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How Patent Trolls Stalled a New Transit App

Soulskill posted about 8 months ago | from the give-us-money-for-the-idea-we-neither-came-up-with-not-use dept.

Patents 85

SFGate has the story of Aaron Bannert, creator of a San Francisco transit app called Smart Ride. The app was developed to provide arrival times for the city's bus system. Smart Ride was supported by ads, and Bannert had not yet turned a profit on it when he received a legal threat from a company claiming patent infringement. "It was from a company with ties to Martin Kelly Jones, who holds a series of patents claiming ownership of technologies for tracking vehicles and providing users with electronic updates. A handful of affiliated companies, including ArrivalStar and Melvino Technologies, have threatened or sued hundreds of organizations in recent years, from small entrepreneurs like Bannert to large corporations like American Airlines. ... ArrivalStar filed more than half the patent lawsuits in South Florida federal courts last year, according to the South Florida Business Journal. ... ArrivalStar will demand as much as $200,000 for a license, according to reports in other publications." The cost to the patent troll for filing a lawsuit is around $500, but Bannert was forced to spend over $10,000 on a legal defense and delay the launch of a new version for months. He's unable to provide details on the outcome of the case. "As high as the legal expenses were for Bannert, he thinks the bigger toll from patent trolling is the indirect cost to society, the products and innovation that don't make it off the drawing board."

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85 comments

Screw it.. I'm moving to NZ (3, Insightful)

ferrisoxide.com (1935296) | about 8 months ago | (#44729681)

Seriously, if were considering setting up a new business model and didn't want to be dragged down by the hordes of patent-trolling parasites out there, NZ is starting to look good. Plus at 5 foot 10 inches I'm bound to be bigger than most of the Hobbits.

Re:Screw it.. I'm moving to NZ (-1, Troll)

c0lo (1497653) | about 8 months ago | (#44729713)

Seriously, if were considering setting up a new business model and didn't want to be dragged down by the hordes of patent-trolling parasites out there, NZ is starting to look good. Plus at 5 foot 10 inches I'm bound to be bigger than most of the Hobbits.

Won't help you too much: as the NZ sheep don't have support for "technologies for tracking vehicles", you won't be able to "provide users with electronic updates".

Re:Screw it.. I'm moving to NZ (1)

viperidaenz (2515578) | about 8 months ago | (#44734291)

The bus stop signs show estimated arrival times in Wellington.
We also don't use feet and inches, so 5 foot 10 is 1.78m.

Re:Screw it.. I'm moving to NZ (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44737125)

The bus stop signs show estimated arrival times in Wellington.
We also don't use feet and inches, so 5 foot 10 is 1.78m.

So the bus stops are already signaled (so no opportunity for a business model in this area), the sheep are not trackable and software patents are not granted (so, an app for tracking sheep won't have protection). Where's the business opportunity here? (grin).

Re:Screw it.. I'm moving to NZ (1)

Radworker (227548) | about 8 months ago | (#44752131)

Actually the first company to jump into the mass transit AVL field is from NZ. Check your facts next time.

Re:Screw it.. I'm moving to NZ (1)

jamesh (87723) | about 8 months ago | (#44729921)

This is a patent on "technologies for tracking vehicles and providing users with electronic updates", which isn't necessarily a "software" patent, even if the particular implementation they are going after is all software. Or at least I think it isn't clear cut enough that they couldn't still tie it up in courts for enough time arguing about "what is software anyway?" to send a small software shop into the red.

Re:Screw it.. I'm moving to NZ (1)

russotto (537200) | about 8 months ago | (#44731073)

This is a patent on "technologies for tracking vehicles and providing users with electronic updates", which isn't necessarily a "software" patent, even if the particular implementation they are going after is all software.

Sounds like "patenting the goal" to me. Also patenting something Qualcomm, at least, was doing over 20 years ago.

Re:Screw it.. I'm moving to NZ (1)

syntheticmemory (1232092) | about 8 months ago | (#44730035)

I hope you have a wad of cash, since that is a requirement. Perhaps you are taller than fictional characters, though they have helped the economy a bit.

Re:Screw it.. I'm moving to NZ (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44730571)

I had the exact same thought the very same day I red the Slashdot news on NZ abolishing patents. Fresh butter and lamb, here I come!

