Stupid Patent Of The Month: Storage Cabinets On A Computer

from the because-on-a-computer dept

How do you store your paper files? Perhaps you leave them scattered on your desk or piled on the floor. If you're more organized, you might keep them in a cabinet. This month's stupid patent, US Patent No. 6,690,400 (the '400 patent), claims the idea of using "virtual cabinets" to graphically represent data storage and organization. While this is bad, the worse news is that the patent's owner is suing just about anyone who runs a website.

The '400 patent is owned by Global Equity Management (SA) Pty. Ltd. ("GEMSA") which seems to be a classic patent troll. GEMSA is incorporated in Australia and appears to have no business other than patent litigation. The patent began its life with a company called Flash VOS. This company once offered a product that allowed users to run multiple operating systems on personal computers with x86-compatible processors. The '400 patent describes a graphical user interface for this system. The interface allows users to interact with "graphical depictions of cabinets" that represent memory partitions and different operating systems.

GEMSA says that Flash VOS moved the computer industry a "quantum leap forwarded in the late 90's when it invented Systems Virtualization." But Flash VOS didn't invent partitions, didn't invent virtual machines, and didn't invent running multiple operating systems on a single computer. All of these concepts predate its patent application, some by decades. In any event, the '400 patent claims only a very specific, and in our view, quite mundane user interface.

Importantly, the '400 patent's claims require very specific structures. For example, claim 1 requires "a secondary storage partitions window" and "at least one visible cabinet representing a discrete operating system." A user interface must have all of these features to infringe the claim.

In the past year, GEMSA has sued dozens of companies, ranging from Airbnb to Zillow. In each case, it makes the bare assertion that the defendant's website infringes the '400 patent. For example, it simply states that "AIRBNB maintains, controls and/or operates a website with a graphical user interface ("GUI") at www.airbnb.com that infringes one or more claims of the '400 patent."

GEMSA doesn't explain how Airbnb's website satisfies highly specific claim limitations like "a virtual cabinet representing a discrete operating system." In fact, the accused website bears almost no similarity to GEMSA's supposed invention:

As far as we can tell, GEMSA seems to think that anyone with a website that links to hosted content infringes its patent. Complaints with such sparse, and implausible, infringement allegations should be thrown out immediately for failure to state a claim.

There will be no prizes for guessing where GEMSA has filed its litigation. Every one of its cases was filed in the Eastern District of Texas, where we have long complained that local rules favor patent trolls like GEMSA. Venue reform legislation currently before Congress would stop trolls flocking to the Eastern District of Texas. That might help reduce abusive patent trolling. But we still need broader patent reform to ensure that such weak patents don't lead to abusive troll litigation.

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


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  • identicon
    Kathy, 1 Jul 2016 @ 2:03am

    Prior work

    I didn't catch when this patent was filed, but Ashton-Tate had a product called Framework, in the 80s, early 90s. And I definitely remember the interface had graphical filing cabinets where you stored your various types of documents.

    This was on DOS.

    Also, Ashton-Tate was pretty big on patents for the stuff it did.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 Jul 2016 @ 3:11am

      Re: Prior work

      This seems to be tied to their virtualization stuff. A sort of GUI management of various OSes in a machine.
      Maybe parts of the patent could apply, but I doubt any of the GUI elements are that unique or new that their use in other, different contexts would be infringement on this specific patent. And certainly not your average website!

      These cases need to have the possibility of the defendant requiring legal costs when the patent holder tries to run away. Otherwise it's a huge waste of time and effort, as well as money, for everyone involved EXCEPT the holder.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Jul 2016 @ 3:18am

    That might help reduce abusive patent trolling. But we still need broader patent reform to ensure that such weak patents don't lead to abusive troll litigation.
    I don't think the patent is weak. It's more that the claim made with it is practically baseless! It's almost like suing the websites because they have a patent on three-legged chairs!
    The only similarity is that they both work with a GUI. The specifics of the patent may go into more detail, but it seems to be geared toward managing virtual OSes. Going after some cloud provider might have some merit, but a regular website is a stretch.

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

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 1 Jul 2016 @ 7:09am

      Re:

      "The only similarity is that they both work with a GUI."

      My reading of the patent is that it entirely covers the UI, not the actual virtualization. I'm no patent attorney, but the entire patent looks pretty weak to me.

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

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 1 Jul 2016 @ 3:37am

    Why innovate when you can snatch up a patent for pennies, and then bend & twist it cover a multitude of thing (in your mind) and just keep litigating hoping the costs of fighting back is higher than just settling.

    Its a grand legal scheme we've seen applied many times, perhaps we need to address that elephant in the room that merit-less claims can bankrupt people long before they are shown to be con artists pressuring people to pay up or be forced out of business.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Jul 2016 @ 4:30am

    Buy my new book!

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    Stop innovating and start litigating!

