Spam Filtering? Patented! 36 Companies Sued

from the uh... dept

These kinds of lawsuits are coming fast and furious again these days. Glyn Moody points us to the news that 36 companies have been sued for patent infringement in Marshall, Texas (of course) for supposedly violating a patent (6,018,761) on spam filtering. The companies sued represent a who's who of corporate America, including Apple, Google, HP, RIM, Citigroup, Capital One, Alcatel Lucent, AIG, AOL, JP Morgan Chase, McAfee, Symantec, Yahoo, IBM and many others.

The patent itself is rather simple. So simple, I can repeat the entire claims section right here (not the abstract, the actual claims). Also, note how many typos there are. You would think, in such a short patent, someone would have caught typos like "usinig," "processine" and "usefiul.":
What is claimed is:
  1. A method of obtaining context information about a sender of an electronic message using a mail processing comprising the steps of:

    scanning the message, usinig the mail processine program to determine if the message contains a reference in a header portion of the message to at least one feature of the sender's context, wherein the sender's context is information about the sender or the message that is usefiul to the recipient in understanding more about the context in which the sender sent the message;
    if the message contains such reference, using the mail processing program and such reference to obtain [sender] the context information from a location external to the message;
    if the message does not contain such reference, using the mail processing program and information present in the message to indirectly obtain the [sender] context information using external reference sources to find a reference to the [sender] context information.

  2. The method of claim 1, wherein the reference to at least one feature is a reference to a location where context information is stored.

  3. The method of claim 1, wherein the reference to at least one feature is a hint usable to retrieve a location where context information is stored.
How could someone possibly approve this as a patent? This is about as basic a filter as you can imagine. Someone should sue the USPTO for fraud on America for approving this patent.

In the meantime, the press release announcing the lawsuit is funny as well. The lawyers claim "the company's patent is one of the building blocks for all email communications. InNova's complaint alleges that the defendant companies have used InNova's invention without permission for years." Please, don't make everyone laugh. It is not one of the "building blocks for all email communications." It's a basic filter that any first year programmer could have written in no time flat.

Oh, but it gets better:
"Email as we know it would essentially stop working if it weren't for InNova's invention," says Mr. Banys... "More than 80 percent of email is spam, which is why companies use InNova's invention rather than forcing employees to wade through billions of useless emails. Unfortunately, the defendants appear to be profiting from this invention without any consideration for InNova's legal patent rights."
First of all, actual spam filtering is a hell of a lot more sophisticated than the methods in this patent, and the idea that email would stop working without this patent existing is pretty laughable. This is such a basic concept that it boggles the mind that anyone thought it was patentable.

While the initial link above refers to InNova as a "Texas company," as per usual, it appears to be such in name only. There is no information as to who's actually behind the company, but it seems likely they're not based in Texas. The only reason the company is "based in Texas" is to file a lawsuit in Marshall. At the very least, InNova does have a very simple website where it pretends that it actually does something and has a "portfolio" of patents. Except, if you dig deeper, you see it's just this single patent. But my favorite part of the webpage is this opening paragraph:
Ours is a world of technology, where companies are measured, by their customers, their competitors and the media, by the quality, utility and innovation of their products. Because no single company has a lock on innovation, InNova Patent Licensing LLC offers medium- and large enterprises creative solutions to the problem of staying relevant in today's business climate.
InNova has no customers, competitors or products. All it has is a painfully ridiculous patent. And it's trying to lock down innovation. What a joke.

Filed Under: patents, spam filtering
Companies: google, rim, yahoo


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Jul 2010 @ 1:34pm

    Re: spam

    The patent examiner.

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