Re:Screw it.. I'm moving to NZ (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44732383)

If you haven't already listened to it, this is a very good episode covering the topic:

When Patents Attack [thisamericanlife.org]

The prologue is just heart wrenching. The guys spent many years building a business just to pretty much lose everything to a patent troll.

I have been thinking about opening a business myself and this is something that has been constantly in my mind. How can I protect myself? Should I open a handful of shell companies in different countries in order to protect myself from a lawsuit. This is actually not very expensive. A couple of thousand dollars will do. Would that be enough of a protection?

I would like to hear from the slashdot community. Are you an entrepeneur? How do you protect yourself from this threat?

Re:Screw it.. I'm moving to NZ (1)

trawg (308495) | about 8 months ago | (#44735911)

Yeh, except in NZ you have to worry about them sending a SWAT squad to your door for copyright infringement issues, a la Kim Dotcom :)

Profit (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44729683)

Can a patent troll go after you if you release such application, without any kind of profit mechanism whatsoever?
Lets say, I create such app, with a dev account made just to publish that app, without any real detail about myself, what can they do then?

Re:Profit (3, Informative)

sandertje (1748324) | about 8 months ago | (#44729689)

If you want to market or profit from your app, you most probably need some kind of company registration. Hence, you are trackable - at least your company is.

Re:Profit (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44729811)

And your point is? So they can track him to NZ but as he is outside their jurisdiction I do not think that they will get an extradition warrant for this.

Re:Profit (4, Informative)

TheRaven64 (641858) | about 8 months ago | (#44729973)

If you're not intending to make any profit from it, then you can set up a company that has no assets to distribute the app. This will cost you a small amount, but it means that the patent troll can take the company to court if they want, but it will cost them money and the company will just declare bankruptcy without attending court and they won't be able to recoup their legal fees.

Re:Profit (4, Interesting)

SlaveToTheGrind (546262) | about 8 months ago | (#44731349)

Just a cautionary note that the corporate form is a strong firewall, but it's not impermeable. Courts can, and sometimes do, "pierce the corporate veil" of sham entities and hold the owner(s) responsible for the entities' actions. Under-capitalization (actually in your hypothetical, no capitalization) of the entity is one of the factors they look at.*

* This isn't legal advice; consult an attorney about your own particular situation; etc. etc.

x264 and libavcodec (5, Informative)

amaurea (2900163) | about 8 months ago | (#44729803)

Mplayer, libavcodec and x264 are examples of successfull patent-violating software products that have laster for a long while, and not been killed off by patent lawsuits. So it is clearly possible. The key is probably to be distributed, open source and not predominantly based in the USA.

Re:x264 and libavcodec (2)

wagnerrp (1305589) | about 8 months ago | (#44731357)

That's because mplayer, libavcodec, and x264 aren't selling a product. Getting them off the market does the MPEG-LA no good. On the other hand, with Google wants to incorporate x264 into their own products like Youtube, they better get a license. Additionally, allowing such groups to implement their technology without requiring a license means there's less reason to implement new independent standards, and thus less market competition for MPEG-LA. It's the same idea as the rumor that Adobe dumped Photoshop on file sharing networks themselves.

That's not to say issues haven't sprung up in the past. I know on at least one project, there was an over-zealous lawyer/aide/whatever who sent out a cease and desist notice, followed by some panicking in the project, and a retraction and apology a few weeks later.

Re:x264 and libavcodec (1)

gottabeme (590848) | about 8 months ago | (#44735423)

Getting them off the market does the MPEG-LA no good.

Sure it would: without free programs like VLC and mplayer, people would have to buy programs to play DVDs and BDs, which would result in more licensing fees, or use systems like iTunes and Netflix, which already pay licensing fees.

I think the reason they haven't pursued it is probably a combination of foreign legal jurisdictions and that it would cost more money than they would recover. But if, for example, Google started shipping x264 without paying MPEG-LA for it, you can be sure they'd sue.

Re:Profit (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44729945)

First, don't make the mistake made by our coder in the story. He played the game and it cost him $10K, time and the time he put in on his app, as well as any future profits from it.
        When you are contacted by lawyers, the name of their client is evident , making him easy to track down. For far less money, a common hoodlum could go negotiate directly with the patent troll with the stipulation that he is now insured against accidents, fires and sudden death for a small fee, collected periodically.
My God man! Turn the situation around and quit thinking in deficit terms or all you will ever have is deficit! The smart man doesn't allow himself to be under the control of other, less empowered peons.
      Publish your app and punish the patent trolls and profit, don't pay. That's ridiculous.

