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IBM Patents Software The Internet News Technology

IBM Sues Groupon Over 1990s Patents Related To Prodigy (arstechnica.com) 123

An anonymous reader writes: IBM is pushing big internet companies to pay patent licensing fees in part because IBM invented the Prodigy service, a precursor to the modern web. Yesterday, Big Blue filed a lawsuit against Groupon, saying the company has infringed four IBM patents, including patents 5,796,967 and 7,072,849. IBM inventors working on Prodigy "developed novel methods for presenting applications and advertisements," and "the technological innovations embodied in these patents are fundamental to the efficient communication of internet content," according to the company. The Prodigy patents were filed in 1993 and 1996, but they have "priority dates" stretching back to 1988. "Despite IBM's repeated attempts to negotiate, Groupon refuses to take a license but continues to use IBM's property," IBM lawyers write. IBM says it informed Groupon that it was infringing the '967, '849, and '346 patents as early as 2011. As for the '601 patent, IBM says that Groupon should have been on notice of that once Priceline got sued last year.
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IBM Sues Groupon Over 1990s Patents Related To Prodigy

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  • Wait, what? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by C0R1D4N ( 970153 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @06:52PM (#51632931)
    Don't patents have a maximum length of 14 years? The 90s were at least 16 years ago.
    • Re:Wait, what? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 03, 2016 @07:02PM (#51633001)

      You're thinking design patents. These would be utility or method patents. It used to be 17 from the date of issue. Now it is 20 from the date of application (not counting provisionals).

      The length gets fuzzy for stuff filed in the couple of years prior to 1995. Some of these patents fall into the "longer of the two" category. File something in '93 and have it issue in '99 (an unusually long review process) and maybe it could be enforceable today.

      There are also adjustments to length due to snafus. Sort of a "Oops, my bad. How about we add/subtract X days?"

      • Seems like even in that regards they're barely valid?

        • Seems like even in that regards they're barely valid?

          If you think a little bit about what it said in TFA, you should know that IBM contacted Groupon in 2011. Even though the patent '967 has been expired since August 17, 2015 (iffy rule for this patent -- 17-year from issued date [08-18-1998] v. 20-year from filing date [11-26-1993]), it was still in effect when IBM attempted to collect loyalty from Groupon back then.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      http://www.uspto.gov/patent/laws-and-regulations/patent-term-calculator#heading-5

      These are the rules that seem to apply:

      In 1861, Congress again changed the term to 17 years with no extension.

      In 1994 the US signed the Uruguay Round Agreements Act changed the date from which the term was measured. Because the term was measured from the filing date of the application and not the grant date of the patent, Congress amended 35 U.S.C. 154 to provide for applications filed after June 7, 1995 that the term of a patent begins on the date that the patent issues and ends on the date that is twenty years from the date on which the application was filed in the U.S. or, if, the application contained a specific reference to an earlier filed application or applications under 35 USC 120, 121 or 365(c), twenty years from the filing date of the earliest of such application. In addition, 35 U.S.C. 154 was amended to provide term extension if the original patent was delayed due to secrecy orders, interferences, or appellate review periods.

  • It's been taken over by Lawyers and Profiteers..

    • It's been taken over by Lawyers and Profiteers..

      IBM has always pulled this crap

      https://archive.is/6Qk0I [archive.is]

      There they are with a patent on how to draw fat lines.

    • It isn't really that crazy to believe that IBM pioneered techniques for internet activity. It was not at all obvious back in the days of prodigy when people used things like Gopher and Archie more than WWW protocols. The were investing in the technology and they patented it.

      About the only thing one might complain about here is not the patents but the fact they submarined this. Surfacing decades later and then suing ordinary users just is lousy. But as long as the patents are legit, it may not be unreaso

      • Following up my own comment in the late 80s and early 90s most people were not thinking or doing dynamic apps over a network. The real hotbed of that sort of thing was Sun. (and Java was a natural extension of that). But Sun's bussiness was mainly about local networks, not retail web-like services to consumers and bussinesses like prodigy. THings like time-share were very old school but those were the standard remote access model. These patents actualy describe the modern webpage which is served, clien

        • Funny thing, though... when people did need to "think or do dynamic things over a network," they probably didn't rely on the teachings of some obscure IBM patents to do it. They probably just sat down at a computer and started typing, after perhaps consulting some textbooks and papers first.

          So what exactly is the benefit to society that we get from granting IBM ownership of these concepts for 20 years?

          • The first person to invent the incadescent electric light gets a patent on electric lights. THe second person may come up with the fluorescent bulb as an implementation but the basic idea of the electric light was already thought of. THe prodigy patents showed the way. It doesn't really matter if someone came up with another implementation if the way itself can be patented.

