Stupid Patent Of The Month: Changing The Channel

from the no,-really dept

Is somebody really claiming to have invented a method for switching from watching one video to watching another?

This question comes from a lawyer at the New York Times, as an aside in an interesting article about the paper's response to a defamation threat from a presidential candidate. Apparently, that defamation threat distracted the his legal team from their work on another task: responding to a patent troll. Intrigued, we looked into it. The patent troll is called Bartonfalls, LLC and its patent, U.S. Patent No. 7,917,922, is our latest Stupid Patent of the Month.

The patent is titled "Video input switching and signal processing apparatus." It includes just two pages of text and, as the title suggests, describes an apparatus for switching between channels that come from different inputs (e.g. between cable channels and free-to-air broadcasts). The patent is directed to the equipment found in and around a 1990s television (such as VCRs, cable converters, satellite tuners). It does not even mention the Internet.


This is not how you watch videos on nytimes.com

Even though its patent has nothing whatsoever to do with Internet video, Bartonfalls has sued the New York Times and a dozen other companies that provide online content. In its complaints, it suggests that merely auto-playing a video after another has finished is enough to infringe its patent. In its complaint against the New York Times it claims:

[O]n its website [at this link], NYT practices The Accused Instrumentality of automatically changing from a first TV program (e.g., "Bill Clinton Offers Personal Tales of Hillary") to an alternate TV program (e.g., "Sanders Delegates Revolt After Roll Call") at a TV viewer location (e.g., at the location of a user of the accused instrumentality).

This is ridiculous. Even if we assume this perfunctory patent describes a non-obvious invention, its claims are directed to automatically changing "TV channels" at a "TV viewer location." In the context of the patent's own description, "TV" clearly means "television," not "television or computer."

Arstechnica looked into the background of Bartonfalls and its patent. It found a campaign with all the indicia of abusive patent litigation. The company has no business other than patent litigation. All of its cases are filed in the plaintiff-friendly Eastern District of Texas. As with so many other troll cases, at least one of the so-called "inventors" is a patent lawyer.

We need broad patent reform to cut down on abusive troll litigation. For starters, tell your representatives that we need venue reform legislation to stop trolls flocking to the Eastern District of Texas.

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


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  • icon
    OldGeezer (profile), 31 Oct 2016 @ 7:07pm

    Seriously?

    That pretty much describes every A/V selector I have ever owned since the 80's. Have they sued Radio Shack? That doesn't even show a device for changing videos, only the input. Only in east Texas district would this ever get beyond the laugh test. I guess those Texans don't have much of a sense of humor!

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

    • icon
      orbitalinsertion (profile), 31 Oct 2016 @ 7:16pm

      Re: Seriously?

      They'll be filing suit against all cord-cutters next.

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

      • icon
        OldGeezer (profile), 31 Oct 2016 @ 7:46pm

        Re: Re: Seriously?

        That would be stupid. But wait! No more stupid than this. How anybody could connect this to auto playing videos is beyond me. It's an input selector MANUALLY controlled. Nothing automatic about it. In case you haven't noticed, YouTube has an auto play next video unless you disable it. I guess they don't have the balls to sue a wealthy company like this. Google's lawyers wipe their asses with more logical suits than this one.

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

        • icon
          orbitalinsertion (profile), 1 Nov 2016 @ 7:37am

          Re: Re: Re: Seriously?

          Stupid indeed. In fact, it makes no sense. Which is why i suspect they would go after cord cutters for "changing their input", without uh... licensing. Heck, why not go for every television that does this internally? Or something remotely more realistic than this, anyway.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 1 Nov 2016 @ 7:50am

          Re: Re: Re: Seriously?

          Maybe because the video is already playing when you switch to those channels? Still think it is stupid but that is the only angle I could think of.

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

    • identicon
      OGquaker, 3 Nov 2016 @ 7:31pm

      Re: Seriously?

      My daddy already thought of this, we had 6 TV's in our living room (supplied by the local TV stations) to test this out - I want my cut!

      Patent 2,852,727
      Publication date Sep 16, 1958
      Barnett John S
      Photographic Analysis Inc.
      MECHANICAL MEMORY
      Filed Aug. 20, 1956
      24 Claims. ($1. 318-467) This invention relates to a control system that is characterized by mechanical storage of control data for program and control purposes and is applicable to remote control as well as to automatic control. The invention includes a highly flexible, but mechanically simple, device for storing data for control purposes, which device is dependable and may be quickly and easily manipulated for data revision. ~~~~~
      ~~~~~ An example of the first application of the invention is the programming of a television receiver to tune in selected channels at predetermined points on a time schedule....

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

  • identicon
    warren, 31 Oct 2016 @ 7:42pm

    How is this different from a multiplexer? Looks like the block diagram for a TTL 74150 to me.

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

  • identicon
    Holly, 31 Oct 2016 @ 10:58pm

    Why would people like Marcus Delano East do such stupid things?

    Marcus Delano East. British. Born Enfield, North London. Bachelors London Guildhall University, Mst University of Cambridge. Owner of Makemetaller.org.

    Worked for: Marks and spencer plc, Apple, Comic Relief.

    Originally 173cm tall, Marcus East was secretly wearing 2 inch lifts even though 173 can a norma height. Psychologically tormented, Marcus Delano East then did something very extreme and dangerous. He went to Beijing China in 2006 September to have both his legs broken by a Dr Xia, fixed a medieval metal frame over it and pulled his broken bones apart over a few months, risking paralysis and even death, to become 180cm of height. Such a surgery leaves scars on the tibias.