Re:Profit (1)

sjames (1099) | about 8 months ago | (#44732519)

It's modded funny, but when the courts fail long enough and hard enough, it is the natural result. A few dead patent trolls would do more for patent reform in one year than the courts and USPTO have managed in 30 years.

I'm amazed it hasn't already happened.

software, or all patents? (2)

bzipitidoo (647217) | about 8 months ago | (#44729701)

In the patent infringement case used as an example, the article wasn't explicit about whether the patents were on software. Probably they were software patents, since the example was about a software app.

The patent troll problem can easily extend beyond software or business methods. Doesn't have to be software to have prior art or to be too obvious. The reform of abolishing software patents wouldn't fix all the problems. We would still have a patent system that grants too many bad patents because of the conflicts of interest. The patent office generates more revenue, and lawyers get more work. The article mentioned plans for 5 executive actions to curb the problem, but didn't say what they are.

Re: software, or all patents? (2)

mrbester (200927) | about 8 months ago | (#44729795)

From TFA: "... the service that he received his data from, NextBus, already had a license to use those patents"

This is the bullshit part. He is using a data service, not getting the data direct. As such, the patent doesn't apply to him. Fucking trolls.

Re: software, or all patents? (1)

temcat (873475) | about 8 months ago | (#44729869)

I'm not sure that NextBus owning a license necessarily means that the patent doesn't apply. It might happen that patent law or the specific license say otherwise.

Re: software, or all patents? (2)

abannert (3037317) | about 8 months ago | (#44731173)

My theory was that First Sale Doctrine should apply ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exhaustion_doctrine [wikipedia.org] ). I told the troll that my app 1) didn't do any "vehicle tracking" of its own, and 2) got all its data from NextBus, whom the troll's very own demand letter stated as a licensee. I don't recall exactly what they said in response, but it was effectively a big "so what?". Their demands had nothing to do with the merits of their patents, or the technology used in my app, and only had to do with my app store description which they found which uses the word "track", and with their ability to use the US court system to apply leverage against the small guys.

EFF established precedent in Exhaustion Doctrine (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44739467)

Didn't EFF just recently won a court victory explicitly saying that about the Exhaustion Doctrine ? Might want to take a look on their website.

Re: software, or all patents? (1)

doccus (2020662) | about 8 months ago | (#44739625)

You've nailed it with "their ability to use the US court system", which is broken, and simply is unable to fairly look at the merits of any case. I assume that your'e the poor soul that got hammered by these trolls. It is the US court and legal system that is firmly on the side of money that is the problem. Justice is for sale to the highest bidder.

Re:software, or all patents? (2)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 8 months ago | (#44730709)

The reform of abolishing software patents wouldn't fix all the problems. We would still have a patent system that grants too many bad patents because of the conflicts of interest.

The patent office gets paid for patent applications, and gets paid again for granting patents. Consequently it is motivated to encourage applications, and also to grant patents. This is a fundamental problem which must be resolved in order to resolve the issue we're discussing.

Re:software, or all patents? (2)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about 8 months ago | (#44731943)

The patent office gets paid for patent applications, and gets paid again for granting patents. Consequently it is motivated to encourage applications, and also to grant patents. This is a fundamental problem which must be resolved in order to resolve the issue we're discussing.

One solution to this problem is to charge an annual fee to keep a patent, that increases exponentially. For example, $1000 for the first year, $2000 for the next, $4000 for the third, etc. The barrier to entry would still be low, and affordable to individual inventors, but many of the crappy patents would be abandoned after a few years, and the public would be better compensated for granting longer patent monopolies.

Question. (1)

recrudescence (1383489) | about 8 months ago | (#44729709)

If someone sues for patent infringement, can you just say "ok I withdrew the app" and that's it?
(and if minimal profit has occured, say, give the licence dues and move on)
Or once the lawsuit is filed you have to pay the exorbitant amount or fight it etc?

Re: Question. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44729727)

Once you have been targeted for termination, the patent troll cannot ever be stopped.

Re:Question. (2)

Z00L00K (682162) | about 8 months ago | (#44730951)

You can't withdraw the app, but you can publish all the source code for the app and let the patent troll bite into everyone that's building the app from that.

And you can also make sure that the app is provided and hosted on a server in a different country where software patents aren't valid or at least a lot harder to prove valid. That way the patent troll will at least have a harder time to achieve the goal.