    For only $19.95 you can purchase our book 'Tolls on innovation, the modern Troll' that will teach you how to make money from those evil megacorporations!

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 1 Jul 2016 @ 5:04am

    I'd say at this point anyone filing in East Texas for patent infringement should be assumed to have a weak if not flat out bogus patent. Unless the company is literally based there(with actual offices, and actual people) there really is no other reason to file there other than the hilariously warped legal system they've got when it comes to all things patents, where there's no such thing as a bad patent.

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

    • identicon
      David, 1 Jul 2016 @ 6:37am

      Re:

      Uh no? You get a good deal as a patent holder for good and valid patents as well. The savings in litigation costs for a speedy and smooth court proceeding will offset travelling and venue costs even when your patent is good or even slam-dunk. There is no real gain in diverting your good patent litigation to other venues. Particularly since the U.S. does not have a "loser pays" cost provision which could refuse to cover excessive venue-shifting costs. So even if you win, investing $20000 of venue costs and saving $80000 in legal representation costs is a win.

      With "loser pays", the legal representation cost for a winning patent is $0, making the $20000 a real drawback.

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

      • icon
        John Fenderson (profile), 1 Jul 2016 @ 7:00am

        Re: Re:

        "There is no real gain in diverting your good patent litigation to other venues."

        There would be if more people made the entirely reasonable assumption that using the East Texas court is strong evidence that the patent is dubious.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 1 Jul 2016 @ 12:41pm

        Re: Re:

        "There is no real gain in diverting your good patent litigation to other venues."

        Which is one of the problems being discussed

        Yes, venue shopping is great for whoever gets to decide the venue. However the point is that both the ability of a plaintiff to venue shop and their tendency to choose certain venues over others shows a weakness in our legal system.

        A: It gives the plaintiff an unfair advantage when they choose the venue if the defendant has little say. Obviously the plaintiff is going to choose a venue based on what venue is most favorable to them and not based on what will produce the correct response.

        B: That the travel cost of switching venues is outweighed by the benefits to the plaintiff shows how much disparity exists from one venue to the next. Obviously different venues aren't applying the same laws equally which sets bad and inconsistent precedents.

        C:
        "The savings in litigation costs for a speedy and smooth court proceeding will offset travelling and venue costs even when your patent is good or even slam-dunk."

        You can just as well argue that allowing the defendant to unequally choose the venue will save tons of litigation costs and offsets traveling and venue costs even when the patent is bad or even an air ball. So we should just let the defendant arbitrarily choose the venue to save on costs.

        Which misses the point. The point is to determine the legitimacy of the patent, not to assume that it's a 'slam dunk' or an 'air ball' and this should be determined on a level playing field, by a neutral third party, for both the defendant and the plaintiff. It shouldn't be decided by a third party that was hand picked by one of the parties involved in the case because that gives said party an unfair advantage.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 1 Jul 2016 @ 12:58pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          (to continue)

          "even when your patent is good or even slam-dunk."

          You're speaking from the perspective of the plaintiff with the assumption that the plaintiff is right but the problem is that you don't get to make that assumption. The claims to your case should be proven on a level playing field to the satisfaction of a neutral third party and allowing you to unequally pick that third party unfairly and unjustly unlevels the playing field and creates an unfair bias. Which is what is being criticized here.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 1 Jul 2016 @ 1:28pm

        Re: Re:

        "You get a good deal as a patent holder for good and valid patents as well."

        Yes, we get how the current legal setup is advantageous to patent holders. The problem is that the law shouldn't play favorites.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Jul 2016 @ 5:12am

    Stupid Americans.

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

  • icon
    DannyB (profile), 1 Jul 2016 @ 5:30am

    Stupid idea

    Dumb idea: storage cabinets on a computer

    Good idea: lunch boxes on a computer

    Especially if I can remotely access it to get to the contents. Invent that, and I think you'll be on to something.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 Jul 2016 @ 8:46am

      Re: Stupid idea

      "Good idea: lunch boxes on a computer

      Especially if I can remotely access it to get to the contents. Invent that, and I think you'll be on to something."

      You can. Most people have one or two of those things we call 'arms'. While sitting in your chair, which must be equipped with those things we call 'wheels', you use one or two 'arms' to manipulate the contents of the lunch box. Sophisticated models can sometimes move contents towards the thing we call a 'mouth' (a receptacle for inserting food and masication). Less-sophisticaed models usually drop the contents all over the floor or throw them at other humans. Now add 'using a robot' and you are good to go.

      (Prediction: 'using a robot' will become the new 'using a computer'/'on a computer' in patent filings, lawyers just haven't figured that out yet.).

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Jul 2016 @ 12:09pm

    This is a very old concept. Back when Windows 95 first came out and I got a computer with Windows 95 on it there was a piece of software that came with it that did just that. I wish I can remember the name of the software though ... ahh, found a Youtube video of it. Packard Bell Navigator

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nqZpvOPI_aI

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


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