Cleveland Bus System Joins Over 100 Others In Being Sued For Patent Infringement For Notifying People If A Bus Is Running Late

from the patent-trolling dept

Roman points us to the interesting news that the Cleveland Regional Transit Authority has been sued for patent infringement for this daring and shocking bit of piracy: notifying riders that a bus may be late and when it’s likely to arrive. You see most normal people would think that this is an obvious idea to those skilled in the art. The reason it wasn’t done in the past wasn’t because the idea was so difficult to contemplate, or that it was a huge technological challenge, it was merely a limitation of the other technology that makes this possible. Once GPS technology got cheaper, wireless data transmission became more widespread and cheaper and (finally) more people started carrying smartphones (or even SMS-capable phones) this kind of feature sprung up all over the place. It wasn’t because some random dude patented the idea, but because it’s obvious once all the other key pieces are in place, and it’s relatively easy to implement.

But don’t tell that to Martin Jones, who holds a bunch of these patents. The “Clevescene” story above does not identify the patents or link to the actual legal filing (why don’t news sites do that?!?), but after looking around, it’s easy to find that Jones and the company he represents have filed over a hundred lawsuits like this recently over a variety of patents. I’m not sure exactly which patents he’s claiming in this particular case, but here’s Patent # 5,400,020 for a school bus notification system and Patent # 5,623,260 for a notification system for “impending arrival of a transportation vehicle.” There are a lot more similar patents that all seem to be slight variations on the same thing. It seems he had this idea and has tried to lock it up and demand payment from tons and tons of companies — with many agreeing to pay up.

Filed Under: , , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Cleveland Bus System Joins Over 100 Others In Being Sued For Patent Infringement For Notifying People If A Bus Is Running Late”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Rikuo (profile) says:

I walk up to a bus-stop, the vehicle nowhere in sight. I look at my watch, then look up to see there’s another guy waiting.
“Hey, mate, do you know when the next bus is due?” I ask.
“Sure I do, I looked at a bus timetable. Next one’s in 10 minutes”
Suddenly, Martin Jones comes zooming down from the sky and crashes into the other guy with the force of a meteorite. The other guy is pulverized, broken bones and guts everywhere.
Just to make his point, Jones then gets up, notices the timetable poster on the actual bus-stop (that I somehow missed) and tears it off. He then looks at me and says “No! If you want to know when the next bus is due, GIMME GIMME GIMME!”

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

Prior Railroad Practice.

Seriously, railroad have been posting arrival times, with advisories, in stations, from “time immemorial,” that is, for the last hundred years or more. As a train passed each station, the stationmaster would telegraph (*) ahead to say that it was coming, and how much behind schedule it was, with a view to reserving the track to the next station. The stationmaster at the next station would do some arithmetic in his head, and post a revised arrival time on the blackboard by the ticket window, based on how much time he thought the locomotive engineer could make up, en-route. Intercity bus lines, such as Greyhound and Continental Trailways naturally imitated railroad practice. From about 1975 onwards, arrival/departure information began to be displayed on television screens.

(*) Telegraph– an early form of e-mail, or texting.

In this connection, I should mention that a set of back issues of Trains Magazine represents an enormous photo-archive, and you can almost certainly find a photograph documenting any practice well before the patent horizon. Passenger railroads, in particular, achieved their maximum complexity about 1925. For that matter, the 1928 railroad atlas is generally regarded, among experts, as definitive, because very little track, in the sense of new routes, was built after 1928, but a great deal was subsequently abandoned. In the heyday of railroading, they did all kinds of complicated things to provide better service, which were subsequently dropped as the railroads declined.

All that the various patents in this matter could add, given the combined prior art, is the use of a conventional system of electronic communication to forward the revised schedule to a cellphone. The patents cited were apparently filed and granted before 2006, which is to say that they are pre-KSR-v-Teleflex.

Anonymous Coward says:

Maybe we need...

Patents and copyrights that are actually created for the “public domain” so that when something is placed in the public domain there is no question that is where it lies and there is legal documentation in place to support that it is there. I see two ways the these public domain patents and copyrights would be created. First, ANYONE could apply for a public domain patent to have something placed there and unless there was an existing patent it should be granted by default. The second way they would be granted would be if there were cases such as these that claimed ownership of something obviously being used for long before any patent or copyright request was made, the courts transfer the actual patent or copyright to the public domain. In other words if patent and trolls want to pursue acquiring overly generic and obvious patents, then they risk losing those patents to the public with legal documentation to support public ownership for future reference.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Maybe we need...

