UK Ministry of Defence Close To Gaining Patent On Key GPS Technology; US Not Amused

from the so-much-for-special-relationships dept

Normally, we think of the US as the champion of patenting “anything under the sun that is made by man,” while the UK is generally more reticent. So it’s rather surprising to find the roles reversed in the following story about a new standard for the GPS navigation system:

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is weeks away from approving a controversial British patent that could force American consumers to pay more for GPS navigation devices and even affect the operations of the American military.

The patent is one of dozens filed around the world by the British defense establishment asserting ownership of technology developed jointly by the United States and the European Union (EU). The patents lay claim to a signal structure crafted by American and European experts to make Europe’s still-emerging Galileo satellite navigation system interoperable with GPS and improve service for users of both systems.

This is no ordinary patent spat — it could have global consequences: according to the article quoted above, US officials are so incensed about this unsporting move that they might drop the interoperability plans altogether. What’s ironic here is that the US was assuming that the new standard’s technology formed a kind of commons — available to all, but owned by no one — and it was the UK that decided to enclose part of that commons using patents, a move which now risks destroying it for everyone.

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Comments on “UK Ministry of Defence Close To Gaining Patent On Key GPS Technology; US Not Amused”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

No danger. The U.S. government is free to run roughshod over anyone’s patent without paying when it is determined to be in the national interest. They have done so before on occasion.

It’s a fifth amendment eminent domain thing. Usually happened during wartime. Was also discussed when they were looking at shortfalls for vaccines during recent epidemic scares.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Not that it'll stop them...

Hah, if anything they’re just put off that the favorite legal beat-stick in the american arsenal is being used against them for once.

As for the odds of them learning their lesson due to being on the receiving end this time around? I’d put better odds on the Pope publicly converting to pastafarianism.

Violated (profile) says:

The wrath of the patents

I don’t know what you can say to this one when it is unclear how much work the British put into this creation along with what prior agreements existed to create an open standard free for all.

Should the USPTO approve this application then that would indicate that the British had a valid claim. The big question then is not so much that they own the parent but what they exactly intend to do with it?

Well in the days of Patent Warfare where even the United Nations calls them forth in concern, where major corporations assemble massive patent War-chests, then is it such a surprise that those doing the work on key systems want to patent protect their own butt?

This is not a good thing of course but it is the results of a broken parent system where parents are used to block sales from your rivals. So if the British do get this parent and clamp down hard then more then a few people will start to pee blood.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The wrath of the patents

This is not a good thing of course but it is the results of a broken parent system where parents are used to block sales from your rivals. So if the British do get this parent and clamp down hard then more then a few people will start to pee blood.

death to the parents!! 🙂

Anonymous Coward of Esteemed Trolling (profile) says:

Re: Put the Shoe on the Other Foot (still legit)

my ignorance…..too quick to jump to false conclusions, my bad.
The subject of space tech is fascinating, definitely worth lurking into on your day off.

GPS = free ( funded by US tax payer ) but the US military control it.
The patent filed in 2003. Designed to make Galileo and GPS Block III satellites compatible.(due for launch in 2014). Recommended for adoption by Europe and the USA in 2006.

Galileo ( funded by nearly every other country )
Galileo is intended to be an EU GNSS civilian system that allows all users access to it. GPS is a US GNSS military system that provides location signals that have high precision to US military users, while also providing less precise location signals to others. The GPS had the capability to block the “civilian” signals while still being able to use the “military” signal (M-band). A primary motivation for the Galileo project was European concern that the US could deny others access to GPS during political disagreements.[7]

Since Galileo was designed to provide the highest possible precision (possibly even greater than GPS) to anyone, the US was concerned that an enemy could use Galileo signals in military strikes against the US and its allies (some weapons like missiles use GNSS systems for guidance). The frequency initially chosen for Galileo would have made it impossible for the US to block the Galileo signals without also interfering with their own GPS signals. The US did not want to lose their GNSS capability with GPS while denying enemies the use of GNSS. Some US officials became especially concerned when Chinese interest in Galileo was reported.[35]

An anonymous European official claimed that the US officials implied that they might consider shooting down Galileo satellites in the event of a major conflict in which Galileo was used in attacks against American forces.[36] The EU’s stance is that Galileo is a neutral technology, available to all countries and everyone. At first, EU officials did not want to change their original plans for Galileo, but have since reached a compromise, that Galileo was to use a different frequency. This allowed the blocking/jamming of one GNSS system without affecting the other, giving the US a greater advantage in conflicts in which it has the electronic warfare upper hand.[37] However, the frequency difference also makes it possible to jam the GPS without affecting the Galileo.

One of the reasons given for developing Galileo as an independent system was that position information from GPS can be made significantly inaccurate by the deliberate application of universal Selective Availability (SA) by the US military; this was enabled until 2000, and can be re-enabled at any time. GPS is widely used worldwide for civilian applications; Galileo’s proponents argued that civil infrastructure, including aeroplane navigation and landing, should not rely solely upon a system with this vulnerability.

On May 2, 2000, SA was disabled by President of the United States Bill Clinton; in late 2001 the entity managing the GPS confirmed that they did not intend to enable selective availability ever again.[40] Though Selective Availability capability still exists, on 19 September 2007 the US Department of Defense announced that newer GPS satellites would not be capable of implementing Selective Availability;[41] the wave of Block IIF satellites launched in 2009, and all subsequent GPS satellites, do not support SA. As old satellites are replaced in the GPS modernization program, SA will cease to be an option. The modernization programme also contains standardized features that allow GPS III and Galileo systems to inter-operate, allowing receivers to be developed to utilise GPS and Galileo together to create an even more precise GNSS system.

