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Crazy Patent Troll Suing Devs For Posting Apps To Google Play (technobuffalo.com) 108

Developer Austin Meyer is fighting back patent trolls after he was sued for putting his flight simulator app called X-Plane on Google Play. TechnoBuffalo reports: A few years ago, he uploaded the app to the Google Play Store and was very unexpectedly hit with a lawsuit from Uniloc in 2012. The firm claims it patented the idea behind the app market. That's right, Uniloc isn't going after Meyer for making a flight simulator; it's going after any company that uses Google Play. It's already targeted a bunch of other popular apps, including Minecraft. So Meyer did a bit of digging and discovered a few pretty shocking details. It turns out the judge in that district may have a direct relationship with the prosecuting lawyer in many of these cases. The judge, Leonard Davis, is apparently known for almost never throwing out patent lawsuits. Meyer claims that his son, Bo Davis, is the lawyer representing many of these patent trolls.
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Crazy Patent Troll Suing Devs For Posting Apps To Google Play

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  • by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Wednesday June 08, 2016 @02:48PM (#52276407) Homepage Journal

    According to Wikipedia, Judge Davis retired from the eastern district of Texas a year ago. Why is he still hearing cases?

    Yes, if true, there's a potential conflict of interest there, and it could explain a lot about why the eastern district of Texas is so amazingly pro-patent-troll, but at this point, it is water under the bridge. It would have been nice to have known that five or ten years ago; there are a number of ways that the problem could have been resolved, up to and including removing the judge in question if he didn't recuse himself from cases tried by his son going forward. But now that he's retired, there's nothing that can be done, and either the problem has been resolved (in which case he was the problem) or it hasn't (in which case he wasn't).

    • by DamonHD ( 794830 )

      Or there is more than one problem, of which he may have been one, which seems most likely.

      Rgds

      Damon

    • by mysidia ( 191772 ) on Wednesday June 08, 2016 @03:01PM (#52276509)

      But now that he's retired, there's nothing that can be done, and either the problem has been resolved (in which case he was the problem) or it hasn't (in which case he wasn't).

      What do you mean? Retirement does not mean you are no longer subject to the possibility of disciplinary action by the ethics enforcement body.

      Also, if they figure out that his son was the prosecution on all these cases, and a clear conflict of interest wasn't even disclosed...:

      It can generate a cause for appeal, and possible charges against the former judge.

      That might even result in some settlements being cancelled and prior rulings overturned, Although, I doubt one judge and one lawyer were allowed to do THAT much damage...

      One of the big company defendants' investigation teams surely would have noticed any pattern like that, right?

    • > According to Wikipedia, Judge Davis retired from the eastern district of Texas a year ago. Why is he still hearing cases?

      The suit was originally filed in 2012. The last motion I found was early 2015. So most of this case occurred prior to Judge Davis leaving the bench.

    • But now that he's retired, there's nothing that can be done

      If the allegations are true then surely his actions are against the law, corruption or perverting the course of justice come to mind but IANAL. So surely charing him with a suitable offence followed by prison time if convicted would be something that could be done regardless of whether or not he is retired.

    • Retired judges seem to get hired all the time as "special masters" or other one-time positions they don't want to use regular sitting judges for. It almost seems to be like military officers, they may step down from the bench but they seem to retain their judge credentials somehow, just like officers may retire from the military but can be recalled if they haven't also resigned their commissions.

    • Opinion: the population within that district, especially towns like Tyler, tend to be low income, not highly educated, and adhere to religious sects that emphasize personal propensity to sin, unquestioning acceptance of authority, and willingness to punish very harshly an act that has been framed as a moral wrong.

      The people want to be and often are personally decent, but scientific rigor and skepticism take a distant second to authority and persuasion. Those are the jurors.

      My ancestry is there, and I

  • by cdrudge ( 68377 ) on Wednesday June 08, 2016 @02:50PM (#52276425) Homepage

    The developer got sued in the Eastern District of Texas, where almost all patent cases are filed. A lawyer that handles some patent cases has a father that is/was a judge in the same district, neither fact would be particularly startling to learn. Dad is stepping down from the bench to go into private practice for patents. No allegations that any case filed by the son was heard by the dad.

    Unless there's more here than is being said, there's no story here aside from a stupid patent troll filing a stupid troll case.