And yes I know about Open Source licensing but this would be different. This would be an actual documented transfer of ownership to the public and could be issued by the courts in these cases to prevent it from being used to abuse the legal system through future silly lawsuits of a similar nature. It would also stand as a deterrent against filing it in the first place since the abuser would stand a chance of having to forfeit their precious IP to the public.

Paul Keating (profile) says:

Patent Failures

Stories like these continue to show how broken the system is. There is seemingly no incentive for the PTO to deny patents and then go through the challenge process (though I wonder how many denials have been issued vs challenges). They seem content at issuing patents and burdening the public and/or individual companies with the task of defendant and challenging. The problem is that once issued the patents are presumed correct so the defendants have an uphill battle.

There are patent trolls. I would love to see an economic plan for a patent challenge troll, perhaps funded by donation whose job it is is simply to rid the world of such crap.

wvhillbilly (profile) says:

Re: Patent Failures

Getting rid of patent trolls would be very simple if you could just get congress to pass a law saying, if you don’t practice the patent, you can’t enforce it. The big problem is trying to get congress to pass such a law.

Patent trolls add nothing to the economy. They don’t make anything useful. They’re just parasites who abuse the legal system to prey on others who have done all the hard work, to beat them out of their hard-earned money. I believe a law such as proposed above would go a long way to stopping this unconscionable practice.

To me, the way patent trolls operate is nothing less than legalized extortion. And extortion is a crime and should be dealt with as such.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Solution to patent reform

The reason they get rubber stamped is that the USPTO is so flooded with requests that they can’t adequately evaluate the validity of them all. Since people would complain if the time it takes to complete the process increases and people would also complain if they were rejected without proper justification, they just say okay and a lot of people have figured this out so it’s making it worse. That is why we need public domain patents. So people can counter the actions of the trolls by registering the obvious stuff to the public before the trolls can try to exploit it. And if judges can transfer the stuff to the public when the trolls try to abuse it then they 1. can’t try again with the same one by filing a new case and 2. have incentive not to try because they will likely just lose it anyway.

Laroquod (profile) says:

Re: Re: Solution to patent reform

No, that will just legitimise those who stake out the silly territory before the public defenders can plant a flag in it. And by throwing the lot ‘public domain’ in with patent law, that creates an artificial public interest in maintaining a bad law. What we really need is very clear: get rid of patents altogether because they were a ridiculously paradoxical idea in the first place. No one should be surprised that awarding monopolies on ideas has resulted in a runaway train of insanity.

wvhillbilly (profile) says:

Re: Re: Solution to patent reform

And did it ever occur to anyone that the reason the USPTO is so flooded with silly patents is because the USPTO is rubber stamping practically anything and everything people throw at them?

And, yes I agree there needs to be some quick and inexpensive way to invalidate silly patents (with prejudice) and put patent trolls out on the street. My proposal would be a law that if they don’t practice the invention they can’t enforce the patent. And yes, I think putting invalidated patents permanently in the public domain would be a great idea.

BuckRogers1965 (profile) says:

Seattle had this all years ago.

At the Northgate bus terminal they had displays up that showed where the bus was currently and how long it was going to take to get to the terminal. You could also look up this same information online. They had this back in the late 1990’s. If these patents were not in force before about 1997, then the Seattle public bus systems are a great source of prior art to invalidate the patents.

It was trivial to scrape the web page and send yourself a page.

aikiwolfie (profile) says:

Patent Trolling Is Easy To Sort Out

Irrespective of whether or not you agree with patents in general, software patents or hardware patents. Patent trolling should be easy to fix.

1) An actual working example of the patented invention/innovation should be required and inspected at the time of filing the patent.

2) Holders of patents who are not actively developing their invention/innovation should be barred from asserting those patents.

JJ Joseph (profile) says:

Next Bus arrival time

@wvhillbilly:”Getting rid of patent trolls would be very simple if you could just get congress to pass a law saying, if you don’t practice the patent, you can’t enforce it.”

The NextBus system is widely used all over the world. It’s likely what readers are reporting when they’ve seen the system here or there. NextBus are not “patent trolls” but an established, economical, and widely used GPS/wireless transit information system.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...