Follow Slashdot blog updates by subscribing to our blog RSS feed


Forgot your password?
Patents Spam Your Rights Online

Federal Appeals Court Tosses Spam Patent 76

Zordak writes "US patent 6,631,400 claims a method of making sure enough people get your spam. A federal district court had overturned the patent as anticipated and obvious, and not drawn to patentable subject matter. The Federal Circuit, the appeals court which hears patent matters, upheld the finding of obviousness, thus invalidating the patent."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Federal Appeals Court Tosses Spam Patent

Comments Filter:
  • I want to patent my intellectual Idea of "Keep going until I reach my destination"

    • by Brain-Fu ( 1274756 ) on Thursday December 03, 2009 @12:55PM (#30312168) Homepage Journal

      The primary purpose of patents is to *STOP* the competition from doing whatever it is you are patenting (yes, I know this isn't the stated purpose, but it is the purpose-in-effect). The secondary purpose is to collect money from people who do what you patented, so you can make money without doing it yourself.

      In both cases, once you patent something, there is a net loss in the number of people doing it. We have observed this time and time again in the industry.

      So why in the world would you REJECT a spam patent? By all means, GRANT THE PATENT! Let the spammers sue each other into oblivion and reduce the total amount of spam generated.


      • Unless of course - the Feds or the Patent Office have something to gain by allowing spam to continue.

        • Unless of course - the Feds or the Patent Office have something to gain by allowing spam to continue.

          Perhaps it's another instance of Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis; aka Problem, Reaction, Solution. If so, then it just hasn't become enough of a problem yet. When it can be called a "crisis" in the media, then naturally the solution will be to give the federal government just a little more power so they can fix it right up for us.

        • You can't have it both ways. Most patents on /. are the butt end of every joke because they should be. This one is the same, with nothing novel to offer. You may not like it, but according to the rules, which they rarely seem to follow, it's just not something that can be patented.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        So why in the world would you REJECT a spam patent? By all means, GRANT THE PATENT! Let the spammers sue each other into oblivion and reduce the total amount of spam generated.

        Have you noticed that most spammers operate outside law? They won't "sue each other". That patent means exactly nothing to them either way.

      • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

        by Foofoobar ( 318279 )
        Incorrect. The primary purpose of the patent SYSTEM is to reward and encourage innovation by potecting those who innovate. Unfortunately, people now abuse the patent system by spamming it with obvious and existing inventions and ideas and the sue people for a living creating a litigious society rather than a society that thrives on innovation and invention.

        This makes the lawyer the king of the civilization rather than the inventor and the scientist.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by FooAtWFU ( 699187 )
        It's a nice idea, but the legal theory there seems kinda... situational. Equal protection under the law, anybody?
      • by dkleinsc ( 563838 ) on Thursday December 03, 2009 @01:54PM (#30313234) Homepage

        Sorry to do this, but:

        Your post advocates a

        ( ) technical (X) legislative ( ) market-based ( ) vigilante

        approach to fighting spam. Your idea will not work. Here is why it won't work. (One or more of the following may apply to your particular idea, and it may have other flaws which used to vary from state to state before a bad federal law was passed.)

        ( ) Spammers can easily use it to harvest email addresses
        ( ) Mailing lists and other legitimate email uses would be affected
        (X) No one will be able to find the guy or collect the money
        ( ) It is defenseless against brute force attacks
        ( ) It will stop spam for two weeks and then we'll be stuck with it
        ( ) Users of email will not put up with it
        ( ) Microsoft will not put up with it
        ( ) The police will not put up with it
        (X) Requires too much cooperation from spammers
        ( ) Requires immediate total cooperation from everybody at once
        ( ) Many email users cannot afford to lose business or alienate potential employers
        ( ) Spammers don't care about invalid addresses in their lists
        (X) Anyone could anonymously destroy anyone else's career or business

        Specifically, your plan fails to account for

        ( ) Laws expressly prohibiting it
        (X) Lack of centrally controlling authority for email
        (X) Open relays in foreign countries
        ( ) Ease of searching tiny alphanumeric address space of all email addresses
        (X) Asshats
        (X) Jurisdictional problems
        ( ) Unpopularity of weird new taxes
        ( ) Public reluctance to accept weird new forms of money
        ( ) Huge existing software investment in SMTP
        ( ) Susceptibility of protocols other than SMTP to attack
        ( ) Willingness of users to install OS patches received by email
        (X) Armies of worm riddled broadband-connected Windows boxes
        ( ) Eternal arms race involved in all filtering approaches
        (X) Extreme profitability of spam
        ( ) Joe jobs and/or identity theft
        ( ) Technically illiterate politicians
        (X) Extreme stupidity on the part of people who do business with spammers
        (X) Dishonesty on the part of spammers themselves
        ( ) Bandwidth costs that are unaffected by client filtering
        ( ) Outlook

        and the following philosophical objections may also apply:

