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

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 mikael_j ( 106439 ) on Sunday November 20, 2011 @11:40AM (#38116518)

    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)).

  • possible fix (Score:5, Interesting)

    by khipu ( 2511498 ) on Sunday November 20, 2011 @11:53AM (#38116604)

    Right now, you can patent anything, and if you can get it past the USPTO, you're a winner: you can collect royalties as long as you keep your demands below what it would cost to strike down your patent. There is almost no risk or downside (at worst, you lose what you paid for getting the patent, maybe $10k).

    Since lawyers are ultimately driving this, maybe we can fix it by giving lawyers an incentive: create laws that allow companies to be sued for damages if they obtain patents if they should reasonably have known about prior art. This might restore some balance to the patent system, and companies would think twice about filing bad patents if they incur potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in liability.

  • by LordThyGod ( 1465887 ) on Sunday November 20, 2011 @11:58AM (#38116646)
    Yea, I was thinking it was the lunatics running the asylum, but it might be lawyers, indeed. What a sorry state of affairs that this kind of BS is not stopped at the door. "Get the fuck out and don't try that crap again".
  • by JoeMerchant ( 803320 ) on Sunday November 20, 2011 @12:09PM (#38116710)

    The more interesting data mining is currently implemented as trade secrets. Apparently, the credit card companies can predict [], with 99% accuracy, if you are going to get a divorce within the next two years.

    They could do useful little tricks like reminding you about the yeast at the checkout counter, but that would be creepy to most people and not as profitable for the company with the data.

  • by Grave ( 8234 ) <> on Sunday November 20, 2011 @12:10PM (#38116720)

    Any time an exceedingly obvious patent is filed by a company, it should be immediately placed in the public domain, and the company that filed it should be forced to pay royalties to the government. Not only would this reduce the amount of stupid patent filings and court battles, it would get our national debt paid off within a year or two.

  • by icebraining ( 1313345 ) on Sunday November 20, 2011 @12:23PM (#38116806) Homepage

    Location aware reminders do too. Geominder for S60 phones was released years before the first iPhone.

  • by QuasiSteve ( 2042606 ) on Sunday November 20, 2011 @12:39PM (#38116916)

    Yeah, but the devil is usually in the details.

    After all, we can pretty much say that any satnav is prior art. You tell it to give you a reminder when you're near your destination and lo and behold, when you're near it it does indeed inform you that you have arrived at the location.

    The question is how, exactly, the patent applications are phrased and what, exactly, they cover. From the summary, for example, the Google one just covers a spoken voice and/or vibration.. in theory that would mean it doesn't cover a text and/or image reminder.. if that is the case it may even have been to specifically avoid a patent that covers the text or image implementation.

    That to the common man they're practically the same thing, and even if they weren't, are all obvious.. doesn't matter to the patent office.
    I feel for the guy working at the U.S. one who answered questions on Slashdot a long time back.. I doubt any of his frustrations have been addressed.. it only got worse.
    Of course it's no better in Europe; []

  • Re:Ahhhh (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Baloroth ( 2370816 ) on Sunday November 20, 2011 @02:23PM (#38117636)
    Ah, you mean like Germany where the Samsung Tab got banned because it was a rectangle? I know people love saying "well, that's just them", but the reality is everyone is being affected by stupid laws like this. ACTA, anyone?
  • by EEPROMS ( 889169 ) on Sunday November 20, 2011 @03:33PM (#38118132)
    Actually there is evidence now that Bell lied and visited a patent office to view Greys patent application before Bell filed his own, In fact if Bell offered the same evidence today in a modern court he would have not been awarded the patent. Bell also avoided any recognition that he invented the telephone in his future years, maybe guilt was on his conscious,

Variables don't; constants aren't.