    • by cdrudge ( 68377 ) on Wednesday June 08, 2016 @03:06PM (#52276545) Homepage

      After watching video, the developer doesn't seem to understand how patents, lawsuits, or the whole process works.

      He thinks he's committed a crime. He hasn't. At worst, he's committed patent infringement, a civil matter.

      He thinks that if a company wasn't involved in the implementation of his game or the Google Play store that they don't have a right to claim a patent violation.

      He thinks that it's suspicious that a judge in the most patent friendly district doesn't toss out patent cases. Shocker.

      He thinks the father-son team are in cahoots because there's a financial incentive for dad to hear the cases and the son to file them. Never mind that the same logic would apply to any type of law. (e.g. A prosecuting son would file criminal charges, and a father judge would hear criminal cases but not necessarily the son's). Or that the son would take up the family business specializing in an field that the locality is known for.

      • by rahvin112 ( 446269 ) on Wednesday June 08, 2016 @04:08PM (#52276949)

        It's a clear judicial ethics violation for a judge to hear a case in which one of his relatives (out to the 3rd degree) is a participant in the case in ANY fashion no matter how minuscule. An direct investment of a $100 by a cousin in a company disqualifies a judge from hearing a suit with that company. This is appealable if the Judge refuses to recuse themselves.

        • by Hodr ( 219920 )

          Pretty sure that's not what was happening or what was alleged. The son specializes in a very specific and incredibly lucrative type of litigation. The father appears to be very friendly towards those that like to pursue such litigation, encouraging them to file in his district. The son ends up with much more work than would otherwise be the case if he lived ANYWHERE else in the US (including Silicon Valley, where there is the largest concentration of US technology firms).

  • Suing Minecraft? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Registered Coward v2 ( 447531 ) on Wednesday June 08, 2016 @02:57PM (#52276485)
    Given MS owns it and has a one or two lawyers, patents, and a little available cash to defend itself that seems to be an odd target to pick. Given MS also has an app store I would think they will fight this to protect their interests; a win would be good for everyone. MS and good, two things you never thought you'd hear together on /.
    • Re:Suing Minecraft? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Jason Levine ( 196982 ) on Wednesday June 08, 2016 @03:05PM (#52276539) Homepage

      Not just Microsoft, but I would think Google would get involved with this. I can understand why the patent troll would go after the app developers instead of Google (take on the small fish and hope they're intimidated enough to give you money instead of challenging the giant shark to a biting contest). That said, Google should want to protect their developers from lawsuits like this. At the very least, they should want to make sure that no legal precedent was set saying that this patent troll "patented app stores."

      Let's get Apple in on this too. They have an app store also. Unite Apple, Google, and Microsoft to take the patent troll down. I'd pay to see that happen!

      • Not just Microsoft, but I would think Google would get involved with this. I can understand why the patent troll would go after the app developers instead of Google (take on the small fish and hope they're intimidated enough to give you money instead of challenging the giant shark to a biting contest). That said, Google should want to protect their developers from lawsuits like this. At the very least, they should want to make sure that no legal precedent was set saying that this patent troll "patented app stores."

        Let's get Apple in on this too. They have an app store also. Unite Apple, Google, and Microsoft to take the patent troll down. I'd pay to see that happen!

        While I agree with you when they took on Minecraft they did't go after a small fish, they went after Microsoft. To use a /. car analogy, that's like deciding to challenge an F1 driver to a race to prove how good you are.

        • And depending on how it plays out, you might wonder if the race wasn't a setup and the F1 driver was in on it.
        • by cdrudge ( 68377 )

          They didn't go after Microsoft. They went after Mojang in July of 2012. Microsoft subsequently acquired Mojang as well as the liability from the lawsuit. The case still sits open with little activity.

      • by pr0fessor ( 1940368 ) on Wednesday June 08, 2016 @03:49PM (#52276845)

        We have seen this before with the printer scam, they were suing small companies that owned certain printers for infringing patents dealing with printers but not the manufacture. Now they have a patent that describes a service and again they are going after the business consumer and not the provider, it is a scam and should be treated as such.

