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Smartphones Patented — Just About Everyone Sued 1 Minute Later 407

This week the US Patent and Trademark Office issued a surprisingly (although I guess it shouldn't be) broad patent for a "mobile entertainment and communication device". Upon closer inspection you may notice that it pretty much outlines the ubiquitous smartphone concept. "It's a patent for a mobile phone with removable storage, an internet connection, a camera and the ability to download audio or video files. The patent holding firm who has the rights to this patent wasted no time at all. At 12:01am Tuesday morning, it filed three separate lawsuits against just about everyone you can think of, including Apple, Nokia, RIM, Sprint, ATT, HP, Motorola, Helio, HTC, Sony Ericsson, UTStarcomm, Samsung and a bunch of others. Amusingly, the company actually first filed the lawsuits on Monday, but realized it was jumping the gun and pulled them, only to refile just past the stroke of midnight. "
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Smartphones Patented — Just About Everyone Sued 1 Minute Later

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  • abusive behaviour (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Atreide ( 16473 ) on Friday January 25, 2008 @07:09PM (#22188242)
    putting abusive people in jail would make them think twice

    they cost money to other companies, but also to state and law
    how can tribunal tolerate such behaviour and not fine a big toll ?
  • Awesome` (Score:5, Interesting)

    by moogied ( 1175879 ) on Friday January 25, 2008 @07:12PM (#22188280)
    Finally, a firm got enough balls to blatantly abuse the living crap out of the patent system. Maybe this will start the much needed rework of the patent system.
  • They sued WHO? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sirwired ( 27582 ) on Friday January 25, 2008 @07:15PM (#22188312)
    They do realize that IBM, from it's lofty perch near the top of the Fortune 500, doesn't take too kindly to patent extortion? Especially pathetic ones like this? The same IBM that is a company that does not manufacture phones of any kind, smart or otherwise? The same IBM that has a larger patent portfolio than the next-highest competitor by a substantial margin? The same company that probably has a patent on breathing and a another patent on filing patent lawsuits? The same IBM with a quite famous, take-no-prisoners legal strategy? The same IBM that just spent more in legal fees fighting SCO than the company was worth?

    Methinks a couple of those plaintiffs are going to get dropped from the suit, quite quickly. Unless of course IBM wants to make an example of them (not out of the question), in which case they will have their patent forcibly invalidated, with maybe some Sherman Act sprinkled on top for good measure.

  • Yes (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 25, 2008 @07:26PM (#22188432)
    Sometimes they do .. for example the RIMM versus a patent holding company called NTP: []

    Other situations companies settle such as this one where a company claimed it owned rights to JPEG []

    So yeah, patent trolling can be quite lucrative from a financial standpoint .. but I dunno what it does to the conscience.

  • Manipulatin' me! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anachragnome ( 1008495 ) on Friday January 25, 2008 @07:29PM (#22188474)
    Seriously, soon as I RTFA, the first thought that went through my head was that SOMEBODY has had enough of the USPO and decided to make as big a splash as possible, using a device that most people own, as a means to bring the entire issue to the PUBLIC, at large.

    I doubt they are trying to actually win this thing, but merely point out that there are some SERIOUS problems with the patent system.

    What better way to do so then to do it in grand fashion? The media are going to put up articles stating such stuff as "Is your cellphone doomed?", etc. etc.

    Let the media do the ground work.

    So, calm down. If it works, the patent system will get the desperately needed overhaul it deserves as a result.
  • patent lawyers (Score:4, Interesting)

    by intthis ( 525681 ) on Friday January 25, 2008 @07:31PM (#22188514)
    i've been going through the motions of getting some software patented (using a specialist law firm in chicago) and mid-way through the process, i stopped proceedings to entirely rework / rethink the project, because some troll like this had written a patent for something disturbingly simple, and worded it such that it expanded miles beyond it's scope... to a point that it encroached on... well... everything...

    every time i see cases like this, i have to wonder... do i just need shadier patent lawyers? or should i just rely on the people who review these things to be completely blind to all prior art?
  • by Marcion ( 876801 ) on Friday January 25, 2008 @07:34PM (#22188552) Homepage Journal
    Probably lots, I mean you don't have to actually every get to trial, if you have sold the stock then the cash is in the bag (e.g. SCO).

