Legal Issues

by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
cd-rom, gps, multimedia, patents, search

encyclpaedia britannica

Encyclopaedia Britannica Fails In Attempt To Revive Infamous Multimedia Patent

from the the-sum-of-all-human-knowledge dept

Last year, we pointed out how rather ironic it seemed that a company like Encyclopaedia Britannica, who is supposed to be in the business of spreading knowledge, would sue GPS makers for patent infringement. However, at the time, we were unaware of the history of the patents in question. Joe Mullin, over at The Prior Art, has the full story, including the fact that the case relied on a rather infamous patent, that gave many folks a preview of future patent battles to come.

The patent in question was about doing searches on CD-ROMs and was granted in 1993. The original patent holder, Compton's, claimed that: "Everything that is now multimedia and computer-based utilizes this invention," and noted, of course, that basically everyone in the industry now owed it money. The outcry over this was so great that the commissioner of the patent office initiated a re-exam by himself, eventually getting all of the claims of the patent rejected. However, with some back and forth, eventually greatly narrowed claims were approved in 2001. In 2005, EB, who had taken control over the patent (it had been an investor in Compton's) decided that the patent applied to GPS systems, even though it's pretty clear that the patent had nothing to do with GPS systems.

After a few more years of battling, the good news is that a court has, once again, found the patent to be invalid, more or less (hopefully) closing the book on this patent, but demonstrating how the patent system has been misused yet again. The original patent was clearly way too broad, and it took years to get that worked out. And, then, even the eventually-allowed patent was asserted against totally different systems, only to finally be brought down years later. While some patent system defenders may suggest that the system works, since the eventual outcome was okay, there was an awful lot of time, money and effort wasted on all of this that could have gone towards actual innovation.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    David E. Y. Sarna, Nov 17th, 2008 @ 6:27pm

    Compton Patent

    Not only was there an "awful lot of time, money and effort wasted" on defending against a facially invalid patent, but such groundless and ultimately futile attempts to extract money through a tactic of stating the obvious and then attempting to patent it and seeks royalties has the really negative consequence of stifling innovation, and (as is the case in the UK), the losers should need to pay the winners defense costs, which will help put the brakes on such on such naked greed.

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

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 17th, 2008 @ 8:12pm

    Where are all the apologists to defend this righteous patent ?

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

  3. identicon
    Workingindust, Nov 18th, 2008 @ 12:02am

    But look who got paid anyway

    'eventual outcome was okay, there was an awful lot of time, money and effort wasted'

    Very true but win, lose or draw it was the lawyers who got paid

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

  4. identicon
    Scott Lithgow, Nov 18th, 2008 @ 10:50am

    Money Talks

    The system works fr large companies with deep pockets but companies that can not afford to risk a possible loss loose out.

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

  5. identicon
    dinnerbell, Nov 19th, 2008 @ 11:35am

    stop the shilling!!!

    you miss the point. without the patent system there would be precious little contributed to innovation. look at the way things stood prior to the US Constitution and patent system. In over 3000 years of “civilization” and central governmental control the mode of living for the masses was largely unchanged...until the US patent system.

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

  6. identicon
    Russell Jenkins, Jan 6th, 2009 @ 6:00pm

    Encyclopaedia Britannica

    Encyclopaedia Britannica is probably going broke and therefore is likely to take legal action over anything that might result in generating some revenue for the ailing company. A pity. Its business model has been hit hard by the internet and the success of Wikipedia

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

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