From Internet Connected Drink Mixer To Any Remote Configuration On The Internet: August's Stupid Patent Of The Month

from the internet-of-patented-things dept

Imagine if the inventor of the Segway claimed to own “any thing that moves in response to human commands.” Or if the inventor of the telegraph applied for a patent covering any use of electric current for communication. Absurdly overbroad claims like these would not be allowed, right? Unfortunately, the Patent Office does not do a good job of policing overly broad claims. August’s Stupid Patent of the Month, U.S. Patent No. 8,788,090, is a stark example of how these claims promote patent trolling.

A patent troll called Rothschild Connected Devices Innovations, LLC (“RCDI”) owns a family of patents on a system of customizing products. Each of these patents stems from the same 2006 application. The idea is simple: connect some kind of product mixer to the Internet and allow users to make custom orders. The application suggests using the system to make beverages or shampoo.

Here’s how the application describes the invention:

The system and method of the present disclosure enables a user, e.g., a consumer, to customize products containing solids and fluids by allowing a server communicating over the global computer network, e.g., the Internet, to provide product preferences of a user to a product or a mixing device, e.g., a product or beverage dispenser.

Even in 2006, this was a spectacularly mundane idea. The application did not disclose any new networking technology. Nor did it reveal any new beverage-making technology. It just connects a product mixer to the Internet. Any claim to such a humdrum combination should be found invalid as obvious.

All of the patents in this family are pretty silly. But it gets worse. RCDI’s most recently granted patent, U.S. Patent No. 8,788,090, includes an extremely broad claim. Claim 1 purports to cover any system where a “remote server” “transmits” a “product preference” to a product via a “communication module.” This is madness. RCDI is effectively claiming to have invented the idea of remote configuration ? in 2006. Even if other claims in this patent family are valid (something we doubt), the Patent Office should never have allowed this claim.

Taking an extremely broad view of this patent claim, RCDI has sued a collection of companies, including ADT, Cisco, Protect America, OnStar, and Rain Bird. It seems that any company that sells products that connect to the Internet is at risk. For example, in its complaint against ADT, RCDI states that a system that allows customers to “remotely customize the operation” of a “thermostat” infringes its patent. Having supposedly invented an online beverage mixer, RCDI is now asserting its patent against the entire Internet of Things.

Even though it traces priority back to a 2006 parent application, this month’s stupid patent is not the product of some earlier, less diligent, era at the Patent Office. The “continuation” application that led to this patent was filed in March 2013 and the patent issued in July 2014. This illustrates how applicants use the continuation process (which allows them to file an unlimited number of new applications based on a previous patent application) to try to get ever broader claims issued. Too often, once the Patent Office issues one patent in a family, examiners are overly lenient allowing continuation applications. This month’s winner likely would have never issued if the examiner had diligently applied KSR v. Teleflex‘s prohibition on obvious combinations.

There will be no prize for guessing where RCDI has filed all of its litigation: the Eastern District of Texas. We recently explained that the Eastern District is the venue of choice for trolls. Its unique, plaintiff-friendly rules make it easier for trolls to use the cost of defense to extort settlements, even when the underlying case is weak.

We need broad patent reform to stop abusive patent litigation. We need ligation reform (including venue reform) that makes patent trolling less attractive. We also need reform at the Patent Office so that it doesn’t issue terrible patents like this in the first place. Contact your representative and tell them to pass patent reform.

Reposted from EFF’s Deeplinks

Filed Under: , , , ,
Companies: rcdi, rothschild connected devices innovations

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Comments on “From Internet Connected Drink Mixer To Any Remote Configuration On The Internet: August's Stupid Patent Of The Month”

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OldMugwump (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: RIdiculous

Corporations are run by people.

Like all people, some have a sense of fairness, some don’t.

The problem is that business schools teach that fairness has no place in corporate management. So those with a sense of fairness get talked out of it (most of them), and those with a sense of fairness don’t get hired for management positions (because biz school said that’s inappropriate).

The problem is mostly with “professional” managers – they’re the ones with the MBAs.

Business schools are evil.

Corporations run by founders and family usually show a sense of fairness.

David says:

Executive privilege!

Well, Obama could invoke his executive privileges and eradicate East Texas with drone strikes.

That would likely do more for the welfare of the U.S. than drone strikes in Pakistan, and the NSA has made abundantly clear that primarily pursuing economic goals with the privileges gained by invoking the terrorism bogey man is perfectly fine.

blue skies (profile) says:

Wow. Just wow.

I can remember that the company I work for used to have a gimmick at seminars etc they attended: one of them automatic orange juice makers connected to the internet via a plc or something. Customers attending the seminar could place an order for orange juice days in advance, via internet. It was a nice commercial thingy promoting our ERP software.
And this was at the end of the 20th century.

So how can this patent be innovative when even last century it was nice and gimmicky but not really actually new-new??

[blasé fashionistavoice]
oh that is sooooo last century
[/blasé fashionistavoice]

Lisboeta (profile) says:

Say again?

“remote server” “transmits” a “product preference” to a product via a “communication module”. I thought that model had been in common usage for decades? How can it now be patentable?

Anyway, I’m about to submit a patent on a “means of transmitting alphanumeric and other characters, whether by physical or virtual input, to any computer or other electronic device”. That should cover it all, I think.

jilocasin (profile) says:

Hasn't this been done.... a long time ago...?

Back when the internet was new, college kids were already seeing what products they could connect to the internet.

From Carnegie Mellon University back in 1982, when you could finger an internet connected Coke machine [ ] and by 1995 MIT was doing it [ ].

Heck, back in 1998 RFC 2324 was published. For those out there who aren’t intimately familiar with RFC’s it’s the Hyper Text Coffee Pot Control Protocol (HTCPCP/1.0) [ ]

So it’s not just obvious, it’s actually been published for _deities_ sake.

Anonymous Coward says:

Wishful thinking

…RCDI has sued a collection of companies, including ADT, Cisco, Protect America, OnStar, and Rain Bird…

Too bad all these companies’ internet connected devices couldn’t be turned against RCDI. Do you really want to be the patent holder for something(s) that can blockade your communications? Or turn your office into a 120 degree F sauna? Or water your lawn on an illegal watering day (yes some cities have that)? Or automatically place an order for perishable groceries that you won’t be able to use in a few days? Or turn a powerpoint presentation into a porn movie?

Oh this internet of things is bringing up all sorts of possibilities!

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