Brings up another question - if I who don't live in the US publish an app that's downloadable from a server where I live and that app infringes an US patent - what can a patent troll do about it? The patent trolls goes for low hanging fruit, if they need to navigate wider then they have problems.

Perhaps he'll develop an innovative app instead (-1, Troll)

Lincolnshire Poacher (1205798) | about 8 months ago | (#44729733)

Sorry, not feeling a lot of sympathy here.

'Provide arrival times for the city's buses'. Yes, like the LED displays in bus shelters or the operator's website. Or even the SF Muni's own app [muniapp.us]! With countdown to arrival feature...

Where's the innovation other than he makes a profit using ads?

Seriously, not everything that is repackaged as an app exhibits entrepreneurial innovation.

Re:Perhaps he'll develop an innovative app instead (4, Insightful)

JaredOfEuropa (526365) | about 8 months ago | (#44729815)

Besides the fact that it's useful to repackage this function as an app (you can check the arrival time from home / the bar / your office and wait for the bus there instead of at the stop), the guy hardly deserves to be sued into the ground for not being innovative enough, in what looks like to be a case without merit. And that's the crux of the issue: you can sue anyone for patent infringement, and even if your case has mo merit whatsoever, you can still extort the defendant over legal fees. Pay the $500, pcik your target, any target, and offer to settle for half of what the defendant would pay in legal fees. Profit!

What if the guy actually comes up with a truly innovative app instead? You can be sure that the same patent trolls will be all over him as soon as he makes a buck.

Re:Perhaps he'll develop an innovative app instead (0)

RabidReindeer (2625839) | about 8 months ago | (#44729841)

Sorry, not feeling a lot of sympathy here.

'Provide arrival times for the city's buses'. Yes, like the LED displays in bus shelters or the operator's website. Or even the SF Muni's own app [muniapp.us]! With countdown to arrival feature...

Where's the innovation other than he makes a profit using ads?

Seriously, not everything that is repackaged as an app exhibits entrepreneurial innovation.

You have to add "On the Internet" to it.

Re:Perhaps he'll develop an innovative app instead (5, Informative)

abannert (3037317) | about 8 months ago | (#44731281)

Smart Ride is actually a lot more than that. It takes advantage of the phone's capabilities to show nearby stops, maps, alerts, and other realtime info. I love those LED displays and use them all the time, but they aren't available at every stop. And we happen to support 45 or so transit agencies these days, all within one app.

We aren't trying to innovate in the vehicle tracking area. We are innovating around data aggregation (we have a huge and growing database of transit data, most of which is realtime) and around clever ways to present that data to our users. Smart Ride is one of those apps where it has to be on 24/7, be very fast, and very simple (so my mom can understand it). The whole point is to make transit easy for everyone.

But as another poster pointed out, the merits of my entrepreneurial pursuits (or lack thereof, your mind) shouldn't justify me being sued for patent infringement.

PS, that app you linked to is *not* an official SF MTA app. It is another 3rd party developer like me, who apparently is benefitting from the name confusion. As far as I know, SF MTA doesn't have an official app of their own.

Patent system will kill US position (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44729755)

That crazy patent system is going to break the US's advantage in the future.

wiki that documents all troll-victims? (5, Interesting)

photonic (584757) | about 8 months ago | (#44729763)

This is the millionth time we see a post on Slashdot about people falling victim to a patent troll. If this is not yet done somewhere, someone should really make a wiki to meticulously document all these small cases, so that the next time you talk to a politician, you can show them the real damage of the current patent system.

Re:wiki that documents all troll-victims? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44730029)

.... so that the next time you talk to a politician, you can show them the real damage of the current patent system.

And guess where these politicians get some of their campaign contributions.

And what profession are most of these politicians from?

Answer Key:

1. The patent trolls.
2. They're mostly lawyers themselves.

Re:wiki that documents all troll-victims? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44730401)

If there's a lesson politicians have learned in the last 20 years, it's "if it's on the internet, it's going to screw you at election time". There are a few corollaries that clarify the girth and depth of the screwing under various circumstances, but the basic point holds true.

A wiki like the one the GP was talking about is a publicly accessible name-and-shame site that destroys their precious "talking points" by its very existence. They don't have a leg to stand on in the eyes of the public, and their competitor will run a smear campaign on it in a heartbeat. Oh, that competitor won't be any better or necessarily have a different stand on the issue. But they'll serve the public good by smearing the incumbent for any and all public shamings that are available. And if they win but do nothing about it, it'll be another smear campaign at the next election.

