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Patents The Courts

City Sued Over Smart Meter-Related Patent (chicagotribune.com) 60

New submitter wb8nbs writes: Florida patent troll Atlas LLC has filed a suit against the municipality of Naperville, Illinois (paywalled). Atlas claims infringement of their patent on wireless communication where a hub node controls remote node responses. In 2011-2013 Naperville, which owns the local electrical utility network, installed Smart Meters on nearly all customers in its serving area, a move that was bitterly opposed by a small group of residents. The Naperville Smart Meter network uses Zigbee protocol to return readings to their fiber optic collection network. The Atlas suit could have long range implications to the Internet of Things, but it appears they have sued and lost a similar case in Florida.
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City Sued Over Smart Meter-Related Patent

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  • The Bob Dylan song lyrics seem apropos as a response to this type of lawsuit:

    I'll pay in blood.. but not my own.

  • Move the case to the city courthouse and see how far it goes.

  • enemy of my enemy and all that
  • by tlambert ( 566799 ) on Wednesday December 02, 2015 @09:36PM (#51046175)

    Which side am I supposed to be on?!?

    On one side, we have Smart Meters, which are evil, and intended to provide differential rates do that the electric utility can pay you less for the solar you generate than the non-solar you consume, so they get paid the same amount, as when you didn't have solar, and it saves their antique business model...

    On the other side, it's a patent troll, engaging in rent seeking on something they pobably acquired in a bankruptcy, and who produces nothing useful to society at all, and is just a drag on innovation in general...

    WHICH SIDE?!?!?!?!

    I'm so confused....

    • patent / trade mark trolls are the bad side of DMCA like laws.

    • The hypocrisy of it all is quite astonishing. A decade or so ago utilities were screaming that they needed to implement peak metering because of the added costs of handling increased demand. Recently they've been pushing for higher overall rates because, *gasp*, energy usage is down because of energy efficient appliances, efficient lighting, home solar and off peak load balancing (water heaters, special AC units, etc). Sadly I'm not surprised that they lied to increase profits, but that they so unabashed

      • by mikael ( 484 )

        That was before solar, wind came along and home-owners being able to sell energy back into the grid. Once supply exceeds demand, the utilities are no longer able to make their bumper profits when demand exceeds supply. Not even when they are trying to shut down the cheapest energy suppliers such as coal, buying up the surviving companies and selling the coal to China (Peabody Coal).

    • Which side am I supposed to be on?!?

      Whenever you hear "patent troll", substitute in "patent reform activist". So a "patent reform activist" is promoting solar power while demonstrating the brokenness of the patent system.

    • by langelgjm ( 860756 ) on Wednesday December 02, 2015 @10:49PM (#51046573) Journal

      Smart meters aren't evil.

      Differential rates for solar power the customer generates versus electricity consumed from the utility don't really require smart meters, either, at least not the kind commonly deployed. Plus, the vast majority of homes and businesses where smart meters are being deployed don't generate their own power, so it's silly to suggest this is the intention for deploying them.

      Actual reasons for deploying smart meters include better demand monitoring and management, fast and accurate outage reporting so that service can be restored more quickly, and better customer service - since you as a consumer can now find out exactly how much you're using and when.

      I had a smart meter when I lived in Connecticut, and I loved it. I wrote a script to log in to my utility's website and get my daily consumption data, so I could track my consumption over time and make energy-conserving decisions. We also had natural gas, but in my best month I was able to lower consumption to 186 kWh, about a fifth of the US average.

      I now live in New Jersey, and our so-called 'ratepayer advocate' is rabidly anti-smart meter because she doesn't want to permit any increase in utility bills, even to pay for infrastructure investment. It took Hurricane Sandy to convince her to allow some infrastructure improvements that PSEG had been asking for a long time, but still no smart meters.

      • "I now live in New Jersey, and our so-called 'ratepayer advocate' is rabidly anti-smart meter because she doesn't want to permit any increase in utility bills, even to pay for infrastructure investment. It took Hurricane Sandy to convince her to allow some infrastructure improvements that PSEG had been asking for a long time, but still no smart meters."