    Still not the best example, but: []
  • FYI (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MacarooMac ( 1222684 ) on Friday January 25, 2008 @07:39PM (#22188576)
    From el Wiki on prior art []

    "Every country other than the United States uses a first-to-file system. This means that, regardless of who the first inventor was, the person or legal entity who files a patent application first is the one who can be granted a patent for the invention. The first-to-invent versus first-to-file rule is one of the major differences between U.S. patent law and the patents systems of other nations."
  • by Skeetskeetskeet ( 906997 ) on Friday January 25, 2008 @07:58PM (#22188764)
    I'll polish my rifle and wait for an answer.
  • by Penguinisto ( 415985 ) on Friday January 25, 2008 @08:06PM (#22188850) Journal
    Seriously - I'd love to see a clause put into any patent (and copyright) based lawsuit filing, signed by the CEO himself, that says:

    "I hereby swear under penalty of perjury that I am filing this lawsuit in good faith. Furthermore, if my lawsuit is found to be without merit, and is dismissed with prejudice, then my corporate charter shall be dissolved, and my corporation's holdings shall be split and sold to the highest bidder at public auction. Furthermore, my corporate officers, who are members of my corporation's board at time of filing, shall be individually levied personal fines of 3x their individual annual personal income (consisting of, but not limited to: salary, bonuses, incentives, and all other forms of income), as calculated on the year this lawsuit was filed. My corporation furthermore cannot be sold, merged, transferred, or acquired by any other entity until the lawsuit is concluded, nor can board members be replaced except in the event of death or permanent incapacitation. My corporation furthermore cannot issue any further financial instruments during this time period, until the lawsuit is concluded (instruments include but are not limited to: stock issues, bond issues, or any other forms of publicly traded debt)."

    That would simultaneously wipe out the RIAA, the MPAA, and damned near every real patent troll on the planet...

    ...or at least make the fsckers think real hard before they do it.


    (PS: if you can improve on it or correct dumb mistakes that I was bound to include inadvertently, please, go for it).

  • Apple (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mandos ( 8379 ) on Friday January 25, 2008 @08:07PM (#22188858) Homepage
    So the story says they sued Apple among others. Isn't one of the complaints that some people have against the iPhone that it Doesn't have removable storage? That would seem to exempt them from this patent.
  • by Weaselmancer ( 533834 ) on Friday January 25, 2008 @08:16PM (#22188934)

    Isn't the standard procedure for a patent troll to pick the smallest infringing fish, go to court and hope to establish a precedent, THEN go for Sony, Apple, Sprint, etc?

  • Treo 600 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bill_mcgonigle ( 4333 ) * on Friday January 25, 2008 @08:28PM (#22189018) Homepage Journal
    The patent was originally filed on November 30, 2003. Can anyone say for sure there was prior art before this date?

    Here's an IT Week Review [] of the Treo 600 dated November 6, 2003.

    It sounds like they read the review and worked up a patent for it over the Thanksgiving holiday. :)

    How about a new standard for patents - that if a patent is filed when a practitioner of the art would ordinarily know the patent to be invalid, and the patent is not withdrawn between the time of filing and the time of issue, that it's a criminal offense?

    This is getting out of hand - not the least of which that it's over 4 years since filing for this patent to issue because the system is all gummed up with bogus patents.
  • by Peaker ( 72084 ) <> on Friday January 25, 2008 @08:34PM (#22189064) Homepage
    An even more blatant example: Intellectual Weapons.

    (They buy vulnerabilities from security researchers, and then they try to patent all possible security fixes)
  • by X ( 1235 ) <> on Friday January 25, 2008 @08:37PM (#22189086) Homepage Journal
    It looks to me like the '97 patent actually might have some merit. The continuations area pain/annoyance, but it seems like either way, this guy might be owed some money.

