Ridiculous Patent Troll Gets Stomped By CAFC, Just Months After Being Awarded A Huge Chunk Of Google's Ad Revenue

from the couldn't-have-happened-to-a-nicer-bunch dept

We've written a few times about Vringo, a patent troll (which got its name, and public stock status, from a reverse merger with a basically defunct public "video ringtone" company and a pure patent troll called I/P Engine). The company was using some very broad patents (6,314,420 and 6,775,664) to claim that Google and Microsoft were infringing based on how their search ad programs worked. In effect, Vringo, whose patents were at one time associated with Lycos, was trying to pull off another Overture move -- patenting a basic idea for search ads, and then cashing in from Google actually making it work. The case took a slight detour into the bizarre when Microsoft not only settled with Vringo for $1 million -- but also with a promise to pay 5% of whatever Google had to pay.

While the original ruling against Google in 2012 had the jury reject Vringo's request for nearly $700 million, and giving it "just" $30 million, in February of this year, a judge magically decided that 1.36% of all of Google's AdWords revenue (which is most of its revenue) belonged to Vringo.

Between February and now, however, something wonderful happened. That something wonderful was the Supreme Court's ruling in CLS Bank v. Alice. As we noted at the time, depending on how you read it, it certainly could be interpreted that nearly all software patents were invalid -- even as the ruling itself insisted that wasn't the case. Still, the early returns are promising, with CAFC (apparently finally getting the message) starting to smack down software patents.

So with the Vringo patents before CAFC, it appears they got the Alice treatment, with CAFC tossing them out as totally invalid for patenting a basic concept. The ruling focuses on how the ideas were obvious to those skilled in the art based on (a rather large amount of) prior art:
As the asserted patents themselves acknowledge, however, search engines, content-based filtering, and collaborative filtering were all well-known in the art at the time of the claimed invention.... The record is replete, moreover, with prior art references recognizing that content-based and collaborative filtering are complimentary techniques that can be effectively combined. The WebHound reference explains that “content-based and automated collaborative filtering are complementary techniques, and the combination of [automated collaborative filtering] with some easily extractable features of documents is a powerful information filtering technique for complex information spaces." ... The Fab reference likewise notes that “[o]nline readers are in need of tools to help them cope with the mass of content available on the World-Wide Web,” and explains that “[b]y combining both collaborative and content-based filtering systems,” many of the weaknesses in each approach can be eliminated.... Similarly, the Rose patent, which was filed in 1994 by engineers at Apple Computer, Inc., states that “[t]he prediction of relevance [to a user’s interests] is carried out by combining data pertaining to the content of each item of information with other data regarding correlations of interest between users."
The ruling laughs off Vringo's claims that its patents took things a step further by combining two ideas, pointing out that this was quite obvious at the time.

But the concurring opinion by Judge Mayer calls out the Alice ruling and the fact that this stuff isn't patentable in the first place:
Because the claims asserted by I/P Engine, Inc. (“I/P Engine”) disclose no new technology, but instead simply recite the use of a generic computer to implement a well-known and widely-practiced technique for organizing information, they fall outside the ambit of 35 U.S.C. § 101...

[....]

I/P Engine’s claimed system is merely an Internet iteration of the basic concept of combining content and collaborative data, relying for implementation on “a generic computer to perform generic computer functions.” ...

Moreover, the scope of the claimed invention is staggering, potentially covering a significant portion of all online advertising. I/P Engine’s asserted claims fall outside section 101 because their broad and sweeping reach is vastly disproportionate to their minimal technological disclosure.
That last line is a fun one.

Either way, it looks like the writing may be on the wall for software patent trolls. Vringo's stock collapsed after the ruling and some other public patent trolls also saw their stock drop. Couldn't happen to a more deserving group of leeches on innovation.

Filed Under: cafc, patent troll, search ads
Companies: alice, cls bank, google, ip engine, microsoft, vringo


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  1. icon
    Neo (profile), 18 Aug 2014 @ 6:51pm

    1. You call VRNG a patent troll. You clearly aren't aware that Ken Lang, the creator of the patents is actually the CTO at VRNG are you? He was the innovator, he is attempting to enforce his technology plain and simple so let's get past the angry third grade, less than intelligent media speak. We all get the attempts by the media to vilify this company.

    2. The decision by the CAFC flew in the face of law as per Chen's own dissent, as well as Mayer's OWN WORDS in the Highmark vs Allcare case. I suggest you read on that, and I anticipate VRNG lawyers will be utilizing Mayer's own words against him. In that case, similar to here, Mayer described the de novo review of factual determination (as is the case here with obviousness) as 'appellate overreach".

    3. This story is not over, VRNG will be filing for an En Banc review, whether they get it or not is another issue.

    4. What people should be concerned about is not a company that owns intellectual property simply trying to enforce its right to property (last time I check property rights are a pretty big part of a capitalist society), but rather the theft and use of that property from those with bigger wallets and monopoly power. There is a reason Google attempted (and thankfully failed) to have a patent bill passed through congress, because that would have legalized their theft of technology from small players that couldn't fight them. You see, while you may call VRNG a troll, they do play an important role in ensuring that big companies can't abuse the little guy. Unfortunately, many in our society are simpletons and hang on to whatever the media tells them, never think deeper into implications, just want to be part of the group think du jour.

    5. You may want to think about the implications to patent protection and IP in general, and resultant impact on small innovators if a judge can simply say, I don't agree with a multiple reviews by the USPTO, a District Court Judge, a jury (that according to his hubris is not capable of understanding) to simply wipe out someone's patents. Again, rather than discussing legal and technological implications of a decision you have written a fluff piece to simply either 'pile on' with the group.

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