New patent suits against Google, Palm and mobile phone makers
Despite the efforts of the US Supreme Court to limit the awarding of trivial patents, a number of information technology and telecommunications firms are once more facing accusations of infringing processes that, although not very innovative, are nevertheless protected by industrial property rights. The US firm Aloft Media late last week sued Research in Motion, AT&T, Motorola, Nokia and Sony Ericsson in the Federal Court in Marshall, Texas, which has shown itself to be quite friendly to patent holders. They are alleged, among other things, to have infringed a patent user interface for handling web content over a network browser for current smart phones. Aloft Media has already deployed its portfolio of industrial property rights against Adobe, Microsoft and others.
In 2006 RIM found itself compelled to pay the patent administrator NTP the record sum of $612.5 million in a dispute over claims to protection that had already in principle been declared invalid by the US Patent Office. Since then, the Supreme Court has been leading the way in its efforts to put limits on the awarding of trivial patents. In advance of an imminent further decision by the Supreme Court on claims to the protection of business methods, the US Patent Office too has recently stressed that process inventions are generally not patentable unless they "result in a physical transformation of an article" or are "tied to a particular machine".
These developments have already caused grave concern among advocates of the broad interpretation of patent process rules, who fear that in the USA, process and software patents could soon be a thing of the past, and that monopoly rights too, such as Google's claim to protection for its PageRank technology for ranking web pages, might not hold water.
Google now has a further patent action to worry about. Daniel Wexler, along with his company Web Tracking Solutions, has sued Google because of the way it output statistical information to advertising clients via AdSense. In 1999, Wexler was awarded US Patent No. 5,960,409, which relates to a system as well as a method for providing on-line third party accounting for an advertiser web site. This is the fourth patent infringement suit to hit Google this year. Google itself is not regarded as a friend of software and process patents, and it supports legislative efforts for a reform of the US patent system.
IBM has now secured protection for the storage of customer packaging preference information – including preference for paper or plastic bags – on supermarket customer cards, with US Patent No. 7,407,089. That should mean checkout assistants no longer having to ask purchasers their wishes before packaging their goods. But what is still unclear, stress bloggers on Slashdot, is how this application squares with the new patent policy announced by Big Blue last year. According to that, fewer patents should be filed relating to business methods. Instead, the "significant technical content" of patents should be stressed.