In order to win, you have to play their game. If you're smart, you'll play by proxy and stay out of the mud. That's what a PAC is for. Want to force some politicians' hands next election? Form an anti-software-patent PAC and run the GP's wiki under its banner.

Re:wiki that documents all troll-victims? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44730499)

Also have each patent troll donations have contact buttons linked to he respective political offices "Call now!".

SOPA/PIPA worked because on one day, these guys were swamped with regular folks lighting up their switchboards like a Christmas tree (so to speak). They don't care about "a bunch of nerds in their Mom's basements". They do care when suddenly John and Annie, Pat and Ethel, Mrs. Appleby, etc. etc. are calling and expressing their concerns in real-world terms.
 

Re:wiki that documents all troll-victims? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44730077)

The article was kind of skimpy on simple facts, like what the patent was.

The sealed settlement seems a contributing part of the problem.
    In order for the laws supporting the patent system to get fixed, the problem has to be exposed in detail.
        The closed settlement is helping the troll hide the magnitude of the problem.

Perhaps step one to improve this would be an understanding among judges that in one of these suits, there are three parties,
        the patent holder, the guy paying directly, and the general public who ultimately pays indirectly in lost benefits.

After all, the patent system is a deal between the public and the patent holder.
            It gives the holder limited exclusive use of the idea in exchange for neat new gadgets showing up for the public.
              If the result of the deal is less neat new stuff, the the public needs to reexamine the deal.
              So it is an interested party and should have a right to see these settlements.

Re:wiki that documents all troll-victims? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44731273)

A thousand times, this.

Re:wiki that documents all troll-victims? (1)

SlaveToTheGrind (546262) | about 8 months ago | (#44730585)

Sure, talk to a politician. Show them "the real damage of the current patent system." What, exactly, would you then ask the politician to do? Contrary to popular belief, you can't write laws in the form, "patent rights shall be stripped from anyone who a critical mass of Slashdot posters declares to be a patent troll... ARRRR."

So: how would YOU fix this problem? Be specific. Keep in mind that, whatever solution you propose, you really need to preserve rights for the garage inventor that patents an invention but doesn't have the personal capital to actually produce it. Like it or not, there's a very thin line between those people and the "non-practicing entities" that abuse the system.

Re:wiki that documents all troll-victims? (2)

jedidiah (1196) | about 8 months ago | (#44730615)

Ban software patents and business method patents and probably any other type of "new" patent from the last 20 or 30 years.

The problem is hardly as difficult as you try to make it out.

It's very easy to identify really.

Re:wiki that documents all troll-victims? (1)

SlaveToTheGrind (546262) | about 8 months ago | (#44730647)

It's very easy to identify really.

I'm sure it all seems so "very easy" when you just look at the world through your own particular set of glasses. In the real world, there are plenty of meritless patents held and litigated by NPEs that aren't software or business method. Next?

Re:wiki that documents all troll-victims? (1)

jeremyp (130771) | about 8 months ago | (#44731431)

I was thinking about this the other day.

The patent system was created to allow inventors a monopoly period to exploit their inventions financially in return for placing their inventions in the public domain. To me, this seems like a reasonable exchange if it is not abused. Patent trolls have managed to subvert the system so that it has the opposite effect to that intended.

How about changing the law so that the patent holder is only allow to sue people for patent infringement if they themselves are actively marketing the protected technology or have licensed somebody else who is actively marketing the technology.

Re:wiki that documents all troll-victims? (1)

SlaveToTheGrind (546262) | about 8 months ago | (#44738065)

The first issue is that the U.S. Constitution doesn't require an inventor to practice a patent. It rather guarantees that inventors have the exclusive right to their discoveries for a limited period of time (right now, 20 years from the date of the initial application). That means, like it or not, I can sit on my patent for its entire lifespan and prevent ANYONE from practicing it. Now, in the real world I have no incentive to do that (unless I'm just a cantankerous jerk) -- most people respond well to money, and many patents are licensed sans litigation by (just as any other property transaction) a willing buyer and willing seller reaching an agreement on a reasonable price. But in any event, to require the inventor to practice the patent might require amending the Constitution.