        (X) Ideas similar to yours are easy to come up with, yet none have ever
        been shown practical
        ( ) Any scheme based on opt-out is unacceptable
        ( ) SMTP headers should not be the subject of legislation
        ( ) Blacklists suck
        ( ) Whitelists suck
        ( ) We should be able to talk about Viagra without being censored
        ( ) Countermeasures should not involve wire fraud or credit card fraud
        ( ) Countermeasures should not involve sabotage of public networks
        ( ) Countermeasures must work if phased in gradually
        ( ) Sending email should be free
        ( ) Why should we have to trust you and your servers?
        ( ) Incompatiblity with open source or open source licenses
        (X) Feel-good measures do nothing to solve the problem
        ( ) Temporary/one-time email addresses are cumbersome
        ( ) I don't want the government reading my email
        (X) Killing them that way is not slow and painful enough

        Furthermore, this is what I think about you:

        (X) Sorry dude, but I don't think it would work.
        ( ) This is a stupid idea, and you're a stupid person for suggesting it.
        ( ) Nice try, assh0le! I'm going to find out where you live and burn your
        house down!

      • In both cases, once you patent something, there is a net loss in the number of people doing it. We have observed this time and time again in the industry.

        Which is in the case of a patent for spamming really beneficial for society (so it is a shame that this patent hasn't been granted, these patent trolls could do something good once in their life by suing a successful spammer), but quite the opposite of what patents are supposed to achieve.

      • Right, because the same people that are willing to commit outright fraud by selling "Herbal V14gra" through unsolicited email would clearly be stopped cold by a patent infringement suit! You know, if these people could be found easily enough to serve patent infringement papers on, they'd have gotten their asses kicked a long time ago for much more egregious offenses.
    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I want to patent the idea of "Beating a spammer repeatedly with a cricket bat until I achieve a consistent, bloody pulp."
  • Almost. (Score:1, Redundant)

    If only they had offered eggs with their Spam...
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by biryokumaru ( 822262 ) *

      If brevity is the soul of wit, then how does one explain Twitter?

      Clearly your example disproves the existence of the soul.

    • Re: (Score:1, Redundant)

      by Idiomatick ( 976696 )
      I prefer spam spam spam and spam with my spam.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Opportunist ( 166417 )

        So you're saying you're using hotmail?

        • lovely spam, wonderful spa-a-m,
          lovely spam, wonderful s spam,
          lovely spam, lovely spam,
          lovely spam, lovely spam,
          lovely spa-a-a-a-am...
          spa-am, spa-am, spa-am, spa-a-a-am!

          - The origin of the term spam (Monty python's flying circus)
    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I do not like this, Spam I am.

  • For the one time that an obvious bogus patent is actually useful (hooray, no more spam!), they toss it!
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by clone53421 ( 1310749 )

      Spam is already illegal. Hooray, no more spam!~

      • [citation needed] pretty sure most spam is not illegal. I mean using viruses to create spam bot nets is. And you will generally get black listed if you spam from your own address... But spam is probably not illegal.
        • [citation needed] pretty sure most spam is not illegal.

          Citation: CAN-SPAM Act []

          • Thanks; yeah, I sort of assumed everyone would know about that. Per the CAN-SPAM Act, spam (typical “unsolicited business e-mail”) is banned.

            • Spam is legally permissible according to the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 provided it follows certain criteria: a truthful subject line, no false information in the technical headers or sender address, and other minor requirements.

              It just bans people trying to trick you into clicking on the emails. Doesn't ban “unsolicited business e-mail”.
              • Yeah, and one of the things it has to do is provide a means of unsubscription and honour such requests. (If I’m not mistaken.)

                If I could actually unsubscribe from spam, I wouldn’t so much mind getting it, because after a relatively short time I wouldn’t be getting it anymore, or at least to a much lesser extent.

                Even if it just had truthful information in the headers, it would be immensely easier to detect and block.

          • From the 3rd paragraph of your link:

            "The CAN-SPAM Act is commonly referred to by anti-spam activists as the YOU-CAN-SPAM Act because the bill does not require e-mailers to get permission before they send marketing messages.[3] It also prevents states from enacting stronger anti-spam protections, and prohibits individuals who receive spam from suing spammers. The Act has been largely unenforced,[4] despite a letter to the FTC from Senator Burns, who noted that "Enforcement is key regarding the CAN-SPAM legi
        • Spam is illegal, at least in my country.

          Of course lawyers already jumped the train and started to sue everyone that sent them emails without them asking for it...

