Stupid Patent Of The Month: Storing Files In Folders

from the universities-feeding-patent-trolls dept

Our ongoing Reclaim Invention campaign urges universities not to sell patents to trolls. This month’s stupid patent provides a good example of why. US Patent No. 8,473,532 (the ‘532 patent), “Method and apparatus for automatic organization for computer files,” began its life with publicly-funded Louisiana Tech University. But in September last year, it was sold to a patent troll. A flurry of lawsuits quickly followed.

Louisiana Tech sold the ‘532 patent to Micoba LLC, a company that has all the indicia of a classic patent troll. Micoba was formed on September 8, 2016, just a few days before it purchased the patent. The patent assignment agreement lists Micoba’s address as an office building located in the Eastern District of Texas where virtual office services are provided. As far as we can tell, Micoba has no purpose other than to sue with this patent.

So what does Micoba’s newly acquired patent cover? Claim 13 reads:

A computer system comprising a processor, memory, and software for automatically organizing computer files into folders, said software causing said computer system to execute the steps comprising:

a.   providing a directory of folders, wherein substantially each of said folders is represented by a description;

b.   providing a new computer file not having a location in said directory, said computer file being represented by a description;

c.    comparing said description of said computer file to descriptions of a plurality of said folders along a single path from a root folder to a leaf folder; and

d.   assigning said computer file to a folder having the most similar description.

In other words, put files into folders that contain similar files. Do it on a “computer system” (in case you were worried office workers from the 1930s might have infringed this patent).

For a software patent, the ‘532 patent is unusually free of patent jargon and pseudo-technical babble. Its specification (this is the description of the invention that comes before the claims) does describe a method for determining when the contents of a file match a folder description. The patent proposes representing folders and files as vectors (which should reflect the frequency of particular words found within). The patent suggests assessing similarity by calculating the dot product of these vectors. But, even assuming this was a new idea when the application was filed in 2003, many of the patent’s claims are not limited to this method. The patent effectively captures almost any technique for automatically sorting digital files into folders.

The ‘532 patent issued in June 2013, about a year before the Supreme Court’s decision in Alice v. CLS Bank. In that case, the Supreme Court held that an abstract idea (like sorting files into folders) does not become patentable simply because it is implemented on a computer. The ‘532 patent should be found invalid under this standard. In our view, this patent has no value after Alice except as a litigation weapon.

Louisiana Tech represents that it “seeks industrial partners to commercialize the technology developed at Louisiana Tech for the benefit of society.” But it completely failed to consider this public interest mission when it sold the ‘532 patent to Micoba. Within two months of the sale, Micoba had filed nearly a dozen cases in the Eastern District of Texas, suing companies like SpiderOak and Dropbox, alleging they infringed at least claim 13 of the ‘532 patent. Instead of benefiting society, Louisiana Tech unleashed a torrent of wasteful litigation.

According to RPX, Micoba is associated with IP Edge, which itself is associated with eDekka (the biggest patent troll of 2014) and Bartonfalls (the winner of our October 2016 Stupid Patent of the Month for its patent on changing the channel). Bartonfalls’ trolling campaign recently collapsed when a judge ruled that its patent infringement contentions were “implausible on their face.” If RPX is correct that these companies are connected, Louisiana Tech has hitched its wagon to one of the biggest trolling operations in the nation.

EFF’s Reclaim Invention project was launched to stop universities from feeding patent trolls like this. The project includes a Public Interest Patent Pledge for universities to sign stating that they will not sell their patents to trolls. We also drafted a model state law to help ensure that state-funded universities don’t sell their inventions to patent trolls. You can ask your university to sign the pledge.

Reposted from EFF’s Stupid Patent of the Month series.

Filed Under: , , ,
Companies: edekka, louisiana tech, micoba

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Comments on “Stupid Patent Of The Month: Storing Files In Folders”

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Mat (profile) says:


So how much of this could we halt by simple new rule of this: Only someone (corporation or otherwise) who helped fund the research that lead to the patent in the first place may buy a public institutions patents. Otherwise they either remain with the institution, or are placed into the public domain.

Also, in the case of this -specific- patent I counter with prior art: Winamp has been doing this for ripped CD files since the late 90s or so.

David says:

Here's your mistake:

Instead of benefiting society, Louisiana Tech unleashed a torrent of wasteful litigation.

We are talking about patent lawyers here. They don’t see this as a contradiction.

Modern societies are built around respect of the law as the unchallengeable boundary condition of every transaction, and you don’t learn respect of the law specifically if it is indistinguishable from common sense: that way lies lawlessness.

Anonymous Coward says:

Don't hire graduates from Lousiana Tech University

Hit the universities where it hurts:

SpiderOak and DropBox should openly pledge to actively not hire any graduates from univerisities that sell patents to trolls.

Keep that pledge up until latech signs the Public Interest Patent pledge.

Lather rinse repeat with other univerisities

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:


So this process decides where to put my file. I want it to be in a new directory that I created for some project. The system decides it belongs in another directory because there are like files for other projects in that directory, and moves it there. The next day I go to work on my file, and I cannot find it where I placed it, where I wanted it to be. My new file is never seen again. This is progress?

Also, every browser has some system for putting newly downloaded files…someplace, often defaulted to a directory called…Downloads. Are these fools going to sue every browser maker as well?

Anonymous Coward says:

The author of this article is getting drunk on his own wine. He mocks the patent without any attempt to analyze the entirety of its disclosure, declares it to be an abstract idea without any attempt whatsoever to detail how he arrives at his conclusion, and then promptly declares it invalid under Alice because he says so. This is a clear case of intellectual dishonesty.

Now, perhaps there is a modicum of merit to his droning on about trolls, but his argument loses all its persuasive force by his abject failure to clearly articulate a cogent legal analysis of the patent.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Since you appear to take offense at any critique of the author and his article, perhaps you would be so kind as to explain how exactly the subject matter of this particular patent is an “abstract idea” as that term has been used by the Supreme Court to strike down numerous types of patents under Section 101, versus the traditional Sections 102, 103 and 112 to Title 35. The author said nothing useful in his multitude of paragraphs concerning the patent to help others understand why in his view the patent was invalid under Section 101. Why don’t you try to lend him a hand?

Anonymous Coward says:

I think people labor under a misunderstanding of what both private and public universities are. They are businesses that fund research and expect returns on those investments and it doesn’t matter where that money comes from, government agencies, private donations and endowments, or tuition. If some students are educated along the way, then that’s good for PR and their research is also part of that hoarding of research results and the funds that flow into their coffers.

Universities don’t actually need students to exist, they’re research grist mills churning out patents, copyrighted works, and various licensing products on their brands from athletics and “school spirit” – and yes a university’s name is a brand just like Coca-Cola, McDonalds, or Microsoft. They are for-profit institutions without having to actually make a profit, or return their investors’ moneys in any shape or form.

For them to stop seeking and selling patents – even stupid ones – isn’t going to stop until A) Congress requires all publicly funded research to be released without royalty, patent, or copyright for the public that funded it, B) Universities stop putting profit above education, C) Demolish the publish-or-die requirements, D) Eradicate tenured positions where jackasses sit on their asses and pontificate their pet theories that often have no relationship to modern research or resemblance of theme to the topic being taught. For D you require funding salaries competitive to the industries involved in the same fields to replace the tenured faculty.

That last one is a big problem with college education. There were several professors at the university I attended that were so detached from current research and methods or such horrible teachers that students tried to avoid their classes at all cost when possible. A few others that often taught the same topic no matter the actual subject matter of the course. They couldn’t be fired because they had tenure.

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