            • But what's the point? That kind of progress is inevitable.

              Anytime there's a foot race to the patent office, the consumer is the loser.

              • the point is that inventions are valuable - and profit is an excellent motivator for innovation. The statutory balance (as opposed to market-driven licensing, which is its own balancing mechanism) between the interests of the inventor and the interests of the public happens when the patents are granted a reasonable but not indefinite exclusivity to the work.

                Yes, progress happens - but without an impetus to the inventor(s), it is not always inevitable - and certainly not within short timeframes.

              • by andphi ( 899406 )

                The progress in question only seems inevitable because it has already happened. We can see in the hindsight the "Of course!" and "Why didn't they think of that sooner?" moments because the logic of the thing is there for all to see. At the time it was happening, it was neither a foregone conclusion, nor trivial. The fact that several people have the same idea at the same time doesn't mean the idea itself is inevitable. The idea may be waiting, so to speak, to be discovered from first principles, but its dis

                • It has already happened in multiple times and places.

                  Let that sink in for a few minutes, think about what it means.

                  • by andphi ( 899406 )

                    The convergent evolution of ideas strongly suggests the validity of those ideas. It does not demonstrate that the ideas in question must always come to light. I'm thinking about calculus, specifically. Two Europeans who had no contact with one another both developed calculus, but how many ancient cultures did not discover it? The Chinese did not, nor the Persians, nor the Arabs, nor the peoples of South Asia.

                    In short, just because something requiring human creativity has happened in one way (or even severa

                    • In short, just because something requiring human creativity has happened in one way (or even several ways) does not demonstrate that the laws of the universe require it to happen at all. We simply cannot know that. If, however, you are right, and certain kinds of progress are inevitable, why then we should all sit back and wait for the laboratory equipment at Intel and AMD to spontaneously generate new CPU architectures. At the same time, we can wait for the computers at Apple and Microsoft to write new sof

                    • by vivian ( 156520 )

                      Actually apparently the ancient Babylonians figured out something pretty much like it.
                      http://news.discovery.com/hist... [discovery.com]

                      Also this indian guy in the 14 century seemed to have a pretty good go at it too.
                      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

            • by Alioth ( 221270 )

              I think the light bulb example isn't good - a fluorescent lamp would almost certainly not infringe on a patent for an incandescent lamp. As a real world example, Sony didn't license any of the RCA patents on shadow mask colour TV tubes when they started making colour televisions - the Trinitron tube they came up with was substantially different and didn't infringe, even though the end result was still a colour picture tube.

              • by torkus ( 1133985 )

                That depends.

                If you patent an edison style bulb specifically then sure, a fluorescent bulb isn't covered.

                If you patent an elongated-sphere shaped-device with contacting points on one end which fits into a receptacle that has a threading mechanism to effect electrical contact and securing said device which is designed to emit light...then yeah, you're screwed. Welcome to recent patents.

                Instead of designing a light bulb and patenting it, companies draw up a vague representation that covers every and any imag

      • by BlueCoder ( 223005 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @11:22PM (#51634249)

        The problem is the so called inventions. They are obvious and natural conclusions. There is no revolutionary idea or inspiration. Patents are to reward and motivate people to develop ideas, implement and produce useful products. These inventions were inevitable. If you could wipe everyone mind in the world and all evidence someone would "invent" it within a week if not days. There is no need to reward these "inventions". It is not revolutionary. It's nothing like the invention of transistors or semiconductors.

        • The problem is the so called inventions. They are obvious and natural conclusions. There is no revolutionary idea or inspiration. Patents are to reward and motivate people to develop ideas, implement and produce useful products. These inventions were inevitable. If you could wipe everyone mind in the world and all evidence someone would "invent" it within a week if not days. There is no need to reward these "inventions". It is not revolutionary. It's nothing like the invention of transistors or semiconductors.

          Right. That's why the real race is to identify the problems of the future. Once you know the problem, the solutions are often obvious. But getting there first is good enough for the patent office. The patent lawyers have twisted the test of obviousness to 'can you show someone thought of it before' which is hardly different to originality.

        • The problem is the so called inventions. They are obvious and natural conclusions. There is no revolutionary idea or inspiration. Patents are to reward and motivate people to develop ideas, implement and produce useful products. These inventions were inevitable. If you could wipe everyone mind in the world and all evidence someone would "invent" it within a week if not days. There is no need to reward these "inventions". It is not revolutionary. It's nothing like the invention of transistors or semiconductors.

          Every invention is inevitable given enough time. That or something else gets invented that performs the same function. As an example, take the invention of printing. The Chinese and Koreans were said to have invented some form of printing hundreds of years before Gutenberg.

