HideLast Call: Our Black Friday weekend sale ends tonight! Shop now to save on all Techdirt gear »
HideLast Call: Our Black Friday weekend sale ends tonight! Shop now to save on all Techdirt gear »

From Internet Connected Drink Mixer To Any Remote Configuration On The Internet: August's Stupid Patent Of The Month

from the internet-of-patented-things dept

Imagine if the inventor of the Segway claimed to own "any thing that moves in response to human commands." Or if the inventor of the telegraph applied for a patent covering any use of electric current for communication. Absurdly overbroad claims like these would not be allowed, right? Unfortunately, the Patent Office does not do a good job of policing overly broad claims. August's Stupid Patent of the Month, U.S. Patent No. 8,788,090, is a stark example of how these claims promote patent trolling.

A patent troll called Rothschild Connected Devices Innovations, LLC ("RCDI") owns a family of patents on a system of customizing products. Each of these patents stems from the same 2006 application. The idea is simple: connect some kind of product mixer to the Internet and allow users to make custom orders. The application suggests using the system to make beverages or shampoo.

Here's how the application describes the invention:

The system and method of the present disclosure enables a user, e.g., a consumer, to customize products containing solids and fluids by allowing a server communicating over the global computer network, e.g., the Internet, to provide product preferences of a user to a product or a mixing device, e.g., a product or beverage dispenser.

Even in 2006, this was a spectacularly mundane idea. The application did not disclose any new networking technology. Nor did it reveal any new beverage-making technology. It just connects a product mixer to the Internet. Any claim to such a humdrum combination should be found invalid as obvious.

All of the patents in this family are pretty silly. But it gets worse. RCDI's most recently granted patent, U.S. Patent No. 8,788,090, includes an extremely broad claim. Claim 1 purports to cover any system where a "remote server" "transmits" a "product preference" to a product via a "communication module." This is madness. RCDI is effectively claiming to have invented the idea of remote configuration … in 2006. Even if other claims in this patent family are valid (something we doubt), the Patent Office should never have allowed this claim.

Taking an extremely broad view of this patent claim, RCDI has sued a collection of companies, including ADT, Cisco, Protect America, OnStar, and Rain Bird. It seems that any company that sells products that connect to the Internet is at risk. For example, in its complaint against ADT, RCDI states that a system that allows customers to "remotely customize the operation" of a "thermostat" infringes its patent. Having supposedly invented an online beverage mixer, RCDI is now asserting its patent against the entire Internet of Things.

Even though it traces priority back to a 2006 parent application, this month's stupid patent is not the product of some earlier, less diligent, era at the Patent Office. The "continuation" application that led to this patent was filed in March 2013 and the patent issued in July 2014. This illustrates how applicants use the continuation process (which allows them to file an unlimited number of new applications based on a previous patent application) to try to get ever broader claims issued. Too often, once the Patent Office issues one patent in a family, examiners are overly lenient allowing continuation applications. This month's winner likely would have never issued if the examiner had diligently applied KSR v. Teleflex's prohibition on obvious combinations.

There will be no prize for guessing where RCDI has filed all of its litigation: the Eastern District of Texas. We recently explained that the Eastern District is the venue of choice for trolls. Its unique, plaintiff-friendly rules make it easier for trolls to use the cost of defense to extort settlements, even when the underlying case is weak.

We need broad patent reform to stop abusive patent litigation. We need ligation reform (including venue reform) that makes patent trolling less attractive. We also need reform at the Patent Office so that it doesn't issue terrible patents like this in the first place. Contact your representative and tell them to pass patent reform.

Reposted from EFF's Deeplinks

Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: configure online, internet, internet of things, patents, stupid patent
Companies: rcdi, rothschild connected devices innovations


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • identicon
    Systema, 31 Aug 2015 @ 11:39pm

    RIdiculous

    I just can't understand the mindset of this group of people that think they'll make money by "owning" things they have just made up. It's a different thing if you just want to protect some really exact and special type of product, but not a whole concept, like the case is here.

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

    • icon
      OldMugwump (profile), 1 Sep 2015 @ 8:51am

      Re: RIdiculous

      That is the way our current law works.

      People are people - some of them don't have a sense of fairness, of the idea that in order to get paid you should supply some kind of *value*.

      But that's just how people are.

      The problem is the law.

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

      • identicon
        ryuugami, 1 Sep 2015 @ 9:50pm

        Re: Re: RIdiculous

        People are people - some of them don't have a sense of fairness, of the idea that in order to get paid you should supply some kind of *value*.

        Also, corporations are people, but they're psychopaths, so they don't have any sense of fairness.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 2 Sep 2015 @ 3:10am

          Re: Re: Re: RIdiculous

          The corporation made me do it sounds pretty close the the voices in my head made me do it, but with the advantage that it is often an acceptable excuse when used by the board members and employees.