        In my town, the hippie chick lobby is against smart meters because the ones we use in Arizona report in using the cellular data system. This is "radiation" i

        • Your comments would carry a bit more weight if you didn't insult the people you disagree with.

          The problem here is that there probably are some legitimate reasons to be concerned whilst others you can probably ignore. There is no doubt in my mind that the energy providers will ultimately find a way to exploit smart meters to their advantage. For me, I hope that I will improve my efficiency and increase my self sufficiency through improved insulation and home generation such that the providers will become in

          • A legitimate concern about smart meters could be privacy. Because a smart meter can take multiple readings during a day, rather than one manual reading a month, it gives the utility a lot of information about users' personal habits. In fact, smart meters are part of Smart Grid, a utility initiative to incorporate medium-scale renewables into their systems. The idea is that if a utility is going to have to deal with generated inputs that change minute by minute, it needs to have the same fine-scale informati

            • The next step in Smart Grid is going to evoke national controversy: a smart meter that can selectively turn on and off each user's major appliances.

              Yea, uhh... no, just no...

              Get off the damm Internet and go talk to mothers and ask them if it is ok if the utility can turn off their dishwasher and clothes washer any time they like, that is a non-starter.

              Ignoring the point that you really shouldn't be turning those off mid cycle, people are not going to want to move to such a model.

              • First of all, load management systems for consumers are almost always voluntary and opt-in.

                Second, I've never heard of a consumer load management system that dealt with dishwashers and washing machines - first, because these typically are minor power consumers compared to heating and air conditioning, and second, because yes, you shouldn't interrupt them mid-cycle.

                It's not like demand management shuts down your entire house. That's more like a rolling brownout, which is precisely what demand management trie

                • Maybe you're thinking of variable rates, which encourage people to use energy intensive devices when the rates are lower - like starting your electric dryer, which is a large consumer, when you go to bed at night, rather than at 3 PM in the middle of July.

                  Yea, but I'm not interested in having to remember when to run my clothes dryer, and that is the point...

                  People want to do what they want, when they want, without worrying about time of day use...

                  But the really cool thing is going to be something like Tesla's battery system. You can set THAT to timeshift power use during the day and a smart grid that controls batteries to allow people to run their stuff whenever they want may well be successful.

                  The only major hitch is that to really work we need three thing

            • by Ichijo ( 607641 )

              The next step in Smart Grid is going to evoke national controversy: a smart meter that can selectively turn on and off each user's major appliances.

              If it were possible, I would program my A/C to raise (or the furnace to lower) the thermostat by a degree or two when rates are high, and to lock out the washer and dryer and dishwasher until rates fall, and likewise lower the water heater temperature slightly. Maybe even program the lights to dim and the computers to go into power saving mode. What's so contro

              • the problem is when SOMEBODY ELSE decides that

                1 your fridge is using to much power (shut off the freezer part and raise the temp to "bacteria PARTTEH!!! levels in the fridge)

                2 Your ac/heater is using to much power ( the outdoor temp is 50 degrees plus minus comfort levels FOAD no relief for you)

                3 you now can use your washer between 1 am and 2:15 am your drier is usable between 7 am and 9:30 am

                or a DAESH hacker decides to ramp your heater up to runaway levels in the middle of the night (because of course th

              • If it were possible, I would program my A/C to raise (or the furnace to lower) the thermostat by a degree or two when rates are high, and to lock out the washer and dryer and dishwasher until rates fall, and likewise lower the water heater temperature slightly. Maybe even program the lights to dim and the computers to go into power saving mode. What's so controversial about that?

                You're holding it wrong...

                Program your Tesla PowerWall(tm) to charge from the grid when the rates are low, and then feed the electricity back into the grid when rates are high.

                Alternately, program it to charge from the grid when rates are low, and then operate your household off the grid when rates are low, and off the PowerWall(tm) instead of the grid when rates are high, until rates go back down.

