Stupid Patent Of The Month: Mega-Troll Intellectual Ventures Hits Florist With Do-It-On-A-Computer Scheduling Patent

from the promoting-the-progress-of-stupid-patents dept

When it comes to patent trolls, no one is bigger than Intellectual Ventures. The Washington State-based behemoth is at the center of both patent trolling and the debate around patent reform. Though it claims to promote innovation, Intellectual Ventures is behind some of the most outrageous troll campaigns in recent years. Famous for hiding behind thousands of shell companies, it spawned Lodsys, the troll that harassed small app developers, and the Oasis Research litigation featured in This American Life.

This month, Intellectual Ventures filed some fresh lawsuits against targets including JCPenney, Sally Beauty, and flower delivery service Florists' Transworld Delivery. We checked out the asserted patents to see if any deserved our Stupid Patent of the Month award. All were worthy candidates, but one in particular stood out.

Before we get to the patent, here's a short script:

DISPATCHER: Hey, is your crew available?

ROSIE: Yep.

DISPATCHER: We need you to head over to Jimmie's place and fix his problem.

ROSIE: Okay.

DISPATCHER: This is Rosie, right?

ROSIE: Yep.

DISPATCHER: Great. The job has been assigned to you.

This script will probably not win an Academy Award for screenwriting. But how about a patent? As silly as this question may sound, by suggesting implementing this kind of basic crew management using an "enterprise computing system," a company called ABB, Inc. was able to get a patent. In 2003, the Patent Office issued U.S. Patent 6,633,900 titled "Mobile Crew Management System For Distributing Work Order Assignments To Mobile Field Crew Units" (the '900 Patent). Intellectual Ventures acquired it in mid-2015.

Claim 1 and Figure 5 of the '900 Patent best illustrate the banal idea at the center of the patent: crew assignments, but with a computer. The claims outline mundane steps (like the script above) and applies them to a computer environment. For example, one step is "notifying the field crew of the assignment." Another step is "retrieving and presenting a list of assignments to the field crew."

Patent claims like these are almost surely invalid under the Supreme Court's Alice v. CLS Bank decision. But that does not appear to have deterred Intellectual Ventures. Indeed, with such a huge portfolio at its disposal (Intellectual Ventures claims to own more than 40,000 patents), it is astonishing that it would chose to litigate with such a weak patent. This choice raises awkward questions about the overall quality of Intellectual Ventures' portfolio.

Intellectual Ventures is headquartered in Bellevue, Washington. Florists' Transworld Delivery (FTD Companies, Inc.) has its headquarters in the Chicago suburbs. But Intellectual Ventures' lawsuit [link to complaint] was filed about as far from these places as possible in the Eastern District of Texas. As we have noted many times before, the Eastern District of Texas is a hotbed of abusive patent litigation. Having chosen to litigate with a plainly invalid patent, it makes sense that Intellectual Ventures would chose a forum where the local rules favor patent plaintiffs.

Venue reform legislation currently before Congress would put an end to this kind of forum shopping. That would help reduce abusive patent trolling. But we need broader patent reform to ensure that patents like this one don't issue in the first place so that they can never become litigation weapons for trolls like Intellectual Ventures.

Reposted from the EFF's Stupid Patent of the Month series

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Mar 2016 @ 11:38pm

    Can the patent office be held liable?

    Is there a point where the patent office can be held liable for failure to do their job or doing their job incorrectly? Some of the patents approved are so beyond common sense, that it would appear that the patent office is just rubber stamping them rather than going thru proper steps to see if the request should be granted. Or is there some type of immunity?

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 Mar 2016 @ 11:49pm

      Re: Can the patent office be held liable?

      To be fair, that flow chart was pretty confusing, and people in the Patent Office only read that shit for a living.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 Apr 2016 @ 1:15am

      Re: Can the patent office be held liable?

      Sure, you could try to hold the patent office liable... right after you successfully make a "bad faith" claim stick on Viacom.

