Patent Owner Insists 'Integers' Do Not Include The Number One

from the patent-math dept

Patent trolls are a tax on innovation. The classic troll model doesn't include transferring technology to create new products. Rather, trolls identify operating companies and demand payment for what companies are already doing. Data from Unified Patents shows that, for the first half of this year, patent trolls filed 90% of the patent cases against companies in the high-tech sector.

Core Wireless Licensing S.A.R.L. is one of the patent trolls attacking the high-tech sector. Core Wireless is incorporated in Luxemburg, and is a subsidiary of an even larger troll, Canada-based Conversant. It owns a number of patents that were originally filed by Nokia. It has been asserting some of these patents in the Eastern District of Texas. In one case, a jury recently found that Apple did not infringe five of Core Wireless's patents. In another case, it is asserting eighteen patents against LG. One of its arguments in the LG case came to our attention as an example of what patent trolls think they can get away with.

In patent litigation, patent owners and alleged infringers often disagree about the meaning of words in patent claims and ask the court to resolve the differences (a process known as "claim construction"). In Core Wireless' case against LG, the majority of the disputes seem like usual ones in terms of patent litigation.

Except for the dispute about "integer."

You may have learned what an "integer" was in high school. It's a common concept many teenagers learn about when they take algebra. In Ontario, Canada, for example (where Conversant is based), teachers discuss integers in the 9th and 10th grades. As defined in the Ontario Curriculum, an integer is: "Any one of the numbers . . . , –4, –3, –2, –1, 0, +1, +2, +3, +4, . . . " Here's a PBSMathClub video with a helpful explanation:

It's pretty clear what an "integer" is. Here are a few more definitions from various sources, all confirming the same thing: "integers" are all of the whole numbers, whether positive or negative, including 0.

But Core Wireless, the patent owner, told the court that an "integer" is "a whole number greater than 1." Core Wireless is saying that not only are negative numbers not integers, neither are 0 or 1.

This is preposterous.

As one mathematician told us:

The integers are the natural numbers (whole numbers greater than zero), their negatives, and the number zero (very important). So saying that the integers are all whole numbers greater than one is a bit like saying that sweet and sour chicken is just sour sauce because you're missing its negative, and the chicken, which is very important. Or that a turducken is just turkey: we all know that the duck and the chicken are essential.

To be clear: the law allows patent applicants to redefine words if they want. But the law also says they have to be clear that they are doing that (and in any event, they shouldn't be able to do it years after the patent issues, in the middle of litigation). In Core Wireless' patent, there is no indication that it used the word "integer" to mean anything other than what we all learn in high school. (Importantly, the word "integer" doesn't appear in the patent anywhere other than in the claims.)

It appears that Core Wireless is attempting to redefine a word—a word the patent applicant freely chose—because presumably otherwise its lawsuit will fail. The Supreme Court has long disapproved of this kind of game playing. Back in 1886, it wrote:

Some persons seem to suppose that a claim in a patent is like a nose of wax which may be turned and twisted in any direction, by merely referring to the specification, so as to make it include something more than, or something different from, what its words express.

Just last year, the Supreme Court issued an opinion in a case called Nautilus v. Biosig Instruments emphasizing that patent claims must describe the invention with "reasonable certainty." Using a word with a well-known and precise definition, like "integer," and then insisting that this word means something else entirely is the very antithesis of reasonable certainty.

We hope the district court applies long-standing Supreme Court law and doesn't allow Core Wireless to invent a new meaning for "integer." Patent claims are supposed to provide notice to public. The public should not be forced to guess what meaning the patent owner might later invent for the claims, on penalty of infringement damages.

Ultimately, this is just one baseless argument in a bigger case. But it reveals a deeper problem with the patent litigation system. A patent owner wouldn't argue that "integer" doesn't include the number one unless it thought it might get away with it. The Patent Office and lower courts need to diligently apply the Supreme Court's requirement that claims be clear. We also need legislative reform to discourage parties from making frivolous arguments because they think they can get away with it. This should include venue reform to prevent trolls from clustering in the troll-friendly Eastern District of Texas.