  • Missed opportunity (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Kelson ( 129150 ) * on Thursday December 03, 2009 @12:53PM (#30312130) Homepage Journal assign the patent to an anti-spam organization, then watch as they sue spammers into oblivion for patent infringement!

    • Spam companies will just drag their heels SCO-style until the anti-spam organization is bankrupt.
    • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

      It must be a LHC karma thing, but it seems that the only patents declared as "too obvious" are those that may otherwise stop annoying or bad behavior.

    • If spammers were in areas where they'd be subject to litigation then they'd be breaking the law (spam is illegal, after all) and you'd stop them that way. No need for goofy patents awarded to unrelated parties.

    • You're so right! Spammers would never do something amoral or illegal, that's for sure. Of course, even if we wanted to sue them, who would we sue? If we (government) knew a corporation / person was spamming, wouldn't we shut them down regardless of 'patent infringement'?
  • Of course if it was granted, it would be licensed so it would not stop spam. But......
    the licensee of the patents would be identifiable, hopefully allowing the identification of the spammers.

    • by Meshach ( 578918 )

      Of course if it was granted, it would be licensed so it would not stop spam. But...... the licensee of the patents would be identifiable, hopefully allowing the identification of the spammers.

      Judging by the disregard spammers already show for the law and how far they go to cloak their identities I highly doubt that this patent would have dented the market if it had been upheld.

    • Why would a spammer care about IP law when he's already willing to commit computer crime and CAN-SPAM violations?
    • The answer may seem obvious but does the grant of a patent really give implicit legal license of use?

      If so, then I don't think they care so much about the patent so much so at the grant of the patent could maybe be used to legitimize and legalize part of the process of spamming.

      No, one part alone wouldn't work but if part of the entire process could be segmented and patented?

  • I know not many people actual bother to RTFA around here, but I read the patent application link provided []. I noticed something odd down in the references section:

    Moseley et al, Mastering Microsoft Office 97 professional edition, 1997, SYBEX Inc., 2nd edition, p. 811-816.* .

    Can anyone explain what a spam-propagation method has to do with MS office 97?

    • by Pieroxy ( 222434 )

      From the excerpt you are giving, it looks as if it is the title of a book. May not have anything to do with MS but just about an obscure book.

    • by tepples ( 727027 )
      More than likely, Mr. DiStefano was trying to cite some feature of Outlook 97 (or perhaps Word 97's mail merge?) as prior art.
  • The one time I want a patent issued to help retard things and the system does the right thing and rejects it on obviousness. Well maybe they just forgot they could do that and from now on obviousness *will* matter.

  • Yeah... and the guy who owns this (now invalidated) patent is saying to himself, "Dang-it! And I was going to use that patent to sue all of those spammers -- who somehow keep getting through my filters -- right out of existence! Curses! Foiled again!"
  • A story is posted about somebody being awarded a patent. It is tagged "corruption."

    A story is posted about somebody not being awarded a patent. It is tagged "communism."

  • The patent is basically for an electronic mail distribution system that tracks if emails have been opened, etc. It does specify that the subscribers should be members of an opt-in list, which would preclude UCE. Of course it could be used to nefarious ends by having a spammer submit the addresses as if they were opted in, but it's initial purpose doesn't seem to be one of sending UCE.

    • by Zordak ( 123132 )
      Well, sort of. The specification mentioned opt-in as the preferred embodiment, but the broadest claims don't require it. It's still a spam patent, it just happens to be useful for opt-in lists too. And opt-in isn't always as innocent as it sounds. Marketers love to play games with what they consider an "opt-in."
  • If some well intended person had files a patent on SPAM years ago and prevented anyone from SPAMing think how our inboxes would be different (OK bad example, too lawless). While it takes a fair bit of work, getting a copy of Patent it yourself from Nolo Press, conducting your own patent search and writing your own patent is with in reach of your average engineer. The cost to file is just a few hundred dollars. If you give engineers a few minutes around the water cooler to chew the fat, inevitably one of
  • This patent isn't about "spam" per say, but rather bulk e-mails. While spam is completely unsolicited, bulk mail may include necessary mailings, such as companies who e-mail your w-2's or something along those lines for tax time. Also, the article suggests using e-mail lists, while many spammers just generate random e-mail addresses. This patent would be much further reaching than just spammers, but rather affect every single company that sends out e-mails to its consumer lists (ie. pretty much every compan

    • by Zordak ( 123132 )
      While what you say is theoretically true, the process they describe---send out a bunch of e-mails, see how many didn't get bounced, and then if too many got bounced, send out a bunch more---is really only practical for marketing type mass e-mails. I seriously doubt that your (presumably) legitimate company does anything of the sort when sending out W-2s. The specification really focuses on marketing-type applications, like those web sites that have the "check the categories that interest you" pages so the

"The following is not for the weak of heart or Fundamentalists." -- Dave Barry