Once your new law is in place, it's easy to imagine it having unintended consequences and being difficult to enforce. Here's a classic scenario: I patent an idea. I don't have money to commercialize it myself, so I start shopping it. I meet with BigCorp, they have a team of engineers take a look at my idea and ultimately say, "no thanks." I continue talking to potential business partners. Nine months later, BigCorp floods the market with a product that incorporates my invention. Now what? Do my actions constitute "actively marketing the protected technology" under the new law such that I can sue BigCorp? If so, we've just created a new line-drawing exercise for judges -- what kind and quantity of activities satisfy "actively marketing" such that I can sue? NPEs will find that line and exploit it (e.g., why isn't calling businesses and trying to get them to take a license to my patent "actively marketing the protected technology"?) If not, I can't sue under this law, and have no hope of getting anyone else interested in partnering with me so I CAN sue, now that BigCorp has taken all the oxygen out of the market.

easy solution (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44729771)

kill the lawyers - every last one of them, then make sure no one in their family can breed

Examples of good software patents? (1, Flamebait)

MavEtJu (241979) | about 8 months ago | (#44729873)

So everybody is complaining about bad software patents, but are there any good software patents which are actually doing something tricky/interesting worth patenting?

Re:Examples of good software patents? (2)

bzipitidoo (647217) | about 8 months ago | (#44729895)

Do you think e=mc^2 should be patentable? It certainly was valuable. We wouldn't understand nuclear power without it.

There may not be any such thing as a good software patent. Software shouldn't be patentable.

That would have been nice. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44730033)

Do you think e=mc^2 should be patentable? It certainly was valuable. We wouldn't understand nuclear power without it.

There may not be any such thing as a good software patent. Software shouldn't be patentable.

Well, to build the nuclear bomb, you'll have to license "E=mc^2" for ONE HUNDRED BILLION DOLLARS!"

I can live with that.

Re:That would have been nice. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44730105)

Do you think e=mc^2 should be patentable? It certainly was valuable. We wouldn't understand nuclear power without it.

There may not be any such thing as a good software patent. Software shouldn't be patentable.

Well, to build the nuclear bomb, you'll have to license "E=mc^2" for ONE HUNDRED BILLION DOLLARS!"

I can live with that.

New Zealand would be the worlds nuclear power!

Re:Examples of good software patents? (1)

jamesh (87723) | about 8 months ago | (#44729935)

So everybody is complaining about bad software patents, but are there any good software patents which are actually doing something tricky/interesting worth patenting?

I think this is a bad patent, whether it's software or not. If this guy can come up with a solution that does the same thing as the patented technology (without referencing the patent itself of course) in a short amount of time then it should be obvious that the only thing the patent has going for it is that the holder patented it first. It doesn't represent a substantial investment that the holder needs to recoup.

Re:Examples of good software patents? (1)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about 8 months ago | (#44730327)

It's like the famous judge's definition of porn vs. nudity, "I know it when I see it."

I just thought up a test the other day -- government hires some "good" programmers. Person comes in with an idea. If they can implement it in less than a half hour, get outta here!

This may reject some very clever ideas, of course, but if they are obvious to implement, there never was much real protracted "years of effort" that went on to develop it, which is really what patents are to protect. Kind of how anti-theft is designed to protect a farmer's fields so he can safely develop useful things with legal protection against looting.

Re:Examples of good software patents? (1)

gnupun (752725) | about 8 months ago | (#44730579)

Of course, there are many good and essential software patents, which most people know nothing about unless they were in the business of creating a specific product.
The patent troll problem could be easily solved by enforcing the "obviousness" test. Arrival time and current time status have been used for decades by bus stations, train stations and airports. Did ArrivalStar get a patent because the system was "implemented on a computer?"

BTW, it seems this or similar ArrivalStar patents appear to have been invalidated or settled.

Re:Examples of good software patents? (2)

gnupun (752725) | about 8 months ago | (#44730599)

oops.. Here's the settlement link [apta.com]

Re:Examples of good software patents? (2)

abannert (3037317) | about 8 months ago | (#44731407)

That settlement happened merely a week ago, long after they sued my company (Codemass), and only applies to public transit agencies who are APTA members. (Meaning, it doesn't help any of the literally 100s of other victims of ArrivalStar, nor the future victims who aren't public transit entities).

Also, you are correct that some of ArrivalStar's claims in only 1 of their 30+ patents were recently invalidated, but other key claims remained in that patent and there's no evidence that ArrivalStar has any intention of slowing down.