          • Yes, but Gutenberg didn't qualify for a patent on the idea of a printing press, but on the specific implementation of the Gutenberg Press.

      • by DrXym ( 126579 )
        Pioneering is not the same as inventing. And these "inventions" are so vague and meta that they're virtually meaningless. Are IBM seriously claiming that interactive screens did not exist before Prodigy? Or that banner ads didn't? I'm sure there is plenty of precedent in BBS services like Compuserve, Oracle, Minitel, Prestel etc.
    • Another once-great company descends deeper into the mire. As if their overpriced under-delivering consulting services weren't bad enough, now they are grubbing money with patents.

    • -----THINK
      -----Chink
      -----Chins
      -----Coins
      -----Joins
      -----Joint
      -----Point
      -----Paint
      -----Pains
      -----Pairs
      -----Hairs
      -----Hairy
      -----Dairy
      -----Daily
      -----Drily
      -----Drill
      -----Droll
      -----TROLL

  • by Anonymous Coward

    A substantial part of the annual employee review depended on how "innovative" you were.

    Guess how that was assessed? Spot on. That's a large part of their business model.

    • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

      Hey, I patented this kind of aggressive trolling. Pay up or my attorneys will confiscate your mother's basement, including your extensive hockey-mask collection.

  • IBM owns teh internetz!

    Your lawsuit papers are in the mail and should arrive in the next day or two.

  • by turkeydance ( 1266624 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @06:58PM (#51632975)
    bankruptcy.
  • by Gravis Zero ( 934156 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @07:01PM (#51632987)

    i hate patents but i really hate advertising. i don't know who to root for!

    • What's everybody got against Groupon? Do they count as advertising when you have to go to them to see what they have to offer?
  • Wither IBM (Score:3, Funny)

    by mattyj ( 18900 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @07:01PM (#51632989)

    Patent trolls now? Wow. Charles Flint is rolling over in his grave.

  • patent trolling (Score:5, Interesting)

    by zlives ( 2009072 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @07:01PM (#51632991)

    when real business ideas have failed and rats a re leaving ship.

  • What kind of patent troll does IBM make? Is this a new business model for them? Will they start going after small companies and putting them out of business, or what small token reason would it take for this to become a possibility?
  • Mad Maze was the best.

  • by presidenteloco ( 659168 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @07:08PM (#51633039)

    Patent 5,796,967 looks like a patent on programs which send page templates and executable code to a client machine to display a dynamic user interface with buttons and text and stuff.

    Doesn't this kind of mean they're claiming they've patented the dynamic web in general?

    New IBM strategy, perhaps though up by "No Shit Sherlock" the top-secret successor to Watson:

    "What is: Laying off our innovation staff and relying on wild-ass patent trolling for profit, Alex?"

    • by vux984 ( 928602 )

      How is that patent not expired?

      filed in 1993, published in 1998, priority date is 1988

      Its over 20 years from the filing date, and over 17 years from its publication date.

      It should be expired right?

      So are they suing groupon for license fees from at least a few years ago?

      • For patents applied for prior to 1995, it is 17 years from issue. If it was issued in 1999 or later, it's still in force.
    • by Sibko ( 1036168 )

      IBM's basically excised everything important for the long-term functioning of their company, in the name of 'cutting costs'. They've got to monetize their few remaining assets somehow, and patents and lawyers are probably the most obvious to the beancounters. Sue everyone who looks like they might be infringing an IBM patent (And there's a lot of such patents); profit!

      Inventing new products, systems, services? Fuck that. That takes long term investment, there's huge costs paying for labor that can't simply

  • by wwalker ( 159341 )

    So IBM apparently invented forms and frames/windows? Can they now sue any website that uses frameset/frame HTML tags now? Granted, there are not a lot of those any more, but still, WTF? It's a common design pattern. How is this non-obvious to be patentable?!

    • In fairness, it's non-obvious now. 30 years ago... I dunno? Cannot speak with much authority about computers back then.

      • ""the technological innovations embodied in these patents are fundamental to the efficient communication of internet content," according to the company."

        If it's the only way to do a particular thing ("fundamental to the efficient communication of internet content" sure sounds like it) then it's not patentable - is a "mis en scene".

        Also, the X Windowing System predates these patents - 1984.

        Then there all the text-based UIs that had windows, title bars, drop boxes, list boxes, and buttons.

        • It seems to be that the UI instructions came over the network. Is X Windowing networked (honest question)?

          • X-Windows is server / client windowing system so yes it's networked :)
          • Is X Windowing networked (honest question)?

            Obviously, you have not read the comments in any story about Wayland.

