Infamous Niro JPEG Patent Smacked Down Again

from the and-again-and-again-and-again dept

Lawyer Raymond Niro, for whom the term "patent troll" was apparently first coined, has been known to use the fact that he represents a company called Global Patent Holdings (GPH) to his advantage. GPH owns patent 5,253,341, but looking at it there won't do much good. You see, Niro and others claimed that the patent covered pretty much anyone running a web server, leading to quite a few legal battles, including one against a guy, Greg Aharonian, who called it a "bad patent." For claiming that, he got sued for patent infringement. In fighting the patent, it was re-examined, and all 16 of its claims were rejected... but a 17th claim was added and allowed to stand.

Since then the patent has been asserted against a wide range of organizations, including some resort in Florida and the Green Bay Packers. Niro appears to claim that any site using a JPEG image violates the patent. Not only that, but in cases where the patent has been asserted, Niro has been known to go for something of a sympathy play, by noting that the inventors (or the widow of one inventor) named on the patent are "old and feeble" (yes, they called them feeble) and made almost no money in 2006 (even though the filing was in 2008 -- some noted that their 2007 income was conveniently left out).

With so many cases involving this patent underway, the USPTO agreed to re-examine the one claim (claim 17). And, with that re-exam going on, a judge on one of the cases put the case on hold until the re-exam is done. While GPH protested, claiming that the patent had already been re-examined (and that the re-exam process took too long), the judge pointed out that there's only one claim left (so it should be faster) and that this particular claim had never been re-examined, since it was added during the last re-exam.

Last summer, the USPTO gave an initial (non-final) rejection of the patent, in rather strong language. Not surprisingly, GPH/Niro have pushed back, but in early June the USPTO appears to have smacked down the patent all over again in this rather lengthy ruling, which you can see below:
The smackdown here is rather complete. On top of reaffirming the 19 reasons for rejecting the remaining claim, the examiner added more reasons to reject it for being obvious and anticipated by other inventions. Also, it appears that GPH/Niro tried to do something similar to last time, in that they also submitted some new claims to be added (claims 18 - 21), but the examiner smacked those down as well, as attempts to "broaden the scope" of the patent. On top of that, the rejects scolds GPH/Niro for mischaracterizing what the patent office has said and even using a "biased" expert witness with "flip-flopping declarations."

This is, still, a non-final rejections, but it doesn't look like GPH/Niro has been able to make up any ground at all on this particular fight, and, in fact, seems to be getting pushed further and further back with each try. This particular patent expires in March of 2011 anyway, so unless Niro is able to pull a proverbial rabbit out of the hat to convince the USPTO that this patent is vaild, it's not looking very good.

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