Re:Examples of good software patents? (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 8 months ago | (#44730725)

So everybody is complaining about bad software patents, but are there any good software patents which are actually doing something tricky/interesting worth patenting?

"Worth patenting" is the situation we have now.

"Tricky" is not the bar for a useful patent where "useful" is defined as "useful to the people".

Re:Examples of good software patents? (1)

Z00L00K (682162) | about 8 months ago | (#44731005)

Short answer: NO!

The reason is that what one company thinks is patentable and has taken a lot of time to work out is for someone else made on the fly as part of a bigger project or without even considering it to be especially advanced.

Patenting software is not only slowing down innovation due to all lawsuits but it's also stupid since it's like patenting rainfall of a certain type. The rainfall will happen again and again at different locations for different reasons.

The threshold for obtaining a patent is way too low today - that's the problem. Especially in the US where the majority of the patents handed out should have been buried before the first page of it was read by the USPTO.

Re:Examples of good software patents? (1)

abannert (3037317) | about 8 months ago | (#44731355)

From another perspective: Are there any truly novel innovations happening in software that can be described in such a way that *experts in the field* can understand and benefit from (not just lawyers), and where they are not simple evolutions of technology (or combinations of technology), and where they can be so narrowly construed so as to not hinder other innovations?

I do believe some fantastic innovations are happening in software. Those are happening despite the horribly broken software patent system. So where do you draw the line between "novel" and "simple evolution" or "natural combination of existing technologies"?

Good for the rest of the world (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44729951)

This is great news for the rest of the world.

Please go on with this idiot law suits, and within a few years nothing can be developed in the USA without coming under fire. It will be extremely expensive to make even the tiniest application. As a result development will come to a grinding halt..

Of course the rest of the world will go on without that nonsense, and the USA will become a 3th-world development country.

Come on USA developers! Don't stay in the USA. You will be out of work in the coming years. Leave that depressing lawsuit-sick country and go where the real action and innovation will be .... Outside the USA!

You are all welcome...

so what are the licensing fees? (1)

goffster (1104287) | about 8 months ago | (#44730309)

prohibitive?

Re:so what are the licensing fees? (1)

Qzukk (229616) | about 8 months ago | (#44730469)

Trolls generally don't announce what they're selling up front and the sealed settlements generally prohibit anyone saying what they're paying, but it appears that they want about 7-8% [patentbaristas.com] for each patent, which means that if your product has more than 4-5 patents in it, your patent payments will quickly become larger than your payroll. If it has more than 12 or so, your software becomes impossible to produce.

Sewing machines had this problem years ago, where rather than patenting a thing, people had run up patents on every little individual piece of the thing from the motor to the needle, so now you have patents on interactive help menus and file dialogs and filesystems in addition to patents on finding out how long you have to wait for your bus to arrive. The solution back then was The Sewing Machine Patent Combine [volokh.com] which pooled together the patents and paid the members their share of the royalties from them. Setting aside how it would permanently destroy free (beer or speech) software, that worked fine when there were only 3 patent holders, but history has shown that the more holders there are the more likely someone is to fuck over the combine for profit (eg Rambus screwing over JEDEC by not disclosing its patents to the pool). Why would someone settle for a fraction of the patent pool when they could suck 7-8% direct from the source, especially when the proceeds would have to be divvied up between tens of thousands (if not more) patents?

Re:so what are the licensing fees? (2)

abannert (3037317) | about 8 months ago | (#44731453)

In short: I couldn't afford to win. I was told $10-25k just for the initial response, and starting at ~$100k for a patent infringement review of my technology, and that barely gets us to pre-trial motions. If they actually went through with the case it would be hundreds of thousands more, and basically no end in sight. This is a startup I'm bootstrapping myself, and I can't even come close to these kinds of expenses.

The courts are a HUGE part of this problem. When I was served, the second packet was 10+ pages of dense legalese straight from the judge on the "pretrial rules". The trolls probably had to pay something like a $500 filing fee in the Southern District of Florida (a place I've never set foot in). And they have no on-shore assets to go after, so proving non-infringement or even proving malicious litigation would be a major uphill battle.

And to make matters worse, after actually suing me in Florida, they came back later and threatened to sue me in Canada for another batch of patents they owned there. So even if I had managed to not go completely destitute defending against them in the US, I'd have to do it all over again in Canada if I wanted to keep providing my app in Canada (where I support a few cities already).

