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Stupid Patent of the Month: Solocron Education Trolls With Password Patent

from the patenting-passwords dept

Another month, another terrible patent being asserted in the Eastern District of Texas. Solocron Education LLC, a company whose entire "education" business is filing lawsuits, owns U.S. Patent No. 6,263,439, titled "Verification system for non-traditional learning operations." What kind of "verification system" does Solocron claim to have invented? Passwords.

The patent describes a mundane process for providing education materials through video cassettes, DVDs, or online. Students are sent course materials, take tests, and, if they pass the tests, are allowed to continue on to the next part of the course. At various times, students confirm their identity by entering their biographical details and passwords.

Solocron did not invent distance education, encryption, or passwords. The patent doesn't describe any new technology, it just applies existing technology in a routine way to education materials. That should not be enough to get a patent. Unfortunately, the Patent Office does not do enough to prevent obvious patents from issuing, which is how we get patents on white-background photography or on filming a Yoga class.

The extraordinary breadth of Solocron's patent is clearest in its first claim. The claim, with added comments, is below:

1. A process which comprises the steps of:

encoding at least one personal identifier onto a user interface media [i.e. set up an interface requiring a particular user ID];

displaying a prompt on said user interface media for the at least one personal identifier which requires a match of the at least one personal identifier encoded on the user interface media [i.e. ask the user to enter their user ID];

encoding at least one password onto a data storage media [i.e. encrypt or otherwise password-lock a file];

encoding the at least one password from the data storage media onto the user interface media [i.e. set up the user interface so it can check if the password is correct]; and

displaying a prompt on the user interface media for entering the at least one password which requires a match of the at least one password from the data storage media with the at least one password encoded on the user interface media [i.e. require users to enter their passwords into the interface].

Although the claim runs 119 words, it just describes an ordinary system for accessing content via inputting a user ID and password. These kinds of systems for user identification predate the patent by many, many years. The claim is not even limited to education materials but, by its terms, applies to any kind of "data storage media." The Patent Office should not allow itself to be hoodwinked by overly verbose language that, when read closely, describes an obvious process.

Solocron is asserting its stupid patent aggressively. It has sued dozens of companies, including many new suits filed this year. As with so many patents we have featured in this series, it is suing in the Eastern District of Texas, taking advantage of the court's patent-owner-friendly rules. We need fundamental patent reform, including venue reform, to stop patents like this from being granted and from being abused in the courts.

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


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  • icon
    Todd Shore (profile), 29 Jul 2016 @ 7:01pm

    The patent office should be judging patent applications against the state of the art, or what obvious to anyone with knowledge in an area. Unfortunately, they don't have that knowledge and instead judge against the patent database, which has nothing to do with current ideas, development, or products that might already be shipping. Everything is new to them because they compare it against history. Nothing is obvious to them because they don't understand much of what comes before them.

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

  • icon
    Todd Shore (profile), 29 Jul 2016 @ 7:01pm

    The patent system needs peer review.

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

  • identicon
    K Soeze, 29 Jul 2016 @ 8:51pm

    Why is this a patent?

    One word: revamp.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2016 @ 4:43am

    Abolish IP

    The idea of of owning ideas is corrupt.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2016 @ 4:44am

    Give Texas back to the Mexicans.

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

    • identicon
      Auva, 30 Jul 2016 @ 5:33am

      Re:

      "Give Texas back to the Mexicans."

      No need. They're already taking it.

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

      • identicon
        Skeeter, 30 Jul 2016 @ 2:07pm

        Re: Re:

        And California, and Arizona, and Boston and New York and, well, you get the picture. All it takes is to realize that more is spent in Washington D.C. by Mexican Drug Cartel Lobbyists (yes, they have lobbyists there) than is spent by the U.S. Government yearly for Veteran Care - and you understand why we have a 'Southern Open-Door Policy'.

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

        • identicon
          TripMN, 31 Jul 2016 @ 7:08pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Not Boston. They actually don't have very many Mexicans up there and you can tell by the horrible Mexican food at most places that try to call themselves such. There are a few standouts that are truly wonderful, but even Minnesota has a much larger and more vibrant Mexican population than Boston.

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

  • icon
    Monday (profile), 30 Jul 2016 @ 10:38am

    Wow.

    I swear Texas lost a bet. Someone should start a Hand-grenade League there.

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

  • identicon
    Skeeter, 30 Jul 2016 @ 2:05pm

    How this Ends

    This will immediately be thrown out the moment that they bite into Google, Microsoft or the Government. Until then, we just have to ignore their patent.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2016 @ 4:12pm

    wot?

    "encoding at least one personal identifier onto a user interface media"

    WTF is a "...user interface media"? User interfaces do not contain media. Media has nothing to do with user interfaces. This crap should end now.

    Any decent patent clerk (hello, 2000's calling Einstein...?) would call bullshit on this parade of horribles.

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

  • identicon
    annonymouse, 30 Jul 2016 @ 4:59pm

    If this was a farm you would have to burn it down to bedrock before starting over.

    Maybe get the judges of West Texas all expense paid trips to turkey - return flights fully refundable.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Aug 2016 @ 10:38am

    Just a bit of precision...

    According to the post the patent is about "an ordinary system for accessing content via inputting a user ID and password." However, that is not quite precise.

    More specifically, the claim requires "one personal identifier," such as mother's maiden name, elementary school, pet's name, etc. The link via "predate the patent" only seems to talk about passwords, and not "personal identifiers" in the context of the disclosure and the claim.

    I am not saying the patent is valid, or should be valid, but the criticism regarding lack of novelty should be based on what the claim actually alleges is novel rather than what someone thinks the claim says.

    As a side note, the priority date of this patent is August 27, 1996, so any reference needs to be before that priority date.

    As another side note, it is amusing that a lawsuit is being filed now, given that the patent expires in about 13 months.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Aug 2016 @ 10:50am

    Come on, sue Newegg. Come on, I dare ya!!

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


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