to +5 interesting. The patent trolls will take action against the people who make money by displaying e-mails. So Microsoft (Outlook), Google (Gmail), you know - they guys with lots of cash.

      If they were to send the lawyers after the end users, it would be the people viewing links - you and me, reading non-spam, and not the spammers because they are not infringing this patent as far as I can tell. And I use the term patent extremely loosely.

      • by SirGarlon (845873)

        I only reply because you somehow got up to +5 interesting.

        I'm as surprised as you are. :-)

  • by Guspaz (556486) on Friday June 21, 2013 @01:39PM (#44072501)

    The courts have already ruled that taking something existing and "doing it over the internet" isn't patentable. By extension, taking a URL that could be sent on a printed letter and "doing it over the internet" isn't patentable.

    That said, the patent isn't actually about sending URLs in an e-mail, it's about automatically displaying destination content of a URL in the e-mail itself. For example, how gmail has an option to replace any YouTube URLs with the actual YouTube video in the e-mail. While that also doesn't sound patentable to me, I can't point out precedence like I can with the "doing it over the internet" patents.

    • by Sique (173459) on Friday June 21, 2013 @02:08PM (#44072763) Homepage
      The first Mozilla browser did it already. Instead of linking to an image (which would then open in an external viewer), it displayed the image inline.
      • by Guspaz (556486)

        The patent is from 1995, and Netscape only created the Mozilla project in 1998, so I'm not sure how that would be relevant?

        • by jedidiah (1196)

          The browser from Netscape was always called Mozilla.

          • by Guspaz (556486)

            As far as I can tell, Netscape didn't include an e-mail client until 1997, which is still after the patent was filed. While I'm not sure it makes it patentable, a browser rendering HTML markup on a web-page isn't the same thing as an e-mail client replacing URLs with content in plain-text messages.

          • by msauve (701917)
            I mis-remember using Netscape Navigator then. "Mozilla" was a code name, and part of the UA string, but it isn't what the browser was called.
        • by sconeu (64226)

          He meant "Mosaic", not Mozilla. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NCSA_Mosaic [wikipedia.org]

          Mosaic was the first browser to display images inline.

          • by Guspaz (556486)

            Mosaic did not, to my knowledge, support sending and receiving e-mail messages, nor did it support displaying images inline plain (non-html) text.

            • by Eristone (146133) *

              Quarterdeck's mail client did though if memory serves and was released for Windows 3.11 in early 1995/late 1994. I'll have to see if I still have my install disks and see what was supported...

          • by jrumney (197329)

            RFC2110, published in March 1997 specifies the standard interoperable way to do this (in section 4.1). Given the time that RFCs take to get through the system, the probability that someone was doing this before Nokia filed the patent is very high.

            • by b4dc0d3r (1268512)

              Speculation really doesn't help here. And I don't see how 4.1 MIME content headers relates to displaying a clickable link. The headers tell the e-mail client where to look for e-mail content, not how to display links. Maybe I missed something.

              • by jrumney (197329)

                The patent is not about clickable links. They mention in the abstract that there was already prior art for that (Netscape when used as a Usenet newsreader). It is about inline content from a remote server (that is downloaded and displayed without user interaction). The MIME headers introduced by RFC2110 allowed a MIME part to refer to a remote location rather than being included in the mail message.

    • There's definitely prior art for that - I mentioned in another reply that NextMail had this capability - a NextMail (or, really, any document) could have an audio, video, spreadsheet or any other type of object embedded in it. NextMail really looked like what the web was soon to become.

      • Did NextMail auto-fetch such objects? Most mail clients that received messages that contain external references would prompt the user before fetching (due to security concerns). The patent claims that such retrieval is automatic. If NextMail did auto-fetch externally referenced content without prompting, and did such capabilities prior to the patent date, then you have a candidate for proving prior art. It will also help to find announcements and communication that showed the software was known about at
        • Yes. This was before security and the general level of bogosity was a big deal. The first Internet worm [wikipedia.org] appeared in 1988, the same year the NeXT machine was introduced. Ahh, the good old days ...

