It Appears That The Encyclopaedia Britannica Entry On Shaking Down GPS Providers With A Bogus Patent Needs Updating

from the shot-down-again dept

The Encyclopaedia Britannica has not exactly been having a good decade. In the minds of much of the public (though, certainly not all), the usefulness of Britannica has long been surpassed by Wikipedia. A couple years ago, we gave Britannica’s president a chance to explain his views on where Britannica is going, but it still seems like an uphill battle. Among the more ridiculous things that Britannica has tried to do is to also turn itself into a bit of a patent troll. Back in 2007, it sued a bunch of GPS companies for patent infringement. Scratching your head over why Britannica holds patents on GPS technology? The answer is even more convoluted than you can imagine.

Through a series of events, Britannica ended up in possession of a rather infamous patent (5,241,671), originally granted to Compton’s back in 1993. That patent was initially used to claim control over… well… pretty much all multimedia, including CD-ROMs and certain aspects of computers and software. The story got so much attention that the USPTO’s boss stepped up and directly ordered a re-exam of the patent. All of the claims were struck down, but Compton’s (and soon Britannica who took over ownership of the patent, being an investor in Comptons) kept trying. After eight long years of fighting back and forth, the patent with narrower claims was granted, which Britannica decided covered GPS technology.

To make matters even more confusing, during all of this Britannica had also filed for two continuations patents (the sneaky process we’ve discussed a few times recently whereby patents holders try to submarine in later offerings with an earlier priority date). Those patents were at the center of the lawsuit we mentioned in 2007.

At the end of 2008, we noted that that original ‘671 patent had finally been declared invalid. Last summer, we noted that those two other continuation patents had been dumped as well. Britannica, with nothing to lose, appealed.

Last week it lost that appeal. The actual ruling focuses on a technicality in terms of how Britannica filed for those continuation patents. Basically, it screwed up the filing process and that killed any chance of the patents to actually be considered continuations. Because of that, the patents get tossed out as being considered neither new nor non-obvious as they’re anticipated by other patents. Either way, hopefully this really is the end of Encyclopaedia Britannica’s short life in the world of patent trolling GPS companies…

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Companies: britannica

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Comments on “It Appears That The Encyclopaedia Britannica Entry On Shaking Down GPS Providers With A Bogus Patent Needs Updating”

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22 Comments
Oliver Wendell Jones (profile) says:

Sue Back?

After a patent like this has been declared null and invalid – has anyone successfully gone back and sued the company who formerly sued them for patent infringement in hopes of getting their money back?

In other words, Company A sues Company B for patent violation and wins – the patent is later declared invalid – has there ever been a Company B that has gone back sued Company A to get their losses back?

ChronoFish (profile) says:

Re: Re: Sue Back?

This is a great comment – and one that didn’t – but should have – jumped out at me.

Why can’t the USPTO be sued for granting patents that can’t be held up?

Once a patent is given, it seems reasonable to me that the party receiving the patent can make an assumption that the patent is enforceable.

I do however also see there being an issue with the USPTO being afraid to further review any patents if they could be found liable. In other words I could see the USPTO specifically NOT reviewing previously awarded patents for fear of being held liable.

-CF

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Sue Back?

“Once a patent is given, it seems reasonable to me that the party receiving the patent can make an assumption that the patent is enforceable.”

The thing is that the patent office should only grant enforceable patents and it should only grant patents that are reasonable to enforce. That is, it should only grant patents that make sense whereby the enforcement thereof helps promote the progress.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Sue Back?

“In other words I could see the USPTO specifically NOT reviewing previously awarded patents for fear of being held liable.”

The issues are two fold.

A: People can appeal patent rejections and sometimes the judiciary will overturn patent rejections. The USPTO doesn’t want to drag every issue up the appellate process. At one time the USPTO even rejected software patents only to have an appellate court overturn the rejection.

B: The USPTO collects filing fees for patent applications. The more patents it grants, the more entities apply for patents, the more money it makes.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: I feel almost sorry for them...

“I just don’t see how they can remain relevant in a world where Wikipedia can do so much better.”

Are you kidding me? How can wikipedia be better than the Encyclopedia Britannica? Are you truly not aware that Wikipedia is maintained and expanded upon by its own users? That means PEOPLE are inputting data! And you think it’s reliable?

Please. I’ll take the information in the Encylopedia Britannica over Wikipedia any day. After all, the information in there was developed by clairvoyent robots from the planet Correctocron IV in the Referencia Galaxy, and it’s been double checked by the six-breasted whores of the Verifica region….

G Fernandes says:

Re: Re: I feel almost sorry for them...

[QUOTE]How can wikipedia be better than the Encyclopedia Britannica? Are you truly not aware that Wikipedia is maintained and expanded upon by its own users? That means PEOPLE are inputting data![/QUOTE]

Are YOU kidding me? PEOPLE write bits of the Encyclopedia Britannica too. How do you know that the person who writes a part of Encyclopedia Britannica is better than the person who writes a page on Wikipedia?

From my experience, each page in Wikipedia is contributed by and/or reviewed by experts in the field.

An employee paid to write in the EB isn’t necessarily an expert in the field in the first place.

C’mon. Grow up. If Wikipedia hasn’t already beaten the pants of EB, it certainly will very soon.

Pastychomper says:

I feel almost sorry for them...

“From my experience, each page in Wikipedia is contributed by and/or reviewed by experts in the field.”

The experts’ contributions are then deleted by the next reviewer, and the entire page is cleaned up and re-written to promote the interests of an anonymous third party. The changes are discussed on the talk page, where contibuters eventually agree that the content doesn’t matter as long as there’s a nice picture.

Having said that, I use Wikipedia a lot more than EB. I just check the references a lot more than I would in EB, too.

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