    The one thing that annoys me about this is I remember seeing promotional videos for PCS when the technology first came out (prior to '97) which suggested that some day basically everything covered in this patent would happen. At some point we just need to recognize that some things are just an inevitable result of progress, rather than innovations in their own light?
  • Payola (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Weaselmancer ( 533834 ) on Friday January 25, 2008 @08:53PM (#22189168)

    I'd just look for a patent clerk driving a Lamborghini. Why look to stupidity when we have other equally icky human motivations for this?

    I'm serious.

    This almost has to be the work of bribery. How the hell could anyone not know that people have been putting video on cellphones already? How could you possibly claim that you haven't seen this before? Either it's bribery, or there's a patent clerk out there somewhere who doesn't own a TV and is communicating solely by carrier pigeon.

  • by Derling Whirvish ( 636322 ) on Friday January 25, 2008 @10:17PM (#22189678) Journal
    A SIM card is removeable storage is it not? The amount of data it stores is small, but it stores data and is removeable.
  • 1994: IBM Simon (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 26, 2008 @12:12AM (#22190296)
    The IBM Simon was a smartphone with a PCMCIA slot for memory, able to send faxes, built in modem and terminal app. Except for power everything was done on the full front LCD display. It could also play midi files. =)

    Except for video playback it seems pretty prior art to me.
  • by mOdQuArK! ( 87332 ) on Saturday January 26, 2008 @12:40AM (#22190456)

    How about compulsory licensing after a certain amount of time without a product on the shelve and even longer time if you are selling something.

    Seems like a tweak of the existing system...

    Here's a completely different setup that I've been thinking of (please give feedback):

    1. Limit the total # of valid patents to some reasonably small number. The idea is to have a database of valid patents small enough so that people can easily search it to make sure they aren't violating anything, and also to limit the probability that doing little things is going to violate some tiny little patent somewhere.

      As an alternative, perhaps break down the patent "pools" by industry (have a small # of valid patents per industry).

    2. As they currently do, valid patents will become invalid either when they expire, or be found obvious or have prior art.

      As valid patents expire or are invalidated, their "slot" will become open to be filled by a new valid patent.

    3. Every year, anyone can file a patent application. In the process of filing the patent application, they are giving up ownership of that idea & putting it up for potential "purchase" by a bidder.

    4. Each year, there is a patent "auction" on all of the patent applications which have been submitted that year. Any bidder can put in their bid to try and "own" a patent on any of the ideas that have been submitted as patent applications.

      Since any given patent can be invalided due to obviousness or prior art, it is in the bidder's interest to figure out exactly how much any given patent application is worth before they bid on it.

      Between the limited # of patent slots available, and the competition between bidders to own the "best" ideas, this should weed out all of the really stupid patents that currently get granted. In addition, you don't need any patent examiners for this step (since the bidders should be doing all the work).

      (You will probably still need patent examiners to rule on obviousness or prior art claims.)

    5. Whichever set of patents "win" (i.e., become valid patents), all of the money that the bidder paid to own that patent will go to the person who submitted the patent. If the idea was considered really valuable by the bidder, this could be an immense jackpot for the patent idea submitter.

    My basic goal for this system was to use market-forces to figure out how valuable (in a financial sense) a patent idea REALLY was, and to make sure small innovators got potentially big payoffs while the patent ideas were delivered into the hands of organizations that had enough resources to immediately use those patent ideas.

    I've got more details & rationale, but I figured this description was plenty for a discussion :-)

  • Re:Payola (Score:3, Interesting)

    by cbiltcliffe ( 186293 ) on Saturday January 26, 2008 @01:25AM (#22190666) Homepage Journal
    How many average people know that you can buy a computer, right now, with 8 processor cores?
    How many know that you can buy a computer with RAID 5 that will protect you from failing drives?
    How many know that you can buy a computer with dual SLI video cards?