Republished from the Electronic Frontier Foundation Deeplinks blog.

Filed Under: abstract ideas, integers, patents, software patents
Companies: core wireless


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  • icon
    Anonymous Monkey (profile), 5 Oct 2015 @ 2:14pm

    The Number 1

    .. So I'm safe because I'm the first comment and fall below the definition of an 'integer' ?

    ... wait .. nevermind .. my head just exploded

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

  • icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 5 Oct 2015 @ 2:15pm

    Wow. I really hope that's not the meaning of "integer". It means every computer program ever written would suddenly fail, as 0 and 1 are the most commonly used integer values ever.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Oct 2015 @ 2:23pm

    Wait, 'integer' is now a high school concept? I swear they taught that in early grade school.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Oct 2015 @ 2:25pm

      Re:

      Of what I remember of early grade and high school, the concept is taught at an early age, but it wasn't referred to as an "integer" until the relatively higher maths.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Anonymous Coward, 5 Oct 2015 @ 4:15pm

        Re: Re:

        So, when I was taught to count on my digits (fingers and toes) they really weren't integers but were just digits and the concept of nothing or negatives never existed? Cool, now explain black holes to me, mathematically.

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

    • icon
      Groaker (profile), 5 Oct 2015 @ 6:35pm

      Re:

      Like most fields there are multiple levels of understanding. As an example consider the proposition that 1+1=2. Probably learned by most children before they start kinder-garden. Yet its formal proof is usually not encountered until graduate levels in mathmatics. A fairly short proof (about 50 steps) of this can be found at:

      http://tachyos.org/godel/1+1=2.html?=$tag?%3E

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

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 6 Oct 2015 @ 6:10am

      Re:

      Yes, this was my thought as well. I remember learning about integers somewhere around the fifth or sixth grade.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Oct 2015 @ 2:23pm

    Don't be so hard on Core Wireless

    They're open to hearing any opinion on this case, so long as it isn't a negative one.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Oct 2015 @ 3:25pm

      Re: Don't be so hard on Core Wireless

      I think you mean they want any opinion that is doubleplus or greater.
      And not having an opinion is also not an option.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 5 Oct 2015 @ 3:35pm

        Re: Re: Don't be so hard on Core Wireless

        >I think you mean they want any opinion that is doubleplus

        Only if you give them to them incrementally.

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

    • identicon
      A non-e-mouse cowherd, 6 Oct 2015 @ 3:06pm

      Re: Don't be so hard on Core Wireless

      "They're open to hearing any opinion on this case, so long as it isn't a negative one."

      What about i^2?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Oct 2015 @ 2:24pm

    It's no secret that law school applicants rarely have a technical background, and are certainly not likely to learn anything more while in law school. So maybe they though it was "worth a shot" to try to slip this one by, because, who knows, judges are not unknown to rule in ways contrary to what most people with a decent understanding of the situation would think.

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

    • icon
      Bergman (profile), 6 Oct 2015 @ 11:12am

      Re:

      Yeah, except that to get into law school, they must have had at least passing grades in high school.

      If someone falsifies their high school grades to get into a university, would it invalidate the degree they got there due to not being there at all except for fraud?

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

  • identicon
    DCL, 5 Oct 2015 @ 2:24pm

    There is a ...

    Bill Clinton joke in here somewhere....

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

  • icon
    Nick (profile), 5 Oct 2015 @ 2:40pm

    I'd like to know how relying on the definition of integers being any number above 1 is a GOOD thing for their patent.

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

  • icon
    Wyrm (profile), 5 Oct 2015 @ 2:55pm

    Reading the argument...

    ... it's actually not so much "the definition of an integer" that is in discussion, but the discussion of a variable "n" that is only defined as "an integer" while the context implies that n is actually "an integer greater (and not equal) to 1".

    I really don't know how this is all relevant to the lawsuit, nor how much an "implied meaning" is worth in a trial, but the basic idea is that they don't seem to say "an integer is a whole number greater than 1", but "this specific value is an integer strictly greater than 1".