            • by dbIII ( 701233 )
              Yes, the ones where the gnome3 shit that we complained was ruining network performance are used as an example of how X has poor network performance :(
              Actually it's ruining performance in general which may be why people started looking for a way to speed things up. A modern desktop on an eight core 4GHz machine should not be slower than a better looking just as functional desktop (E 0.16) on a Pentium 60 (60MHz single core).
          • by dbIII ( 701233 )
            Yes, right from the start. The new version of gnome breaks it by relying on local 3D hardware and being insanely slow elsewhere but everything else runs fine over a network.
    • I thought frames was SW Bell or was it SBC claiming they got that patent when they bought some holding of SW Bell... I don't remember.

    • by raymorris ( 2726007 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @08:07PM (#51633295) Journal

      In the early 1990s, Microsoft spent something like a hundred million dollars developing a technology suite which was immediately eplaced by the html tags , , and .

      This is one of two reasons that Microsoft absolutely freaked out when the web started becoming popular - it did the same thing as their new "killer app", in a MUCH simpler way. Their new COM technology was a newer version of something they called Object Linking and Embedding (OLE). The web had a much simpler way to link and embed documents.

        For a little while, Microsoft even tried to stop the web from becoming popular. When it was obvious that wouldn't work, they tried marketing COM as a web technology, under the name ActiveX.

      Anyway, they had invested very heavily in trying to solve the same problem that frames solved, but their solution was a super- complex solution that took years to develop and an 800 page book to explain. A solution so simple as wasn't obvious to Microsoft.

    • It must be very narrow to avoid being priored by VT100, X11, ANSI, heck maybe even 3270, all of which have been used to draw applications and present advertisements of some type (not necessarily product advertisements, but words have meaning).

    • So IBM apparently invented forms and frames/windows? Can they now sue any website that uses frameset/frame HTML tags now? Granted, there are not a lot of those any more, but still, WTF? It's a common design pattern. How is this non-obvious to be patentable?!

      No, actually, apparently Prodigy did. Ironically, one of the big examples of prior art is from IBM. Their glass terminals were smart and knew about form fields, and you'd fill in the form and hit a key and it would submit to the mainframe for processing. Then you'd usually wait, and wait, and wait :)

  • Pay up (Score:4, Funny)

    by VikingNation ( 1946892 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @07:31PM (#51633153)
    I hold the patent for a business process that involves firing employees to help the company recover. IBM has chosen to use that process and they are not paying me any royalty fees.
  • This is the newest application for IBM Watson. They found that while it could win at game shows, it couldn't get paid, so here they are, cognitive technology in action.

  • by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @07:42PM (#51633207)
    kind of thing. Patent trolling used to be beneath IBM. Maybe it's 'cause of oil prices in the tank & big investors pressuring for the kind of returns they saw when gas was $4+/gallon. Then again this stuff goes back to 2011. At any rate something's got IBM desperate for new lines of business and fresh cash.
  • An IBM software patent published on 8 december 2009 is used while 'Facebook Connect' already launched in december 2008... Software patenting makes nobody smile.
  • The Nazgul felt left out of the latest series of events, so they had to figure out a way to shove them in there!
    I 'like' IBM for the most part, but it's important to remember that a good chunk of it's existence is owed to keeping hundreds of lawyers billing hours for decades. At least until recently, there were guys there who have literally never practiced law outside of their IP department getting ready to retire.
    • Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster... for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.
    • by dbIII ( 701233 )
      Part of the scandal was that if "the SCO lawyers" the one that billed for most of the cash was Darl McBride's brother.
      It was a two man scam.
      Deliberately drive a company into a solid wall and take it to the second man for repair bills.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I miss the IBM that created innovative mainframes, personal computers, floppy disks, commercial laser printers, UPC Codes, type writers, and other great inventions.
    Now IBM's plan is to squeeze weak companies like Groupon with questionable patents?

  • After years of fighting SCO, and seconds after winning, they...do this? As others have said, the patents are reasonable to an extent. What isn't reasonable is not defending them for so long, then suing a blink before they expire.
  • I used to love Prodigy Classic in all of its 320x240 pastel glory. Thanks for ruining those memories, IBM.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    IBM used to be such a powerful and respected company, and now they are nothing more than a patent troll. It's kind of sad.

  • by houghi ( 78078 ) on Friday March 04, 2016 @08:15AM (#51635651)

    Remember when people said IBM would only use it as self defense and would never use it to attack? Those were fun times.

    Nothing bad can happen after this, because this is the only one they have, right?

  • So that's IBM's strategy for profit. Lay off a chunk of its workforce then sue other companies over patents. Gotta make those quarterly numbers!

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