        • It's not really a scam - patents forbid even the mere use of a patented invention without a license. I agree that it's a crappy way to do business, but it's completely legal.
          • Well if you search it a little you will find that Uniloc is a security and copy protection software company and that the patent they are claiming is a for a copy protection system to valid application license which they may totally have a real claim depending on whether the patent is valid but it should still be against google because it a google service the companies they are suing are using for license validation.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by redshirt ( 95023 )
        Microsoft has previous history with Uniloc over Windows XP activation - and settled for an undisclosed amount after a $300 million judgement was thrown out. So, don't count on Microsoft being heroic in this action.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      except Microsoft would LOVE to get Google's and Apple's app stores taken down so wouldn't they "settle" with this joker and help fund him as he goes after the others? It is not like Microsoft has not done this kind of thing before. cough - SCO - cough.

    • Re:Suing Minecraft? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Zontar_Thing_From_Ve ( 949321 ) on Wednesday June 08, 2016 @05:18PM (#52277417)

      Given MS owns it and has a one or two lawyers, patents, and a little available cash to defend itself that seems to be an odd target to pick. Given MS also has an app store I would think they will fight this to protect their interests; a win would be good for everyone. MS and good, two things you never thought you'd hear together on /.

      My best friend is a lawyer and we've known each other since college, so I know way more about how the US legal system really works than most posters here. Anything and I do mean anything can happen in a court case, whether heard by a jury or a judge. You can ask RIM about that. They got a settlement offer over a patent suit from a troll and they thought the case was frivolous so the went to court and had to pay over a billion dollars in damages after losing. The settlement wanted half or less of that. So the troll here may be quite willing to gamble that Microsoft could lose and have to pay them a fortune or they'll just settle it to avoid the hassle and either way the troll wins big time. Worst case for them is some lost money for lawyers fees but if they have their own lawyer on staff, that's a sunk cost anyway. One of the downsides of having a friend who is a lawyer is that you come to understand that all lawyers believe the current US legal system is working perfectly as is and they don't see any problem with people like Austin Meyer having to spend a fortune just to defend themselves. They don't see it as wasted money just to get back to square one because even is Austin "wins" in court, he'll be out big time lawyer fees to do so and he won't actually make any money himself from "winning". Lawyers have zero problems with this. To them, even if Austin is financially destroyed by legal fees and he wins, then it was all worthwhile.

  • Google has more money and lawyers than just about anyone and it is their app store that is at the center of the whole dispute. Why don't they grow a pair and help defend the app developers who use their store and have been sued? Nice business partner their Google ...
    • by DamonHD ( 794830 )

      The little matter of whether they have legal standing to get involved...

      Rgds

      Damon

      • by ukoda ( 537183 )
        Surely there is no legal reason why Google can not provide support for a developer being attacked for using Google services, and every commercial reason to support the developer. If I was running Google I would be putting some of my best lawyers at the developers disposal at no cost to the developer. If the troll wins against this developer then I assume they would then go after every successful app at Play Store which would have a follow on effect on Play Store in general.
  • Prior Art (Score:4, Informative)

    by AaronW ( 33736 ) on Wednesday June 08, 2016 @03:02PM (#52276517) Homepage

    When GRiD Systems released their first laptop, the Compass 1101, in 1981 it had a built-in 1200 baud modem. It ran GRiD OS, a multi-tasking operating system. They also had the concept of an app store, where a user could purchase apps and the laptop would connect to a central server and download the apps. I'm sure their patents have expired.

    Note: I worked at GRiD while in college.

    Here is a good talk about the GRiD Compass by Jeff Hawkins, who later founded Palm: https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

    • by AaronW ( 33736 )

      Sorry to correct myself, but it was introduced in 1982, not 1981.

    • Re:Prior Art (Score:4, Insightful)

      by PPH ( 736903 ) on Wednesday June 08, 2016 @03:28PM (#52276695)

      Yes, but back in those days, one would dial directly into a BBS or server to download their apps. Those patents may have expired. But all one needs to do is to append the phrase "using the Internet" and refile.

    • That's interesting. I sent Meyer a note quoting what you said.

    • by jcr ( 53032 )

      Around the same time, there was a company in the DC area called "Software Express VideoTex", which was basically a dial-up app store.

      It's not just prior art, it's ridiculously obvious that software can be sold over a network connection. The patent should never have been issued.