The Sauce

TL;DR (nontechnical version)

The patent is for something to make two systems work together (GPS and Galileo).
US claims that the UK had insider info because of their work on Galileo.
The US hate the idea of global satellite positioning systems that they don’t control.
The patent seems legit, but America don’t like it, they want control of Galileo.

Anonymous Coward says:

Depends on how they use the patent

There are several technologies we use everyday which are patented but are not a problem. Why? Because they are royalty-free licensed to everyone.

So, if they get the patent but license it royalty-free to everyone, or even if the royalty-free license is limited to “anything global navigation satellite related”, they can avoid this issue.

christian (profile) says:

To The UK...

as an american citizen, i must say thank you from the bottom of my deeply clogged heart(joking about the heart.I am american though)you have done what many people across the world have wanted to do for years – fire back at america (those in charge)for it’s sheer selfishness.

that being said. if you do get the patent, please dont pull an america and turn hoarder on your patents.

Anonymous Coward says:

Totally unrelated, but I was thinking about a DIY gas mask that anybody could build in the field.

Get a pet bottle, poke some holes in it and wrap it with some cloth, that is great against pepper spray, your skin still will burn, but your lungs will thank you.

If you are paranoid you can use your own wrapping with not normal cloth but with activated carbon and a micro-filtering element.

Where the idea came from?

Seeing American soldiers drink water and my own experience building a clean room, the filters are generally just pieces of paper layed on top of each other, so I thought it would be so difficult to wrap a bottle with it like wrapping a gun silencer with glass wool, and for the eyes cheap swimmer goggles.

I wonder if those could help in a fire too.

drew (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Attempt 2 as the comment page keeps failing to load (anyone else getting this or am I just lukcy?)

All this goes to show is that there are arseholes and idiots everywhere. The end result (unless they go down the free licensing route) will be that the consumer pays more for devices because of licensing costs for something that they funded* the research for in the first place.
I’m curious as to where the winners are in this scenario.

* via taxation

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: Now what?

The new rule is, anyone who doesn’t agree with your government, or the government does not like, is a terrorist. Hence any nation that doesn’t agree with the west is now a terrorist state, web sites speaking out against the US are supporter of terrorism, and Anonymous being re titled cyber terrorists.

It is funny though, the more people they include under the umbrella of terrorism the less meaning it has, and the less people will listen to the rhetoric or believe it.

The Old Man in The Sea says:

You reap what you sow - The Poms have long memories

This is simply an example of what happens when you treat your allies as fools. The Poms have long memories and are just getting their revenge on the Yanks for what the Yanks did to them in and after WW II with regards penicillin production.

An efficient process developed by the Pommies and then the Yankees patent said process and force the Pommies to have to pay up.

What it simply shows is that the Yankees never learn anything of significance with relation to relationships with others.

Mind you, I somehow think most countries are in the same cesspool. War is coming, we just don’t know yet who the antagonists and the protagonists will be yet.

regards and a good night to all.

Steve says:


Sorry ‘unsporting’??
Are we talking about the same USA that wield total control over the ‘community’ resource that is GPS.
So, seeking a patent on bridging technology is unsporting but having the ability to hold the whole world to ransom via GPS is perfectly acceptable? Hence the reason for Galileo in the first place.
Double standards much?!?!?
Oh crap, I forgot, USA!

Anonymous Coward says:

This shouldn’t even legal to patent for so many reasons.

1) People have been using GPS’ and lots of different companies selling them for YEARS. How can it be in the public’s interest to suddenly grant a patent for the GPS now?

2) The GPS was not invented by an aspiring individual, but by a US government research group, funded entirely by tax payer dollars, all for the public good. It’s a research group that does research into things considered too risky for the private market to ever invest in from the sheer expense and high likelyhood that it won’t work, but things that they the government research group still have a small chance of success. Things invented by the government for the public good shouldn’t be patentable, especially by another country that didn’t even invent it in the first place.

3) And of course the US government still won’t learn it’s lessons about patents, etc from this mess.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

1) This isn’t a patent on GPS, this is a patent on the technology that bridge GPS and Galileo. Perfectly reasonable to patent, and not produced by the US military.

2) See point 1.

3) Of course they won’t. They’s the US Guvment!

Love my country, hate my government. The two are not in accord.

Rekrul says:

This is no ordinary patent spat — it could have global consequences: according to the article quoted above, US officials are so incensed about this unsporting move that they might drop the interoperability plans altogether.

So patents are only good when the USA controls them?

The phrase “Live by the sword…” comes to mind.

Anonymous Coward says:

There is not enough information to analyze possible effects on the ordinary consumer market, but I am not going to lose any sleep over USG use of whatever may be covered by the patent when and as it issues. Use or manufacture by or for the United States Government of what is covered by a patent is subject to sovereign immunity, and the only potential liability is that which is stated in 28 USC 1498. I rather doubt there is any likelihood that such a patent would be asserted against the USG or its contractors and subcontractors for a variety of legal, practical, and political reasons.

Roger says:

National Security

What make anyone think that a country ie England won’t look out for its own sovereignty. What do you think they are going to do let the colonies take total control of the world…? Look how we’ve done running the world so far!

What is with going to war with everyone? Do we really need to keep each generation tested in the art of WAR?

so lets ring our collective hands over this….GPS gate! How about Global Weather changes…. We are Amerians are always in the state of Crisis Management!

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