    It might be poorly worded in the patent application, but it's not exactly wrong here. I really hope the whole suit doesn't hang on this "definition", otherwise I'd be pretty much siding with the troll, as much as I don't like it.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Oct 2015 @ 3:24pm

      Re: Reading the argument...

      If Wyrm is correct on their interpretation then we are talking about an algebraic expression such as 'n+1'. This is an answer whose question did not contain enough information to come up with a definate number, or integer, as a correct answer. This conflicts with a patent's requirement for reasonable certainty, and thus should result in denial.

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

      • icon
        frank87 (profile), 6 Oct 2015 @ 1:45am

        Re: Re: Reading the argument...

        Wyrm is right. The discussion is about an "integer multiple".
        Negative, zero, and single multiples don't make any sense in most cases.
        But Anonymous Coward could have a point: If the context is very mathematical you are allowed to use them, and it should have been clarified.

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

    • identicon
      Dingledore the Flabberghaster, 6 Oct 2015 @ 2:44am

      Re: Reading the argument...

      I agree. Their argument doesn't appear to look to redefine the actual meaning of the word integer, only the variable description in their patent. They have described 'n' as an integer, and then said that values less than 2 won't work or make sense. The variable is still an integer, even if it doesn't accept any integer.

      If LG have (re)created a system where values less than 2 do work (rather than just rejecting or modifying values under 2), then it is arguably a different system. If they haven't, but are arguing the validity because of an overly abbreviated description, then I think they're being unfairly picky. Spirit of the law vs the word, etc. (Not arguing in favour of the laws here).

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 6 Oct 2015 @ 8:43am

        Re: Re: Reading the argument...

        LG are arguing that integers less than 2 don't make sense, so the claim is unclear and hence invalid.

        All the troll is saying is that the expert in the field (who the patent is aimed at) would understand that anything less than 2 wouldn't work, or contradicts other parts of the description, and would work it out for themselves. It doesn't seem that unreasonable.

        In the (understandable) rush to point and laugh at a troll, this post seems to me to be excessively one-sided in relation to the main point. It makes me wonder if I should be more skeptical about other posts here, but that would take effort.

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

    • icon
      Andrew Lopata (profile), 6 Oct 2015 @ 2:09pm

      Re: Reading the argument...

      Yes, in context, the argument is not ridiculous. But the relevant question is about claim construction and whether patent drafters must clearly an explicitly define the terms used within the patent if the meaning of the term is contrary to common usage. I think such a rule makes sense even if the way the term is used in context shows that it is highly likely (as it is here) that they meant something different than the usual definition. The less ambiguity in a patent, the better. This rule will (ideally) encourage narrower drafting and result in better patents.

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

  • icon
    Steerpike (profile), 5 Oct 2015 @ 3:41pm

    Patent attorneys have to have a technical background. They're usually engineers, but are also chemists, biologists, physicists, etc. They know what integers are. This sounds like a legal argument that was thought up well after the fact to try to distinguish the language in the patent, and not a very good argument.

    As noted in the post, you can define your own terms in a patent application. But you have to be explicit about what you're doing, and that you're not using the term in its ordinary sense. Also, you have to be explicit at the time you FILE the patent application, because the patent specification has to have a clear statement that you're redefining a term. You can't even do it a couple of months later when the patent is already pending.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Oct 2015 @ 5:03pm

    The Bill Clinton school of law?

    If you can wonder what the meaning of "is" is, I guess redefining an integer is ok too.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Oct 2015 @ 5:18pm

    did the train really exist?

    If the train leaves every hour, on the hour; or at :00 minutes, does the train really exist?

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Oct 2015 @ 8:24am

      Re: did the train really exist?

      My head really hurt when I read that part of their lawyers claims, I don't get what his point is at all!

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

  • identicon
    Glenn, 5 Oct 2015 @ 5:29pm

    Uhhh... I/we learned about integers in elementary school along with fractions (you know--readin', writin', and 'rithmetic).

    Maybe lawyers don't go to grammar school?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Oct 2015 @ 5:32pm

    Integer, Infringer, what's the difference?