          In point of fact, Tim Berners-Lee's "World Wide Web" program was inspired by and built on the NeXTstation, taking advantage of the combination of Unix underneath topped by object-based systems with transparent network access. Almost any application could incorporate objects from any other application, so the Web

  • You are shocked, shocked to know that patents are being used anti-competitively in a court of law.

    Don't you tell me what to think now, too.

    • by cas2000 (148703)

      He has to - or someone does, anyway. Thinking for yourself is a patented process. If you want to think, pay for a license to the technology.

      The patent claims start with "Using a brain or other thought-capable natural organ, artificial device, or semi-synthetic hybrid to think thoughts or thought-like approximations wthout direct instruction on what to think" and go on to include several other claims including "[...] whether the thoughts produced thereby are communicated in some form (including via biologi

  • by ackthpt (218170) on Friday June 21, 2013 @01:44PM (#44072537) Homepage Journal

    Technical aspects are being used to commit the sort of large scale larceny mobsters never dreamed up while threatening a shop keeper for a protection racket.

    It's all turning into legalized extortion.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The spirit of the law committed suicide.

    • "... large scale larceny..."

      That larceny is being done by Bill Gates, along with his partner, Nathan Myhrvold. Bill Gates owns stock in Intellectual Ventures. [intellectualventures.com] He is a somewhat silent partner.

      Bill Gates and Nathan Myhrvold wrote a really, really poor book together, The Road Ahead. [wikipedia.org] People bought the book thinking it would have useful information. But it seems as though several editors must have examined the book very carefully to make sure it had nothing of value. In my opinion, it was fraud, a way of stealing from people who bought the book because they assumed they would learn something.

      Quote from the Wikipedia page:

      The New York Times review called the book "bland and tepid" and reading "as if it had been vetted by a committee of Microsoft executives"; it is "little more than a positioning document, sold in book form with accompanying CD-ROM and designed mainly to advance the interests of the Microsoft Corporation."

      It appears to me that Bill Gates is using "philanthropy" to find ways to make more money. He discovers difficulties people have, asks for ideas for technology to fix those difficulties, and then turns those ideas into money-making projects for Intellectual Ventures.

      To read more about how they use business to do what many regard as evil, read the August 21, 2012 article, Inside Intellectual Ventures, the most hated company in tech. [cnet.com]

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 21, 2013 @01:52PM (#44072619)

    Those involved in fighting the patent are looking to invalidate via prior art. One claim of special interest is the auto-fetch of data as stated in one of the claims. The amusing thing is that such a capability raises security concerns, so even older software would likely not do such thing, making it difficult to find prior art that performed such a function.

    Due to the dates in question, you are also dealing with the following obstacles: software in environments (e.g unix) that today's people do not understand (e.g command-line/batch), software that is no longer in use, developers of old software that still exist and can be found, and/or a verifiable paper/digital trail to establish dates when specific functionality was available.

    BTW, the patent claims is not specific to URLs, but anything that specifies the location of some resource. Hence, older, non-URL-based methods that were implemented can be used to establish prior art.

    P.S. Posting as AC since I may have some involvement with the case.

    • by suutar (1860506)
      IANAL, but it looks like '' would hit claims 1-2, 4-6, 8, 10-11, 13-15, and 17, so you may want to look at NCSA Mosaic.
      • by suutar (1860506)
        html ate my baby! Let's try again: <html><body><img src="http://yadda/dir/file.gif"></body></html>
      • by Grond (15515)

        you may want to look at NCSA Mosaic

        The patent specifically discusses Mosaic as it existed at the time, as well as Netscape, Cello, and Lynx. It claims that none of them were capable of accomplishing the claimed invention, and neither were any then-existing email programs. Say what you will about Intellectual Ventures, but the people behind it aren't stupid. I don't think they would sue a company the size of Google (the owners of Motorola Mobility) without making sure the patent is pretty solid.

