Patent Troll Apparently Didn't Appreciate Being Called A Piece Of Shit, Sues Over Basic Location Functionality

from the if-the-name-fits... dept

Just yesterday I was talking to an entrepreneur who told me that one of his strategies in dealing with patent trolls once they got annoying was to send back a rather graphical and obscene insult, just to make it clear that he wasn’t going to settle quickly. In many cases, he claimed that this made the trolls walk away, because they’re looking for easy settlements. That reminded me of Fark’s Drew Curtis explaining his strategy for beating a patent troll, which included making it clear that you’ll fight like crazy and that “you’ll make the process as annoying and as painful as possible.” While that appears to work for some folks, it didn’t quite work (yet) for Chris Hulls, CEO of Life360, a social network for families that just raised $50 million. Big VC money raises are often like catnip to patent trolls, as they directly target those companies.

In a moment of refreshing honesty, Hulls (against the advice of his lawyers) sent a letter to the patent troll, calling the troll “a piece of shit” and wishing bad karma on him, as Paul Carr at PandoDaily highlighted in the link above:

Dear Piece of Shit,

We are currently in the process of retaining counsel and investigating this matter. As a result, we will not be able to meet your Friday deadline. After reviewing this matter with our counsel, we will provide a prompt response.

I will pray tonight that karma is real, and that you are its worthy recipient.


Rather than scaring the troll off, it apparently embolded the troll to file a lawsuit which actually included Hull’s note.

If you’re curious about the patents in question, the first is US 7,031,728 for a “cellular phone/PDA communication system.” Basically it’s a patent on the idea of using a GPS-enabled phone to figure out where other people are located. Like many crappy patents, this is one of those things that has been incredibly obvious for quite some time, since well before this patent was granted. The reason this sort of thing wasn’t available years ago had more to do with the state of phone technology itself, rather than the idea. That is, to make this work, you needed more smartphones with GPS in them. Once those became common, this was one of the most commonly talked about ideas for what could be done on such phones.

That’s part of the problem with so many of these patents. The “inventors” (and I use that term loosely) weren’t inventing anything here, but were rather looking at where the underlying technology was clearly heading, and then patenting ahead — recognizing all of the obvious apps that just about any programmer would be able to implement once the underlying tech was there, writing the patents, and then waiting for someone else to do the real work… and then shaking them down. Given that, it seems that Hull’s description of the troll is all too accurate.

The rest of the patents in the suit are basically variations on this theme of using GPS and phones to locate others. The second patent is US 7,764,954 for a “Method of providing cell phones in a cell phone signal strength chart of multiple cell phones in a communication network.” The third is US 8,126,441 for a “Method of establishing a cell phone network of participants with a common interest.” And the fourth is US 7,672,681 for a “Method of renaming soft switch controls in all participant’s cell phones by an administrator.”

And yes, unlike many patent trolls, the company behind this lawsuit, Advanced Ground Information Systems, Inc., does apparently make an actual product, but it’s not even remotely competitive. They make products for first responders and the military to help them communicate. They’re not competing in any way with Life360’s family social network, and Life360 certainly didn’t “copy” the work that AGIS did. Because they didn’t need to. Location-based information services, connecting local people is an idea that was talked about at great length going way back. I remember detailed discussions about “people finder” apps in the 1990s. Lots of people were thinking about this stuff, and it’s yet another indictment of the patent office that it granted a bunch of obvious patents, and AGIS and its lawyers looking to tax an entirely different business is equally as lame.

Just another sign of how broken our patent system is. Congress could fix it… but probably won’t.

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Companies: agis, life360

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Comments on “Patent Troll Apparently Didn't Appreciate Being Called A Piece Of Shit, Sues Over Basic Location Functionality”

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The Wanderer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Triangulation

Grammatically, the only thing I can make sense of it is that it is a method by which, within a chart of the signal strength of multiple cell phones in a communication network, to provide cell phones.

(Quite what bearing such signal strength would have on what methods would be effective for providing cell phones is not clear to me.)

In order for it to mean anything other than that, I think there’d have to be another word somewhere, if not an entire additional clause.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Triangulation

Allow me to add a rant I always used to post on Techdirt back when GPS was just getting added to phones for E911, so around 2001-2004:

Phones do NOT triangulate, nor do GPSes. They triLATERATE, judging time differences of arrival of signals from various sources with known locations. A radius is then created around each of those known locations, and the intersection of the radii is the location of the object. There are NO ANGLES used in the process. RADAR uses angles.

It was a small nit, but I was still correct. So this patent then doesn’t even understand the process correctly?

Anonymous Coward says:

No class MBI - too

I am hoping that this same exposure come to light in a big way with respect to what MakerBot Industries, a Statasys division is doing. They seem to be stealing from the community and trying to patent prior art that is obviously not theirs. I know it isn’t a great big community – but the impact will last a long, long time. There are few good words about that kind of business model and their CEO’s.

Michael (profile) says:

From the first patent:

Another drawback of the use of the current combined cellular phone PDA technology is that when using the PDA to display a map (that also may depict georeferenced businesses, homes and other facilities’ locations and phone numbers), and the operator wants to place a call, the cellular phone/PDA operator is required to obtain the phone number by touching the display screen at the correct location of that entity on the map to obtain the phone number, then the operator has to memorize the phone number, then go to a different display to enter the phone number, to make the call and then, if desired, go back to the map display

So Beyer Jr Malcolm K read this patent and thought “Hmm…I NEVER would have thought to have the FRIGGIN PHONE CALL THE PERSON WHEN I CLICKED ON THEM rather than make the user go through some 14 step process to dial their number. This is certainly not obvious.”

On the flip side – Palm probably has a patent on the multi-step process and they call it a feature.

HMTKSteve (user link) says:


What exactly are they in violation of regarding the patent? Does the patent completely break down the process in a fashion that anyone reading the patent can recreate the idea? Or is it a just an idea for a system with no real details other than technojargon?

A lot of problems can be fixed if patent filers are forced to include a working prototype of their patent prior to it being granted. Not at the time of filing (that would be very burdensome) but within the window of filing and granting. I would even accept some sort of “patent is only valid if working implementation is produced within X months of granting of said patent” system on patents.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Saw it before the patent was granted

I worked for SK Telecom out of Korea 2001-2003. We had an app that was a buddy finder AT THAT TIME. It was a Java app on our feature phones, powered by Qualcomm’s CDMA chips that had GPS integrated, because Qualcomm had bought SnapTrack in 2000 for $1B dollars.

Gee. Do you think Qualcomm or SnapTrack had ever considered any of the ideas in those patents? Of freaking course they did.

What kind of fools are approving these patents in the first place?

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