    An integer is something with digits, like a hand.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Oct 2015 @ 5:44pm

    They're not integers

    1 is not an integer. Neither is 0. 1 and 0 are Booleans instead. Booleans are of course covered by a separate patent.

    Negative numbers aren't integers either, because they don't exist. Have you ever made a profit of -$50m? Of course not. And why not? Because negative numbers don't exist. That is, instead of -$50m profit, you instead have a $50m loss. See? No negative numbers!
    Corollary: A patent on negative numbers does exist.

    Finally, positive numbers also aren't integers. They're interchangeably either numerals or digits. This distinction is important, because it meant a company could apply for one patent on numerals and one patent on digits, and sue competitors for infringing both patents.

    Patent troll logic FTW!

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Oct 2015 @ 5:58pm

    Perhaps these trolls did not complete elementary school math. I have read that some states in the south are considering the removal of math as a requirement, perhaps they need jurors who support their wild assed claims.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Oct 2015 @ 6:01pm

    Copyright fanatics are horrible at math. That patent fanatics are likewise abysmal does not surprise me.

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

  • icon
    Spaceman Spiff (profile), 5 Oct 2015 @ 6:17pm

    So what happens?

    If they can claim rights over the number one, what about prior art, like the song "One is the loneliest number"? What if I write a new song, "Minus 9 is the best number there ever was"? Am I in violation of their rights?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Oct 2015 @ 8:10pm

    Good thing no one ever patented the number zero

    0.. the bridge between everything and nothing. Math wouldn't be recognizable without it.

    9+9=17.. not in this world!

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Oct 2015 @ 8:50pm

    A turducken says what?

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

  • icon
    TKnarr (profile), 5 Oct 2015 @ 8:53pm

    Reading what the lawyers actually said, it's LG's claim that 'integer' has the ordinary meaning that's nonsense. The patent is talking about "an integer multiple of the transmission time interval", symbolically "n * TTI". While a negative multiple is mathematically possible, when dealing with data transmission it's excluded (if you transmit packet 1 and then packet 2, packet 2 can't be transmitted at a time prior to packet 1's transmission). Similarly for a zero multipler, a device can't normally transmit 2 packets at the same time (and if it can, that's explicitly spelled out which it isn't here). And as for n=1, the patent owner's lawyers note that the exact phrase in the patent specification is "The MAC-e PDU is sent to the physical layer every n*TTI, instead of once every transmission time interval (TTI).". That logically excludes n=1, since that would make the transmission once every TTI and the patent's talking about sending it at some interval other than every TTI.

    So yes, it's clear from the language of the patent that they're talking about an integer n where n is greater than 1.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Oct 2015 @ 5:00am

      Re:

      Agreed. In signal processing one often talks about harmonics as being at integer multiple of the fundamental frequency. There also one implicitly assumes positive integers greater than one. It's not uncommon in science and engineering.

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

  • icon
    techflaws (profile), 5 Oct 2015 @ 9:49pm

    To be clear: the law allows patent applicants to redefine words if they want

    If that actually is true it's one of the most idiotic laws ever and must be scrapped immediately.

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

  • icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 5 Oct 2015 @ 10:35pm

    Number One is not an integer

    I've recently watched several reruns of Star Trek: The Next Generation and i can definitely confirm that Number One is not an integer.

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

  • identicon
    David, 6 Oct 2015 @ 12:05am

    I don't think the EFF is being honest here

    The patent text talked about using an integer multiple of a timeout value if I remember correctly. "integer" in this context is clearly nothing but math-speak and the omission of an n>1 qualifier is not intended to have mathematical significance. At best one could argue whether n=1 was supposed to be included but even that is pretty obvious from the context.

    But arguing about n=0 and n

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

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 6 Oct 2015 @ 8:11am

    This is preposterous.

    If this wasn't from EFF I'd say "Welcome to the wonders of intellectual property!".

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Oct 2015 @ 11:55am

      Re:

      You still should, they've clearly got the wrong end of the stick this time.
      The trolled are trolling the trolls while the EFF cries about the number one.

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


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