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Configuring A Product Online? Patented! Lots Of Companies Sued

from the encouraging-innovation,-huh? dept

Would you believe that the concept of allowing people to configure a product online before ordering it has been patented? Indeed, just such a patent is at the center of a new lawsuit filed by some unknown patent hoarding company (amazingly not filed in Marshall, Texas!) against Hyundai, Michelin, Reebok, Puma and Polo Ralph Lauren for daring to offer a feature on their websites that let people configure products before ordering. This was hardly a unique or new idea at the time the patent was filed and it's difficult to see why it ever was issued -- yet here we are. And people still think the patent system doesn't need reform?

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Darquirrin, Sep 7th, 2007 @ 1:06am


    I think the subject says it all.

    This is just another in a long list of reasons why the current patent system needs to be taken out behind the barn and shot through the head... with buckshot.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    plugh, Sep 7th, 2007 @ 2:00am


    You would probably be sued - by Al Capone's descendants - for patent infringement ... 8)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Clair, Sep 7th, 2007 @ 2:08am

    What on earth?

    This seems too silly, IMHO. This is too much already, really. If people keep suing for patent infringement, everything we do would be tantamount to infringing on yet another patent!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Marcos, Sep 7th, 2007 @ 2:24am


    Patents should only be granted on extremely innovative and revolutionary technology.

    Palm Estates

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    x, Sep 7th, 2007 @ 2:41am

    even slightly innovative technology would be an improvement

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Paul, Sep 7th, 2007 @ 4:15am

    "This is just another in a long list of reasons why the current patent system needs to be taken out behind the barn and shot through the head... with buckshot."

    You can't do that!

    It has already been patented. What is more, suggesting it has been patented. So Darquirrin, expect demands for money any time now.

    The above is humour but the way things are going it may soon be close to the truth. What a sad world we live in.

    Hang on, I have an idea. I think I will patent "Creating ludicrous patents for the purpose of extorting money" and then go after the people screwing up the system. If the subject of this article is an example of the things the idiots at the patent office permit then it might actually work.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    just me, Sep 7th, 2007 @ 4:33am

    This is a normal every day occurrence online. Obvious you must be allowed to pick and choose on products, and to sue because you have a patent on this is just ludicrous.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    tarnis, Sep 7th, 2007 @ 4:46am

    Has anyone considered patenting the system in which patents are filed? That would get the patent offices attention.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    You are next, Sep 7th, 2007 @ 4:53am

    I just obtained a patent on posting blogs pertaining to patent infringment, and also commenting on said posts.

    My lawyer will be contacting you all shortly.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 7th, 2007 @ 5:01am

    I patented you mom.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    You, Sep 7th, 2007 @ 5:18am

    so why doesn't one of the above companies (Hyundai, Michelin, Reebok, Puma and Polo Ralph Lauren)just patent the concept of suing for patent infringements?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 7th, 2007 @ 5:24am

    Yeah let's make patent system where everyone can own the most ridiculous ideas/inventions ever without proving they are the creator or legitimate owner and then allow them to sue anyone based on the fact that they didn't prove ownership. Oh wait, that's where we are at now...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Brwyatt, Sep 7th, 2007 @ 6:19am

    wow.... there goes all the computer manufacturers

    This opens up almost EVERY computer manufacturer.... Apple, Dell.... jesh.... every one uses this so u can decide: 1GB or 2GB of ram? 160GB of 320GB HDD? 1.5GHz or 2.21?

    Y dont we just do "everyone vs everyone" like they did in southpark and get it overwith

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    barren, Sep 7th, 2007 @ 6:44am


    Now this I can agree with. Yes, the current system could use some reform. I just don't agree with the thought of getting rid of it entirely. It's already to easy to exploit people who have little to no knowledge of business. It needs to be shaken out a little, brought back to what it was designed to do. Protect the little guys from the big guys with more money than morals.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Paul, Sep 7th, 2007 @ 7:17am

    Only in the USA?

    So what is different in the USA? Is it the patent system? Is it the "I'm gona sue" mentality?

    It seems that the system works reasonably well in just about every other country on this planet. Maybe the government aught to step in as it is making the country look like a joke to the rest of the world. From the outside you get the impression that every American citizen is likely to end up in court due to some ridiculous reason at least once during their lives. Maybe you should just shoot every lawyer in the country and start again?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. icon
    Jason Hobbs (profile), Sep 7th, 2007 @ 7:49am


    I'm going to patent 'patent infringement lawsuits' and then every time this happens... KA-CHING! boo yah my friend, boo yah.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Sir CrazyPunk, Sep 7th, 2007 @ 7:52am

    What The HECK

    This way of patenting things has gone waaaaaay to far. Everything seems to be patented nowadays, up to the location of the buttons in a web browser.

    What situation does this create? One where people have a great idea but can't execute it because A - someone who's never going to really execute it anyway already patented the idea itself so he/she/it can sue whoever thinks of it next and B - many people just can't afford to buy a share of those patents. So many great, great idea's go to waste before the creator can even start gathering the resources needed for it.