        • by jedidiah (1196)

          One simply does not need a "solid" patent in this day and age.

          All kinds of nonsense gets past patent examiners and they are the smartest people in the whole process. The audience just gets dumber from there as you go to judges and then finally to lay juries.

        • I would venture that IV is ignorant about the community at the time and the type of software that was in use, especially prior to the birth of the Web. It is highly probable there was software in use prior to the Web that can be used as prior art. The challenge is in finding it and then showing that the software was in use by the community. The digital archive of things before the web is pretty sparse, making the search task more challenging. Many folks are ignorant of the types of communities that exis
    • by sjames (1099)

      Xanadu probably fits the bill. In particular, transclusion.

      A browser's handling of the IMG tag.

    • I've already said this twice in other replies, but here's another - NextMail had this capability in the late 1980s - early 1990s, including links to files on other hosts anywhere in the world (on the internet) using the Andrew file system.

  • I Patent useing the letter E in a URL cost $0.0005 per use

    • We can nuke then from orbit? Please?
      • by arielCo (995647)

        I fear that ten more will sprout in their place. They need to be prevented from breathing (i.e. suing without producing).

      • by roc97007 (608802)

        ...or the business equivalent, purchase and dismantle.

    • It's the use of the shell companies that suggests scurrilous behavior on their part, making it difficult to track things to real people, or the actual real people rather than 10 layers of janitors acting as CEO figureheads of paper-only companies.

      Gaming the system may be legal, but is scurrilous.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The patent in the article is much more narrow than just sending a URL through an email. A key concept mentioned in the patent is that the email (plaintext or html) contains an URL in some form, and the MUA is recognizing the URL, retrieving the resource and displaying the resource, instead of the actual content of the mail. This is first mentioned in claim 1

    "decoding said message by the computer at the second location by retrieving data from the predetermined location, automatically by a single application,

    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      Can you say obvious?

      It was obvious in 1995 that a user might want to see a url they were sent.

    • NextMail - part of NextStep, 1989.

    • by sela (32566)

      I believe W3C's Agora could be used as a prior art. Agora was a browser/server combination that allowed users to surf the web via email. It was developed for people with email access but without direct access to the web. The client side browser would send a URL request by email, and the server returned the content of that URL. The same servers could be accessed directly by email, without using the Agora client. There was also W3Gate, which was similar to the Agora server.

    • The patent in the article is much more narrow than just sending a URL through an email. A key concept mentioned in the patent is that the email (plaintext or html) contains an URL in some form

      The term "URL" is not used in claim 1. Basically, anything that specifies a location of a resource, so limiting yourself to a URL-only based mindset will make it hard to find any prior art before the patent date.

  • by NoKaOi (1415755) on Friday June 21, 2013 @02:01PM (#44072697)

    It seems that slashdotters think that the title of a patent IS the patent. For any patent title "A method for doing X," it does not mean that any method for doing X is covered by the patent. The patent describes the specific method of doing X. Now, sometimes the specific method is still totally obvious, not novel, and/or has plenty of prior art. But just because the title says "Method and system to create, transmit, receive and process information, including an address to further information" does not mean or imply that it covers every method for doing so.

    Now that said, based on the abstract this is still likely a bullshit patent, I'm just sayin' don't assume so based only on the title because there are plenty of legit, novel patents that are titled in this manner. Of course, this is still just based on the abstract, I'm not gonna read the whole patent.

    Abstract
    A method and system for sending and receiving Uniform Resource Locators (URLs) in electronic mail over the Internet. An electronic mail document containing a URL may have several different types. If the message type indicates a URL, when the received URL type document is read or browsed using a multimedia Internet browser, the URL is looked up so that the information corresponding to the URL is displayed without necessarily displaying any portion of the received message. If the received document is of the Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) type, the document may be displayed and a user may "click" on the URL to look up the information corresponding to the URL. If the received document is of the text type, the text may be converted to the HTML format and the HTML format document displayed so that a user may "click" on the URL in order to look up the information corresponding to the URL without the need to type in the URL address.