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

    • identicon
      Shadow-Slider, 1 Apr 2016 @ 8:49am

      Re: Can the patent office be held liable?

      It is mostly Bruce Lehman fault that these patents get approved, because he changed the guideline and procedures that patent clerks follow.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Apr 2016 @ 2:46am

    "[link to complaint]"

    Someone needs to do a square-bracket search before ever hitting 'publish'.

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

  • icon
    klaus (profile), 1 Apr 2016 @ 3:04am

    Is this an April Fool?

    Apologies, but it's a quiet day today. This business process seems fundamentally wrong:

    300 - update database to indicate an assignment has been assigned to a field crew
    302 - notify the field crew of the assignment
    304 - verify the field crew's identity
    306 - notify the field crew of successful login
    308 - retrieve and present a list of assignments to the field crew
    etc

    If you can't find the crew, or verify them, you have to rollback the transactions (300) in the database. The script is far more reflective of real life, but the order is wrong. Here's what I think it should be:

    DISPATCHER: This is Rosie, right?
    ROSIE: Yep.
    DISPATCHER: Hey, is your crew available?
    ROSIE: Yep.
    DISPATCHER: We need you to head over to Jimmie's place and fix his problem.
    ROSIE: Okay.
    DISPATCHER: Great. The job has been assigned to you.

    Surely in real life you'd verify first?

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 Apr 2016 @ 7:06am

      Re: Is this an April Fool?

      I think you have this backwards. The only reason it is patentable is it is new and non-obvious because no one in their right mind would do it this way.

      Of course that begs a different question: can you patent insanity?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Apr 2016 @ 4:51am

    So work flowcharts have become valid patents now?

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

  • icon
    Bergman (profile), 1 Apr 2016 @ 5:10am

    Someone ought to patent litigating patents in East Texas

    Then when someone does so without paying you, you can sue them in East Texas!

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Apr 2016 @ 6:46am

    I walked into the lobby of their main offices this Wednesday during the lunch hour and shook my pant leg before seeking egress. I am sure they didn't appreciate the mess, or the smell :). Bon App├ętit.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Apr 2016 @ 7:39am

    There is so much prior art re: the '900 patent that one could fill an entire library with examples.

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

  • icon
    DannyB (profile), 1 Apr 2016 @ 7:48am

    Intellectual Ventures changes it's name

    As of today's date (this posting) Intellectual Ventures is changing its name to . . .

    Intellectual Vultures

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Apr 2016 @ 9:46am

    IIRC, Intellectual Adventures stated, upon startup, that they would never do what they are now doing. They were supposedly going to use their patent portfolio for defensive purposes only. Did anyone actually expect them to follow through with their claims?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Apr 2016 @ 10:10am

    Intellectual Ventures says it owns and is responsible for all its patents.

    ISIS uses some Intellectual Ventures Patents..therefore IV is responsible for ISIS....lets throw all the IV shareholders in prison.....oh no wait..they've already bribed almost every judge and DA in the US...

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

  • identicon
    Tim, 1 Apr 2016 @ 3:56pm

    Lack of common sense

    No wonder common sense isn't so common anymore. The patent office is letting all the jerks patent every thought anyone has ever had.

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

  • icon
    Spaceman Spiff (profile), 1 Apr 2016 @ 6:12pm

    How stupid can you get?

    I vote this for the most stupid, banal patent of the millennium! It shows just how idiotic the patent office is. So, you can get a patent to do something everyone does, but "it's on a computer" makes it patentable? Ok, a computerized machine that can tie your shoes may be a patentable gizmo, but this? Get real folks!

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

  • identicon
    Scote, 2 Apr 2016 @ 2:06pm

    Isn't the number of people they are suing proof the patent is obvious?

    If they are suing craploads of people who've never heard of the patent for doing what's in the patent that seems like proof that the patent was not new, novel or non-obvious.

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


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