    What's the point of patenting every lousy bit anyway? It should be plain forbidden. The ones who engage in such activities should be sued for 'patents rape'. I agree that certain idea's just have to be put in a safe spot, like a whopping new car technology, an actually working antigravity device or a new type of video screen. But then there are the kinds of patents which simply should never have been put safe in the first place, like the before mentioned locations of webbrowser button, storylines for books or raw materials used for building something. If this keeps going like the way it does now we can just forget our gift of innovation and sit down in our murky rooms complaining about how everything still sucks.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Jim, Sep 7th, 2007 @ 7:57am

    So my little company that allowed the user to configure the PC (with hard drive, video card, etc) to see the total price and order is something I should have patent? My company might have made more money!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    pseudocyber, Sep 7th, 2007 @ 8:03am

    If you say so ... here's the abstract, and I really don't get what its about - but I can see how the patent office didn't really see the point of it - in using it for online configuration, but i guess that's the point - to make it kind of vague and then expand it to encompass all kinds of things and start the suing, hoping something sticks.
    A computer system is used for managing product knowledge related to products offered for sale by a selling entity. The computer system includes a memory arrangement with at least one processing unit being coupled to the memory arrangement. The computing system defines a data model to describe relationships between data categories. A data instance is input to the computer system that corresponds to one or more of the data categories. The data instance represents at least part of the product knowledge. The computer system can also create a user-defined relationship item for the data instance and present the product knowledge to a user of the system in a manner established by the data model and the user-defined relationship. The product knowledge that is presented by the computing system includes information that corresponds to the data instance.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    John, Sep 7th, 2007 @ 8:40am

    They forgot pizza.

    Papa Johns lets you customize your pizza before ordering it online...

    Sue the shit out of everyone, because that will better the market... or something right?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    John Strickland, Sep 7th, 2007 @ 8:42am

    Oh shit!

    Someone, quick! Patent "Patent Hoarding"! Then sue the shit out of the people suing!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    Ben, Sep 7th, 2007 @ 8:46am

    I'm surprised

    that they aren't sueing nike aswell.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    DocRings, Sep 7th, 2007 @ 8:56am

    Wow... I wonder who ever patented the old-fashioned paper version of the customization checklist? They are overdue for trillions of dollars!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    B, Sep 7th, 2007 @ 9:46am

    Is It Time?

    I think it's time we patent the patent system, and sue it until it is reformed.
    Although it isn't entirely the patent system's fault. It's the "I'm going to sue you because I can" mentality. The patent office just needs to step up their research. That's all.
    These tech patents are all wordy and vague, so the patent office might have let it slip just because they didn't understand them. But because of that, silly patents were allowed to slip through the cracks.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    Sir CrazyPunk, Sep 7th, 2007 @ 10:04am

    Open Source Patents?

    Is there such a thing like "open source" patents?

    If not, maybe we should start our own little patents office where people can get their inventions written down with some sort of general public license attached to it. The creator still gets his honors, not by money but by recognition!

    Imagine seeing "invented by %name" on all the stuff you buy instead of the usual "made in %country". After you've seen the same name on a couple of things, you google for the name, you find some email addy, you mail whoever it is and he/she feels right about having invented something and gets encouraged to invent more kool stuffz. Or, you invented something that uses a part invented by %name, you use it, include their name in the "invented by" tag and viola, props for both. Personally, I would like that kind of recognition much, much more then getting $$$/having to sue to get my $$$ everytime someone uses my invention.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. identicon
    John, Sep 7th, 2007 @ 11:02am

    Maybe not the patent system

    I don't think it's so much the fault of the patent system as it is the entire legal system.

    In the US, there are no penalties for suing someone and losing. In other countries, if you lose the case, you're usually responsible for the other party's legal bill.

    But, here is the US, "suers" are actually rewarded for filing frivilous lawsuits, especially against big companies. Many times, these companies will simply settle out of court (for a huge sum of money) rather than getting bad publicity or risking a jury trial where jurors may be biased against "big business".

    Remember the case where the old lady sued McDonald's because she spilled hot coffee on her lap? The issue wasn't about why the coffee was on her lap or what she was doing at the time: the issue was whether McDonald's coffee was too hot (um, coffee's supposed to be hot) or whether there were "proper warnings" on the coffee cup.
    SO, McDondald's settles out of court (for millions of dollars) just to stop the bad publicity.

    What does this mean for patent hoarders? Basically that they can sue anyone for anything and they'll probably get some money, usually because the other company doesn't want to spend their money going to court.

    But, if the legal system forced every case to go to trial AND forced the loser to pay the winner's legal bills, then it would be a much larger risk for the suing company.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. identicon
    Avatar28, Sep 7th, 2007 @ 11:56am

    prior art?

    Considering that was the first e-commerce site to do over $1,000,000 in sales in 1997 I think it's a safe bet that the site had options to configure a product by that time.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 7th, 2007 @ 12:09pm

    Re: Maybe not the patent system

    McDonalds did not originally settle the case. They refused a settlement offer. The plaintiff was awarded damages by a Jury, damages were later reduced. At that point the parties entered settlement talks.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29. identicon
    Sanguine Dream, Sep 7th, 2007 @ 5:33pm

    Re: Maybe not the patent system

    I totally agree with you. It's now to the point where it is now a business strategy by small companies, large corporations, and patent hoarders/trolls that pass them off as businesses to sue for an outrageous amount of money in hopes that the victim will settle for less than the original suit but a large sum of money.

    Big companies that want to squeeze little guy out of existence do it.

    Small companies that are on the edge of bankruptcy do it.

    Failing companies that think the market owes them something do it.

    Patent hoarder/trolls (you know, the ones that are a group of people that patent something obvious then hire a group of lawyers to actively search for "violators") that want to get rich quick without really trying do it.

    I think that forcing a case to go to trial before ANY ACTION is taken (no more use of loopholes and other crap to get past the legal system either) would do a lot of good and penalties for the loser would help. And one more thing. There should be massive (even larger than losing) penalties for starting a lawsuit then suddenly dropping it and trying to get out of paying the legal fees of the party they sued.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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