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

        • icon
          OldMugwump (profile), 2 Sep 2015 @ 8:12am

          Re: Re: Re: RIdiculous

          Corporations are run by people.

          Like all people, some have a sense of fairness, some don't.

          The problem is that business schools teach that fairness has no place in corporate management. So those with a sense of fairness get talked out of it (most of them), and those with a sense of fairness don't get hired for management positions (because biz school said that's inappropriate).

          The problem is mostly with "professional" managers - they're the ones with the MBAs.

          Business schools are evil.

          Corporations run by founders and family usually show a sense of fairness.

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

  • icon
    Sheogorath (profile), 1 Sep 2015 @ 12:08am

    Hey, I've had the idea of accepting commissions for stories, then emailing the results to everyone I write something for. Can I get a patent on that since it's on the Internet? 9.9

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

  • identicon
    David, 1 Sep 2015 @ 12:58am

    Executive privilege!

    Well, Obama could invoke his executive privileges and eradicate East Texas with drone strikes.

    That would likely do more for the welfare of the U.S. than drone strikes in Pakistan, and the NSA has made abundantly clear that primarily pursuing economic goals with the privileges gained by invoking the terrorism bogey man is perfectly fine.

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

  • icon
    blue skies (profile), 1 Sep 2015 @ 2:03am

    Wow. Just wow.

    I can remember that the company I work for used to have a gimmick at seminars etc they attended: one of them automatic orange juice makers connected to the internet via a plc or something. Customers attending the seminar could place an order for orange juice days in advance, via internet. It was a nice commercial thingy promoting our ERP software.
    And this was at the end of the 20th century.

    So how can this patent be innovative when even last century it was nice and gimmicky but not really actually new-new??

    [blasé fashionistavoice]
    oh that is sooooo last century
    [/blasé fashionistavoice]

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

  • identicon
    Lisboeta, 1 Sep 2015 @ 5:25am

    Say again?

    "remote server" "transmits" a "product preference" to a product via a "communication module". I thought that model had been in common usage for decades? How can it now be patentable?

    Anyway, I'm about to submit a patent on a "means of transmitting alphanumeric and other characters, whether by physical or virtual input, to any computer or other electronic device". That should cover it all, I think.

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

    • icon
      Sheogorath (profile), 1 Sep 2015 @ 1:08pm

      Re: Say again?

      "remote server" "transmits" a "product preference" to a product via a "communication module".
      Oh, I get it now! RCDI obviously wants to squeeze money out of online shopping websites. Here's hoping they go after Amazon. ;)

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

  • icon
    jilocasin (profile), 1 Sep 2015 @ 5:55am

    Hasn't this been done.... a long time ago...?

    Back when the internet was new, college kids were already seeing what products they could connect to the internet.

    From Carnegie Mellon University back in 1982, when you could finger an internet connected Coke machine [ https://www.cs.cmu.edu/~coke/history_long.txt ] and by 1995 MIT was doing it [ http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/internet-coke-machine ].

    Heck, back in 1998 RFC 2324 was published. For those out there who aren't intimately familiar with RFC's it's the Hyper Text Coffee Pot Control Protocol (HTCPCP/1.0) [ https://www.rfc-editor.org/rfc/rfc2324.txt ]

    So it's not just obvious, it's actually been published for _deities_ sake.

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

  • identicon
    Eric, 1 Sep 2015 @ 7:25am

    "Communications Network"

    When the entire backbone of your invention is a puffy cloud reading "Communications Network", maybe you need to step back and evaluate what it is you actually think you invented.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Sep 2015 @ 9:20am

    Wishful thinking

    ...RCDI has sued a collection of companies, including ADT, Cisco, Protect America, OnStar, and Rain Bird...

    Too bad all these companies' internet connected devices couldn't be turned against RCDI. Do you really want to be the patent holder for something(s) that can blockade your communications? Or turn your office into a 120 degree F sauna? Or water your lawn on an illegal watering day (yes some cities have that)? Or automatically place an order for perishable groceries that you won't be able to use in a few days? Or turn a powerpoint presentation into a porn movie?

    Oh this internet of things is bringing up all sorts of possibilities!

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

  • identicon
    Ed, 1 Sep 2015 @ 4:02pm

    Why Troll?

    Is it time to label these people more correctly?
    A troll merely sows discord. These sort of patent abusers are actively trying to harm existing business for their own ends.
    I suggest calling them Patent Terrorists.
    Then sic Homeland Security onto them.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Sep 2015 @ 7:22pm

    Does substance even matter anymore?

    Patents such as the one above are like chains, they hold back progress.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Sep 2015 @ 2:57am

    I think we found Mark Syman...

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


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Close

Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Insider Shop - Show Your Support!

Essential Reading
Techdirt Insider Chat
Recent Stories

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it
Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.