                In other words: game the power company the same way the power company wants to game you.

            • It would be cool if the grid world turn off my air conditioner when a cloud went through.

              As the clouds make a drop in the solar input, the closest loads are shut down to compensate while long term adjustments are made to the power plants.

              • Putting in a sensor to do that would be your job, not the grid's. The grid sees power and loads over a wide area, and responds to changes over distances far larger than a single house. If it's windy in South Dakota this morning, Smart Grid might turn all the AC units in Arizona down by two degrees, absorbing the excess. Later in the hot part of the day with calm air in SD, the AZ air conditioners would be set higher to lighten the load.

          • Your comments would carry a bit more weight if you didn't insult the people you disagree with.

            Actually, insulting people is the norm in politics these days. Everyone from the Far Left to the Far Right and the hucksters in the middle (see Trump) insult the people they disagree with. And it works very well for the kneejerk low information voter types.

        • Smart meters are coming to PSEG territory "soon" based on what I've heard. They have already deployed them in Long Island shortly after taking over LIPA's grid. Maybe the NJBPU should get around to dealing with all the scammy alternative energy re-sellers that flooded the marketplace after deregulation. http://www.nj.com/business/index.ssf/2014/06/nj_third-party_energy_provider_charges_overcharging_consumers.html [nj.com]
        • ..."will cause everyone to grow extra toes or something. I have had one for two years"...

          So there's some truth to the toe growth rumors then

      • Smart meters aren't evil.

        They're not evil, they're just shit.

        Differential rates for solar power the customer generates versus electricity consumed from the utility don't really require smart meters

        Yes, that's reason one smart meters are shit. They are unnecessary.

        Plus, the vast majority of homes and businesses where smart meters are being deployed don't generate their own power, so it's silly to suggest this is the intention for deploying them.

        Right, it's a lie. The problem is, so is your next reason:

        Actual reasons for deploying smart meters include better demand monitoring and management, fast and accurate outage reporting so that service can be restored more quickly, and better customer service - since you as a consumer can now find out exactly how much you're using and when.

        Here's the problem with that idea. The actual "smart grid" initiative is about way more than smart meters. They're also adding intelligence to the wires, so they can monitor them. There's no real use in being able to monitor power consumption on a per-house basis in realtime, because they can't actually do anything on a per-house basis in realtime.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Both utilities and consumers need to realize that their new business model is distribution, not production. Actually production was never the model for public utilities; their real business model was getting cheap loans (to build power plants and infrastructure), and pay them off with cash flow from consumers. The power plant was basically an excuse to borrow money. Nearly all of the costs for power plants and power lines, etc. is in the initial construction, making it extremely difficult and complex to

    • by mikael ( 484 )

      The final ruling of any court case establishes a ruling that affects all similar lawsuits in the future.

      Next time it could be PatentTrolls LLC suing startup LinuxDeveloperStudios for enabling the remote control of holographic USB projector systems.

    • You seem to misunderstand smart meters. Differential rates are only one small thing they can do which is used by only a small number of utilities. If they have differential pricing for solar, they will do it whether or not they have smart meters. The old 50's era meters are never coming back, they were very inaccurate. The newer meters have extra features, more things are measured (voltage for example, you'd be surprised how many neighborhoods have the wrong voltage), and they can discover if there are

    • On one side, we have Smart Meters, which are evil, and intended to provide differential rates do that the electric utility can pay you less for the solar you generate than the non-solar you consume, so they get paid the same amount, as when you didn't have solar, and it saves their antique business model...

      Let me show you the multiple ways you're a nut job, and pay attention because the best one is last ...

      They don't get to give you different rates because you're using solar, so your conspiracy theory is bunk. They (in every state I've lived in) are legally mandated to buy back power at the rate they sell it at, so changing the price doesn't really help them.

      So if they lower it during the day, then businesses pay less for power and you make less back on your solar power, but the power company makes far less

  • US 5371734 A
    Expiration Date: 1/29/2013

    Going after Napierville for a installing a technology they simply bought and started installing a year before this junk patent expired.