    • by sribe (304414) on Friday June 21, 2013 @02:18PM (#44072851)

      It seems that slashdotters think that the title of a patent IS the patent. For any patent title "A method for doing X," it does not mean that any method for doing X is covered by the patent. The patent describes the specific method of doing X. Now, sometimes the specific method is still totally obvious, not novel, and/or has plenty of prior art. But just because the title says "Method and system to create, transmit, receive and process information, including an address to further information" does not mean or imply that it covers every method for doing so.

      The problem is not so much that the non-experts here assume that the patent covers all methods for doing X; the problem is that the patent trolls and their attorneys will pretend that the patent does so, threaten small companies using any other method of doing X, and ultimately, perhaps, try to confuse a jury between the patented method and some other method by focusing on the result rather than the method.

      So, although the patent does not actually cover all methods of doing X, it is actually reasonable to assume that is exactly what the trolls are claiming.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      we've seen Microsoft use bullshit patents to threaten companies and lots and lots of them caved. All of those who caved have been companies which had other license agreements with Microsoft so you know there was some tit-for-tat threats going on too. But the companies which fought Microsoft's bogus claims( thinking Barnes and Nobel ) ended up getting millions from Microsoft to drop the case and ended up licensing something from them. I think Linspire did the same back when they were fighting the Windows tra

    • IANAL, but I believe the Abstract plays no real role legally. It is the claims mentioned in the patent that matter, and many times, they are much broader than what is summarized in the patent. For example, people keep mentioning URLs, but it you look at the claims, some claims (like 1) do not mention URL, so the patent is much broader. However, because it is not restricted to URLs, it opens up the patent to be invalidated by software that preexisted the Web, but performed the actions stated in the claim
  • by ThatsNotPudding (1045640) on Friday June 21, 2013 @02:06PM (#44072739)
    Everyone at IV with their own office needs to be lined up and gut shot.
    .
    .
    .
    Metaphorically speaking, of course.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Everyone at IV with their own office needs to be lined up and gut shot.
      .
      .
      .
      Metaphorically speaking, of course.

      Now, now. I'm a fan of capital punishment for murders and child molesters, but I think life in prison without parol or so in prison would be a more appropriate punishment in this case and might even serve as a deterrent for the future. And I'm not being metaphorical and I don't think life in prison is excessive in this case. Patent trolls do significant damage to the economy. A worse economy means less money is available for lifesaving services, such as medical care, traffic safety, etc. So, while indi

    • Can't we just give the individual lawyers stupid patents, put them in a ring and say "Whoever wins the most patent litigations between you gets more patents!"?

    • by jedidiah (1196)

      No. We need to go old school. We need a War of the Roses style execution for traitors...

      Hang them.
      Take them down and disembowel them.
      Drag them through the streets.
      Then draw and quarter them.

      They may have not had potable water but they had a certain sense of style.

    • After giving me their wallets. NOT metaphorically speaking.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    You are shocked, shocked to know that patents are being used anti-competitively in a court of law.

    I know you're all about the moral outrage etc, but, given what Patents ARE, and why they were created, and what their purpose is, isn't "being used anti-competitively in a court of law" (or at least, the threat of that) the only thing that you can actually do with one?

    -AC

  • Fuck this fucking fuck
  • Claim 1 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Friday June 21, 2013 @02:46PM (#44073081)

    This is the actual material being contested:

    1. A method of communicating between computers, comprising the steps of:
    creating a message at a first computer, said message including a reference to a predetermined location;
    transmitting, by the first computer, said message to a second location; and
    receiving said message by a computer at the second location;
    decoding said message by the computer at the second location by retrieving data from the predetermined location, automatically by a single application, without requiring user interaction, into the computer at the second location.