Re:so what are the licensing fees? (1)

volmtech (769154) | about 8 months ago | (#44742127)

The other side of this is Big Corp infringes your patent. When you file against them their $1000 an hour lawyer says "Bring it on". Could you afford to do that? The Golden Rule, he who has the gold, rules.

How do you legislate fairly on this? (1)

seoras (147590) | about 8 months ago | (#44730385)

How do you legislate fairly on this? It's a question I've been pondering.

I can't see software patents or any other type being abolished due to the loss of perceived wealth that would cause within an economy.

Instead I think a solution has to be found in the handling of patent cases.
A fast track legal process which takes a "Tax" on all claims to fund itself.
Removing the lawyers and courts fees thus removing the fear factor.
Patent owners should be limited to a percentage of all profits made by the product the patent has a valid claim on.
If multiple patents apply then they must share this percentage among them.

So lets say I'm an Apple developer and Apple takes 30%, leaving me 70%.
How much is fair for (using Lodsys as an example) the use of in-app purchase technology?
That 70% isn't all profit. (marketing, further development, business & admin costs etc)
10%? 20%? 30%?

I'd feel a lot keener to -innovate- and create new stuff if I felt that it wasn't going to be ripped from my hands by legal thieves.
If I knew there was a ceiling on what I'd have to pay out when the trolls came knocking on my door I could get on with doing what I do.

What the patent trolls forget is that we all stand on the shoulders of others.
Their "intellectual property" couldn't exist without the publicly domain intellectual property that existed before it.

Re:How do you legislate fairly on this? (1)

RandomFactor (22447) | about 8 months ago | (#44730565)

What the patent trolls forget is that we all stand on the shoulders of others.
Their "intellectual property" couldn't exist without the publicly domain intellectual property that existed before it.

More likely it doesn't impinge on their amoral conscious any more than the thief considers the evolution of the crowbar before prying open your window or the extortionist generations of refinement of the camera he uses to get a compromising photo.

Innovation level = 0 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44730503)

>The app was developed to provide arrival times for the city's bus system.
Zero innovation. Such apps have been around in the dumb phone era already. Ten years ago+.

Congratulations (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44730717)

Do you think it's finally starting to sink into the public's brains that corporate america is what drives their laws? If the companies don't want it, then it isn't put into law.
Welcome to your FREE country. Have a nice day.

Defense costs much more than attack (1)

hymie! (95907) | about 8 months ago | (#44731029)

I just wanted to reiterate this statement

The cost to the patent troll for filing a lawsuit is around $500, but Bannert was forced to spend over $10,000 on a legal defense

It cost my stalker [homelinux.net] nothing to convince the local government to issue me an unconstitutional citation for holding a St. Patrick's Day party without a permit [homelinux.net], and it cost me over $6,000 to get the citation dismissed.

Patent Trolls (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44731069)

Is there an app that tracks where all these patent troll offices are located? I'd happily spend a night going around town throwing eggs at them.

New target (1)

russotto (537200) | about 8 months ago | (#44731109)

Dear Mr. Jones:

I hear IBM is violating your patent left and right. They are tracking all their field service vehicles using a system just like the one in your patent. Go get 'em.

Best Regards,
Darl McBride

Why Not Just Pay The Cost (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44734505)

If someone holds a patent, then he has incurred an expense and in a capitalistic society, he deserves to be compensated for his intellectual property. That is why it was patented. Just pay the original holder of the patent his due and get his consent and go on about your business. Why is that such a problem?

Re:Why Not Just Pay The Cost (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44734811)

Some of the genes in your body have been patented by a corporation. Are you ready to pay the licencing fees just to exist? Hope so.
Have a nice day.

Incorporate in a foreign country (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44735649)

Seriously

It looks like the US is getting so hostile to business, perhaps its best to incorporate in a foreign country that either doesn't tolerate silly patent trolls in its legal system, takes years or decades to pursue a case.

Do liked in democratic countries (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44736305)

If you sue, and you lose, then you pay reasonable defense fees for the defendent who won.
Patent trolls would then pay more to the denfendants than they would ever earn. This would stop much of the trolling.

ReneeJRodriguez@rhyta.com (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44736743)

my roomate's step-sister makes $80 every hour on the laptop. She has been out of a job for nine months but last month her check was $20389 just working on the laptop for a few hours. browse around here ...
WWW.Bay92.COM

Maybe... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44737261)

Maybe it's the idea of living from what we create that is flawed...

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