  • This is a troll, through and through. Atlas must die.
    Naperville didn't manufacture the meters, or any of the other equipment which might infringe on a patent. They need to counter sue for legal fees and 3x damages for frivolous legal claim.
  • OK I looked this up. (Score:5, Informative)

    by hey! ( 33014 ) on Wednesday December 02, 2015 @10:16PM (#51046407) Homepage Journal

    Here is the complaint: https://www.unitedstatescourts.org/federal/ilnd/318734/1-0.html [unitedstatescourts.org].

    Here is the patent in question: http://www.google.com/patents/US5371734 [google.com].

    Basically the patent describes a time division wireless networking scheme in which certain nodes orchestrate transmission and receiving time slots assigned to adjacent nodes. The claimed benefits of this scheme amount to these: bandwidth can be allocated to nodes dynamically, and nodes can extend battery life by turning off their receivers when it's not their turn to receive data. I have no strong opinions as to whether the networking scheme as so vaguely described in the patent is original enough to be patented, but the complaint is a different matter. It appears that Atlas IP LLC appears claiming that any system in which devices are polled and in which the devices may not be transmitting or receiving at any time infringes on this patent. If that is what the patent means, then clearly it's too obvious to be "original".

    • That, and the patent is expired.
      They bought an expired patent then went around looking for people that may have infringed before it expired.

    • sounds a lot like slotted ALOHAnet...

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Why is it all stupid shit comes from Florida?

    Can't wait for this cesspool to be swallowed up the rising waters of the Atlantic.

  • Tagged itsnotits which clearly means the article has no tits at all. Skipping.

  • Surely the patent for the meter belongs to somebody in France, where the metric system originated? And any way, must have expired in the meantime, so there, idiots!

    And what is that about smart meters? Apart from the fact that no red-blooded American uses meters, except when threatened with a dirty, Communist Kalashnikov, what is so smart about meters? Do they change size according your needs?

  • It is still illegal to simply shoot patent trolls? By now I'd have thought it has become akin to pest control.

  • The real lawsuit should be against the USPTO for granting every patent application under the sun, figuring the courts will sort it out.

    • The patent office has some pretty strict limits as to when they can actually reject a patent. As in, there are specific laws they must follow for something to qualify as "prior art" for a patent rejection, and only specific places the law authorizes them to go. As in, with the silly "Point a Laser Pointer at a Cat" patent... any idiot knows there are approx. 1B videos on YouTube about this. But internet videos aren't on the list. Nor are websites in general, unless said websites have an actual printed p

  • The patent system in the US is so horribly broken. The original idea of patenting is to protect ideas that provide a benefit but aren't immediately obvious to people in the industry. Yet somehow, patent trolls are managing to get away with vague patents or ideas that are obvious or even already in common use before the patent is granted. And they don't even have to provide a realization of their idea any more - it's enough now to just patent a vague idea, let someone else figure out how to actually do it
  • by sirwired ( 27582 ) on Thursday December 03, 2015 @09:46AM (#51048697)

    There should be a way to structure the patent laws so you can't sue somebody who bought a patented invention from somebody else. The idea that an end-user is fully liable for the development practices of an upstream company is ridiculous.

    I realize such laws would be tricky to craft (an unscrupulous vendor could "buy" IP they don't own from a shell company or patsy), but the current way of doing things is resulting in far too many patent trolls pursuing mid-sized organizations that have enough money to make the suit worth it, but not so much they can actually afford patent litigation.

    Maybe craft a law that if you want to go after end-users (instead of the organization carrying out the infringement), your maximum recovery will be a RAND licensing cost, and it better have some relation to how much you paid to develop/acquire the patented invention to begin with.

  • How did the patent meet the "non-obvious" requirement for a patent to be granted in the first place?

A successful [software] tool is one that was used to do something undreamed of by its author. -- S. C. Johnson

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