      -jcr

  • by CanadianMacFan ( 1900244 ) on Wednesday June 08, 2016 @03:10PM (#52276577)

    I don't understand why these go ahead because in this case the developer is a user of the application store. The lawsuit should be against Google if the patent is for an app market. It would be as if I had a patent on a car engine part and then started filing lawsuits against people who bought cars instead of the car engine manufacturers.

    • by msauve ( 701917 )
      "It would be as if I had a patent on a car engine part and then started filing lawsuits against people who bought cars instead of the car engine manufacturers."

      Welcome to US law, which allows exactly that.

      ...whoever without authority makes, uses, offers to sell, or sells any patented invention... infringes the patent.

      - 35 USC 271 (emphasis added).

      • So theoretically they could sue everyone with an android phone?
        • Yup. Not worth the effort, of course, but they could if they really wanted to.
        • by arth1 ( 260657 )

          So theoretically they could sue everyone with an android phone?

          No, only those who purchase instant download software.

          Phones with Google Play disabled aren't that uncommon, perhaps especially for phones given to children.

    • It's a bit like 3rd party debt collectors - they go for the 'easy money'. The point isn't to be correct, the point is to go after those who can be intimidated to give them a few thousand dollars.

    • It's very perverse. In this video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d8XknFl1l_8), you see the guy actually seeking out those patent troll offices. They appear to be just empty offices with no one inside. So a small hallway in an office space will host door after door each being the address for one patent troll company. The craziest part is that one of these buildings is just across the street from the courthouse! So, those judges know damn well these patent trolls are just empty boxes created to simply go af
  • Yet another example that illustrates why I think we would be better off if access to the civil court system were made significantly more difficult for plaintiffs than defendants. There are various ways in which we might do this. Yesterday's thread attracted a lot of posts in favor of loser pays, which privileges the wealthier litigant unless judges have discretion in charging costs to the losing party.

    My own suggestion was to tighten up the evidence rules and jury voting in civil procedure to match the tou

    • by cdrudge ( 68377 )

      Yesterday's thread attracted a lot of posts in favor of loser pays, which privileges the wealthier litigant unless judges have discretion in charging costs to the losing party.

      Loser can be required to pay in the case of contract disputes where both parties previously agreed that prevailing party can recover costs.

      Judges already have discretion in awarding fees, sanctions, or worse for frivilous, vexatious, similarly improper lawsuits. Look up Prenda Law (and related names) in the mess that they've gotten th

      • We have a "loser pay" legal system here in Canada. What that means is in civil cases, the losing party pays both parties' legal fees. As a result, we generally don't have moronic lawsuits filed because if someone sues you over something that you'll be able to defend easily, you just go get an attorney who notes the merits on the consult and then takes his/her costs from the idiot once they lose.

        On the other hand the disadvantage of this system is if you have a case that could go either way or looks close,

  • by Jason Levine ( 196982 ) on Wednesday June 08, 2016 @03:24PM (#52276665) Homepage

    It took some minor Googling, but I found the patent that Uniloc is claiming Austin Meyer violated [uspto.gov].

    According to this post by Meyer [austinmeyer.com], they first claimed he violated one claim on the patent:

    107. Computer code executable on an electronic device to prevent unauthorized access to electronic data stored on the electronic device, the computer code comprising: code for storing license data on a portable licensing medium configured to communicate with the electronic device; code for determining whether to allow access to the electronic data based on the license data; code for verifying the license data stored on the licensing medium by communicating with a registration authority having verification data; and code for providing updated license data received from the registration authority to the licensing medium.

    Now, is it just me or could that describe any authorization system? For example, you install some software product, get a license key from the company, and use it to prove to the software that you actually bought it and should be allowed to run it.

    So Meyer fought for three years and finally got this claim overturned. The patent office admitted this claim shouldn't have been approved. Victory, right? Nope. Uniloc is now claiming that he's violating:

    21. A system according to claim 1, wherein the licensing medium comprises a memory installed in a cellular telephone.
    22. A system according to claim 21, wherein the licensing medium is not removable from the cellular telephone.

    This patent has 113 claims. Even if he took them out five at a time, at the current rate it would take him 68 YEARS for the patent to be tossed out entirely. Meanwhile, he'll rack up tons of legal fees (not to mention time/stress/life disruption) and Uniloc will just keep playing patent whack-a-mole.

    BTW, that "claim 1" that #21 references?

