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…