Stupid Patent Of The Month: JP Morgan Patents Interapp Permissions

from the do-patent-agents-not-have-smartphones? dept

We have often criticized the Patent Office for issuing broad software patents that cover obvious processes. Instead of promoting innovation in software, the patent system places landmines for developers who wish to use basic and fundamental tools. This month’s stupid patent, which covers user permissions for mobile applications, is a classic example. 

On August 29, 2017, the Patent Office issued U.S. Patent No. 9,747,468 (the ‘468 patent) to JP Morgan Chase Bank, titled “System and Method for Communication Among Mobile Applications.” The patent covers the simple idea of a user giving a mobile application permission to communicate with another application. This idea was obvious when JP Morgan applied for the patent in June 2013. Even worse, it had already been implemented by numerous mobile applications. The Patent Office handed out a broad software monopoly while ignoring both common sense and the real world.

The full text of Claim 1 of the ‘468 patent is as follows:

A method for a first mobile application and a second mobile application on a mobile device to share information, comprising:

the first mobile application executed by a computer processor on a mobile device determining that the second mobile application is present on the mobile device;

receiving, from a user, permission for the first mobile application to access data from the second mobile application;

the first mobile application executed by the computer processor requesting data from the second mobile application; and

the first mobile application receiving the requested data from the second mobile application.

That’s it. The claim simply covers having an app check to see if another app is on the phone, getting the user’s permission to access data from the second app, then accessing that data. 

The ‘468 patent goes out of its way to make clear that this supposed invention can be practiced on any kind of mobile device. The specification helpfully explains that “the invention or portions of the system of the invention may be in the form of a ‘processing machine,’ such as a general purpose computer, for example.” The patent also emphasizes that the invention can be practiced on any kind of mobile operating system and using applications written in any programming language. 

How was such a broad and obvious idea allowed to be patented? As we have explained many times before, the Patent Office seems to operate in an alternate universe where the only evidence of the state of the art in software is found in patents. Indeed, the examiner considered only patents and patent applications when reviewing JP Morgan’s application. It’s no wonder the office gets it so wrong.

What would the examiner have found if he had looked beyond patents? It’s true that in mid-2013, when the application was originally filed, mobile systems generally asked for permissions up front when installing applications rather than interposing more fine-grained requests. But having more specific requests was a straightforward security and user-interface decision, not an invention. Structures for inter-app communication and permissions had been discussed for years (such as here, here, and here). No person working in application development in 2013 would have looked at Claim 1 of the ‘468 patent and think it was non-obvious to a person of ordinary skill.

JP Morgan’s “invention” was not just obvious, it had been implemented in practice. At least some mobile applications already followed the basic system claimed by the ‘468 patent. In early 2012, after Apple was criticized for allowing apps to access contact data on the iPhone, some apps began requesting user permission before accessing that data. Similarly, Twitter asked for user permission as early as 2011, including on “feature phones”, before allowing other apps access to its data. Since it didn’t consider any real world software, the Patent Office missed these examples.

The Patent Office does a terrible job reviewing software patent applications. Meanwhile, some in the patent lobby are pushing to make it even easier to get broad and abstract software patents. We need real reform that reduces the flood of bad software patents that fuels patent trolling.

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

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Companies: jp morgan

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Comments on “Stupid Patent Of The Month: JP Morgan Patents Interapp Permissions”

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That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

They complained patents were issued to slowly, so they decided to put everything on a fast track that avoids applying common sense.

Now we have patent warfare, making a bunch of lawyers very rich while adding nothing to society. Prices get jacked up because the patent office is amazed at the idea of 2 programs talking to each other on a computing device, or rounded rectangles, or any other obvious things that someone has twisted a patent on pencils to cover.

The “IP is the holy grail of our economy” is destroying it.
A bunch of shysters shaking down small companies over and over, and somehow this cabal of assholes are seen as more important than the rest of society.

Steerpike (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It’s possible. Doesn’t look like the file history is accessible yet, but once it is you can see the original claims they filed and what arguments, if any, they made with respect to the fact that this is implemented on a mobile device. Just putting it on a mobile device, however, should not be enough to get around a 103 (obviousness) rejection.

I’m interested to see the file history when available so I can see what prior art the examiner cited in this case. I suspect this is an invalidity waiting to happen.