    1. A system for preventing unauthorized access to electronic data on an electronic device, the system comprising: a portable licensing medium configured to communicate with the electronic device and to store license data, the license data configured to be used by the electronic device to determine whether to allow access to the electronic data; and a registration authority configured to communicate with the electronic device, the registration authority having verification data for verifying the license data stored on the licensing medium, wherein the registration authority provides updated license data for the licensing medium.

    This looks suspiciously like #107. It's like they built in redundancy in their patent trolling. "Take out a couple of our claims. No problem. We've got five more like them in the same patent and ten other patents just like this one waiting in the wings."

    • Fortunately, if Claim 107 was already ruled invalid, summary judgment for invalidity of Claim 1 should be pretty easy to get. Claim 21 should be easy to kill by obviousness. Claim 22 might be indefinite anyway, since it's hard to define the licensing medium as being both "portable" and "not removable". It would probably also be considered obvious, since the only two possibilities are "removable" and "not removable", and I can't imagine that they'd be able to show that making it not removable was difficult e
      • The problem is that it took 3 years to get Claim 107 declared invalid. Even if they could get the other claims dismissed in 6 months, Uniloc could come back and decide that some of the other 110 claims are being violated now. If you were even able to knock them out at a rate of one per month (extremely quickly given how long the first one took), it would take over 9 years to get them all dismissed. At that point, they'd likely trot out another overly vague patent with a hundred claims.

        • If Uniloc came back a third time, they'd have solid grounds for filing for declaratory judgment to get most/all of the claims invalidated at once. Or if the judge gets really annoyed, he/she could deny Uniloc's request to add claims to the case.
          • Except this was filed in patent-troll friendly East Texas. The judge would probably allow it and demand that Meyer keep whacking moles until he missed one.

            • That's the nice thing about filing for declaratory judgment, though - you get to pick the jurisdiction instead of the patent holder. Of course, the patent holder will certainly ask to have it moved to Eastern Texas, but it's not guaranteed that the judge will grant it.
    • I thought only the parent claims mattered? The child doesn't count when it comes to it.

  • Is when they are giving walled gardens and artificially limited app sources a hard time. I hope anyone that lets Google or Apple limit their device to only where they say it can get apps from gets bit by it too. Buying a device and letting a company limit who you can get software from just so they can enforce that they get a piece of the pie is just ludicrous. Apple or Google don't have the slightest fuck of a say what I do with my own device once I have bought it. Go get 'em troll!

    • It's pretty trivial to side-load apps on an Android device, you just go to the security settings and select "Allow installation of apps from unknown sources"
      Running an APK file then installs the app.

  • Conflict of interests. Illegal too. Leonard Davis will be removed from the bench AND disbarred. Not if, but when.

    Fortunately ... not my battle. It'll be a battle to get there though.

    • by cdrudge ( 68377 )

      Or not. Since he's already left the bench, had no conflict of interest, and committed no crimes that have been accused.

      • by Khyber ( 864651 )

        Leaving the bench != sitting in as commissioner or magistrate. Plenty of 'retired' judges are still sitting on a bench to this day.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    This wouldn't happen at all if we could just admit that patents don't provide any benefits to society at all, and just banned them entirely.

  • by Trogre ( 513942 )

    There's a jurisdiction that recognizes software patents?

  • Google needs to stomp these idiots flat. It should be trivially easy to do so with their war chest. In any event no sane judge would even hear a case of "infringement" that didn't involve a plaintiff who was in any way the infringer.

    • "Google needs to stomp these idiots flat. It should be trivially easy to do so with their war chest"

      The problem is that the system allows the trolls to pick and choose who they go after. It's not like trademark law where every perceived infringement has to be chased.

      For Google to become involved they have to be recognised as having standing in the case - and in all liklihood the troll would fight very hard to prevent that happening.

      It's possible they could buy into the dev's legal fees but that opens other

  • My wife recently fed a stray dog.. now the dog won't leave. Words of advice hidden in plain site. If a patent troll sends you a letter, ignore it. On the contrary, if everyone were to boycott Google Play and iOS app-store, these big boys would likely do what's right and put their money towards protecting developers. Bottom line, this patent trolling needs to end and it is the duty of the providers to put their billions towards action to eliminate said trolls.

Never ask two questions in a business letter. The reply will discuss the one you are least interested, and say nothing about the other.

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