    If you introduced any of these ideas as your own to the average consumer, they'd think you were a genius, and be sure that you invented them. They're such high-end tech, that no consumer even suspects they exist.
    A smartphone in 1996 would have been similar high-end tech. I realize the USPO is supposed to do research for these patents before granting them, but the entire world is full of morons, and the government bureaucracy is full of professional morons, so what do you expect?
  • Re:Prior art? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by zete ( 767115 ) on Saturday January 26, 2008 @02:47AM (#22191130)
    We should just get the patent office to read some of Tesla's work. This quote illustrates Tesla predicting smart phones more than 100 years ago: As soon as [the Wardenclyffe plant is] completed, it will be possible for a business man in New York to dictate instructions, and have them instantly appear in type at his office in London or elsewhere. He will be able to call up, from his desk, and talk to any telephone subscriber on the globe, without any change whatever in the existing equipment. An inexpensive instrument, not bigger than a watch, will enable its bearer to hear anywhere, on sea or land, music or song, the speech of a political leader, the address of an eminent man of science, or the sermon of an eloquent clergyman, delivered in some other place, however distant. In the same manner any picture, character, drawing, or print can be transferred from one to another place... Nikola Tesla 1901
  • by knarf ( 34928 ) on Saturday January 26, 2008 @03:19AM (#22191260) Homepage
    And here we see again what happens when laws are made by lawyers, for lawyers. Anyone who looks for the lawyers in shining armour who will knock these leeches into pulp come the next day fail to see the point. As far as the lawyers are concerned the law does fullfill its intended purpose by making society fully dependent on their 'services'. Kind of like the way rat catchers in days gone by might have spread rats through the city, thereby creating panic and calls for their service.

    A politician who wrote a law which stated that from this point in time on anyone who wished to engage in economical activity could not do so until he paid due to his party would immediately be recognized for what she is. A lawyer writing a similar law telling the public to pay due to their caste is for some strange reason not recognized for what he is.

    In many countries it is practice to have a civilian head the armed forces. This is supposed to ward off the danger of having those armed forces take over the government. A similar construction might help to avoid creating the current abysmal state of (parts of) the legal system which has turned into a sort of social security for the legal caste. Sure, lawyers will still be needed to work on the nitty-gritty details - like soldiers deployed on the battlefield. But in the same way as most societies do not tolerate those soldiers to impose a constant state of emergency and military rule those societies should not tolerate a constant state of legal emergency.

    Laws should be written to benefit society as a whole. Not just to feed part of it.
  • by jsiren ( 886858 ) on Saturday January 26, 2008 @06:38AM (#22192098) Homepage
    The Benefon Esc was first released in 1999. It was a handheld GSM phone with an integrated GPS receiver and the capability of downloading maps over the air. I would think they'd have patented the relevant bits. (The company is now called GeoSentric.)
  • Re:Yes, everyone. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Z00L00K ( 682162 ) on Saturday January 26, 2008 @07:09AM (#22192194) Homepage
    Actually - to put an end to this - if a patent fails the patent office shall be equal liable to pay any costs arisen from giving an invalid patent.

    This patent should have been dropped dead due to both prior art and obviousness. I just hope that the courts are going to dismiss the claims completely.

  • by celle ( 906675 ) on Saturday January 26, 2008 @01:56PM (#22194472)

    This country did have an amendment to that effect that was passed by the states in 1812 but not formerly recognized as such. The text still sits in the smithsonian with a article that it failed to pass. Amazing its on the record that the necessary number of states voted yes for it and the lawyers used a bureaucratic excuse to block it from eliminating them. Funny how it disappeared during the civil war to be replaced by the emancipation proclamation too. It would have kept lawyers out of government and deported them if they lobbied for a foreign power. The very kind of lawyer problems we have now it would have prevented.

The only possible interpretation of any research whatever in the `social sciences' is: some do, some don't. -- Ernest Rutherford