Gene Cavanaugh (profile) says:

Stupid Patent of the Month

Okay – this sort of thing is why I dropped out of the IP business for 3-4 years. With Michelle Lee, I felt I wanted to come back – don’t need the money, which is why I charge so little – but love it, when done right.
But the outrage is misdirected. These people are the salt of the earth, but REQUIRED BY LAW to follow certain procedures, and the procedures are made by people who haven’t a clue, but love the feeling of power it gives them!
You want common sense? TELL LEGISLATORS to allow people who KNOW what they are doing to make the rules!

Steerpike (profile) says:

Re: Stupid Patent of the Month

Who is following the law here, the examiner? Sounds like the prior art search was done poorly. it’s not hard for an examiner to put together a rejection under 103. Once the file history is available we can see what actually happened, but this certainly looks to be the product of poor examiner, not procedures mandated by law.

The Wanderer (profile) says:

Re: Stupid Patent of the Month

Wait a moment. Are you saying that the law requires patent examiners to consider only prior patents (and patent applications) when looking for prior art – that it prohibits them from considering a broader scope, such as products in real-world use? Or even that the law requires them to follow procedures which themselves are not technically law, but which do include such a prohibition?

If either of those things is true, that would certainly seem to excuse the patent examiners, but I’d want to see a citation for such a law or procedure.

Steerpike (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Stupid Patent of the Month

It’s not true anymore, if it ever was. General internet searches can be, and are, done by patent examiners. I’ve received rejections under 103 based on internet search results.

Non-patent literature (NPL) generally is a valid source of prior art. People who say they are limited to search prior patents are mistaken.

MPEP section 904 explicitly provides for this: “The Internet is an Office-approved search tool that may be considered when planning and conducting a search for an application. The Internet provides the Office the opportunity to enhance operations by enabling patent examiners to efficiently locate and retrieve additional sources of information relating to a patent application.”

Section 901.06 deals specifically with non-patent publications.

Anonymous Coward says:

What makes a computer “mobile”? Where’s the dividing line between computer/power source combinations that can be picked up with a crane and loaded onto a flatcar (on the one extreme) and computer/power source combinations that can be injected into a heart muscle without causing debilitation damage (on the other extreme?) Where on that continuum is that conceptual difference that makes programming apps a completely different skill requiring reading a different textbook? Because, while I’ve never programmed either Cray boxen or pacemakers, I’ve worked on computers in most of the intervening sizes–and I never saw that great divide.

Anonymous Coward says:

>>What is mobile?

>It is defined, at least partially, within the patent application.

And how does the device being “mobile” (by any conceivable definition) impact the problem of apps communicating? That’s the logical equivalent of claiming that “counting” works differently on apples and on horses–because horses are “mobile”.

One can only imagine cave-men trying to puzzle out numbers: one-rock, two-rock, three-rock…OK, Ug. But what happen when rock move? Rocks don’t move, Zug. OK, Ug. But how count mammoth? No problem, Zug. Count uno-mammoth, dos-mammoth, tres-mammoth–see? Alla different words, except all secret, but Zug pay Ug big bucks to teach.

That sounds stupid. But cave-men apparently weren’t as stupid as patent examiners.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

If you define mobile based on size and/or extent of use on battery power, then such devices are designed to reduce or eliminate multi-tasking as much as possible due to excess power draw, generally less powerful processors and poor heat dissipation . Therefore, if your applications are highly security conscious you may want to (on a non-mobile device) store credentials in only one application and have the second actually continuously route through the first for any authentication needs. This would reduce security failure points (as a security flaw in the second app would not allow access to the actual login credentials), but would also necessitate that both apps be run in parallel for the second app to function, which leads to the above problems for mobile devices.

Is this what they actually claim? No idea, but I doubt it. Is it obvious? Yes. Has it been done prior to this patent? Yes. But a lot of things are actually done differently on mobile devices for many reasons, only a couple of which I mentioned.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

…which is precisely why people who are so cocksure that a patent is “bad” without having perused the file wrapper are almost always speaking from a position of ignorance. This case with its broad claims is unusual, but prudence dictates learning all relevant facts before declaring something that may ultimately be shown to have been made in haste.

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