    So actually this looks like a dandy malware vector. Send an email with a link; the receiver then downloads the content from the link without human intervention.

    I'd be upset if my email client was doing this.

    • Re:Claim 1 (Score:4, Funny)

      by PPH (736903) on Friday June 21, 2013 @03:03PM (#44073225)

      So, can we sue IV if our computers start automatically loading this malware?

      • by cdrudge (68377)

        Unfortunately no. Just because you come up with an idea or otherwise "own" the idea doesn't mean you are responsible for the idea unless the patent owner also executed the idea which had the detrimental effect on you. I think the gun lobby has tried to make that clear that they aren't generally responsible if their gun is used to commit a crime.

    • by Grond (15515)

      A lot of email clients do that. They call it downloading images referenced in HTML-formatted email.

    • by tmorehen (2731547)
      Isn't this also the way that updates occur? It also reminds me of the "push" services that were all the rage 10 or 15 years ago.
    • Agree that it something an email client should never do, but I figure it may be something that a proxy service may due to for mobile customers to reduce network bandwidth. For example, the proxy service can pre-fetch the data referenced from a page (or email), and for some of the data, like images, reduce the size of the data before the actual content is delivered to the mobile device. The term "message" can be very generic, so although the focus is on email-based programs, it could apply to other context
    • by jrumney (197329)

      Email clients should not be covered by this claim, as email involves third and potentially fourth computers in between the first and second (Email servers). That claim is describing a peer to peer method of communication, as there are only two computers involved, and if you consider that the first computer may be a web server and the single application on the second computer a web browser, there would have been sufficient prior art in 1995 to invalidate that claim. So what are the other claims? Do any ext

      • Email clients should not be covered by this claim, as email involves third and potentially fourth computers in between the first and second (Email servers). That claim is describing a peer to peer method of communication, as there are only two computers involved, and if you consider that the first computer may be a web server and the single application on the second computer a web browser, there would have been sufficient prior art in 1995 to invalidate that claim.

        In patent law, the term "consisting of" is close-ended, while "comprising" is open-ended. So, a claim of "consisting of A, B, and C" would mean a combination of only A, B, and C; while a claim of "comprising A, B, and C" means A, B, C, and anything else. This particular claim uses comprising, and could have added computers (in italics) as:

        1. A method of communicating between computers, comprising the steps of:
        creating a message at a first computer, said message including a reference to a predetermined loc

    • by BillX (307153)
      Sounds suspiciously like what a < font > tag does. (The claim does not distinguish between the "predetermined location" being a local or network resource, as if such a distinction would be meaningful. And, considering that the "reference to a location" is via a resouce-indentifier string in both cases [the 'RI' in URI], it sounds pretty similar to me.)
  • Nobody's using the gnn.com domain (expires next year), and the patent makes reference to it. I wonder if we can claim that domain, publish stuff that contradicts its references in the patent, then sue the patent holders for violating the information published in the first place.

  • When I type or paste a URL into an Outlook message, or MS Word, or Excel, or PowerPoint, Microsoft automatically converts that URL into a hyperlink even if I didn't ask it to do so. Does that mean Microsoft is guilty of patent infringement?
  • Late to the party, but I've got plenty of email from 1994 with urls in them, eg:

    From XXX Thu Sep 29 15:57:01 1994
    Subject: Re: your mail
    To: XXX@XXX.uk (XXX)
    Date: Thu, 29 Sep 1994 15:57:01 +0100 (BST)
    X-Mailer: ELM [version 2.4 PL23]
    MIME-Version: 1.0
    Content-Type: text/plain; charset=US-ASCII
    Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit
    Content-Length: 197
    Status: RO

    > What is the URL for the worldwideweb server on XXXX?

    http://xxxxxx.uk/ [xxxxxx.uk]

    regards,
    --
    Illtud XXX...

    I understand that the patent may cover automatic downloading of th

: is not an identifier

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