    Marcus East returned to Britain in 2007. Weirdly, he continued to run a leg lengthening website and even annoymously wrote a book about his experience.

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

    • icon
      TRX (profile), 1 Nov 2016 @ 3:43am

      Re: Why would people like Marcus Delano East do such stupid things?

      So what? It's his own business, and presumably he paid for it with his own money.

      It's hardly new or dangerous; a friend of mine had the same basic procedure done in the USA circa 1978 or so. He didn't wind up any taller than before, but he didn't have to have custom-made left shoes with four inch platform sole any more, so he figured it was a win...

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Nov 2016 @ 3:02am

    Money for nuthin', chicks for free.

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

  • icon
    TRX (profile), 1 Nov 2016 @ 3:40am

    Long ago the USPTO decided the revenue from patent fees was more important than doing their job, went for the money, and fobbed their job off on the courts, where the judges would have to wrestle with junk patents instead of the PTO.

    The PTO's default is "yes" to all applications, no matter how incomprehensible, broad, or obvious. An application has to be really bad before they'll send the tear-stained check back to the applicant.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Nov 2016 @ 5:33am

    This patent refers to tvs ,no pc made now has an rf modulator , it would be like the maker of tractors
    sueing boeing because it uses brakes or landing wheels
    .I doubt this company invented the av button used to switch from vcr input to cable tv or dvd signal input.
    They just got a very obvious patent on it .
    they just described a button in common use on tv remotes .
    Google uses software to load up the next auto play video
    it has a complex program to decide what video the user might want to watch next .
    It does not require the user to press a button or select
    an av signal .

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 1 Nov 2016 @ 7:40am

    Red flag #1

    The company has no business other than patent litigation. All of its cases are filed in the plaintiff-friendly Eastern District of Texas.

    Yeah, any time a company brings most or all of their 'patent' cases in that particular local it's a pretty good indicator that you're dealing with junk patents. I didn't even need to read down that far before I knew that that's where the cases would be filed in, that particular blight has become that well known as being the preferred location for filing patent cases by trolls.

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

  • icon
    Richard (profile), 2 Nov 2016 @ 9:33am

    Copycat

    The patent is directed to the equipment found in and around a 1990s television (such as VCRs, cable converters, satellite tuners). It does not even mention the Internet.

    GREAT!

    Now I can copy the whole patent, add the words "on the internet" and sue far more people than they can with this one!

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

    • icon
      OldGeezer (profile), 3 Nov 2016 @ 2:06am

      Re: Copycat

      Yeah, but this isn't about just adding "on a computer" or "on the internet" to a patent. In this case this is not even close to what this patent was about. They are suing that news videos a set to continue auto playing until you stop them. This is the same as many thousands of other sites. This is an 80's era manual A/V switch. Changing between broadcast and satellite will often put you on a show already in progress. If they win this they can carry it one step further and sue hundreds of networks. If you turn on a station they will continue to start another program as each one completes until you turn off the TV.

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

  • identicon
    Solbu, 2 Nov 2016 @ 7:42pm

    Patent Expiration date.

    According to the pattent filling, the patent expires next year. Someone is trying to milk it one last time, it seems.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Nov 2016 @ 5:58am

    I have to say, I'm rather disappointed with EFF and Techdirt by this story. I'm normally a big fan of both, so I'm hoping that my comment is seen and gets a reply.

    Claim 1 of the patent, in full, reads: 1. A method of automatically changing from a first TV program to an alternate TV program at a TV viewer location, comprising the steps of: entering, at the viewer location, information regarding a viewing preference; transmitting a TV program from a source to a viewer location; receiving the TV program at the viewer location over a first TV channel, the TV program including a pointer to an alternate TV channel providing an alternate TV program with subject matter directly related to the TV program; and automatically switching the TV program to the alternate TV program using the pointer and the information previously entered by the viewer without requiring any additional viewer intervention at the time of the switching.

    There is automatic switching based on a pointer in the first program, which I don't recall being part of a standard 90's TV switcher. The fact that so many comments on this article refer to manual AV switches, which isn't claimed, suggests that the readers have been misled or misunderstood.

    It would have also been worth mentioning in the article that the application dates to 1995, so the level of technology at the time of the invention was 90's technology. It's misses the point to evaluate the "invention" from the point of view of today's technology.

    I'm not setting out to defend the patent, and I have no problem with EFF outing bad patents. I'd just prefer they actually rubbished the patent on it's own terms, rather than setting up a straw man (by missing out parts of the claim) and then knocking that down.

    I get that EFF and Techdirt do opinion pieces and I come back regularly for those opinions. But I generally credit them with giving the underlying facts in an honest way, and I feel they fell short in this case.

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

    • icon
      OldGeezer (profile), 4 Nov 2016 @ 12:46pm

      Re:

      Patents are often written in a wording to deliberately make them sound like so much more than they really are. It's the old "If you if you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit". An A/V switch was either already patented or was just too obvious to even merit one. This is how bad patents get approved. It doesn't matter how it's worded just look at the diagram. IT IS AN A/V SWITCH. I don't care if the description claims it changes water into wine, that's all it is! It gives you 3 inputs: broadcast, cable and satellite. 2 outputs, one specified RF (in other words the old channel 3/4 option) and another unspecified output that given when this patent was issued would have to be RCA connections. The remote is nothing special. I have a 25 year old box with 6 inputs and a wireless remote. That does not mean anything automated. Switching between these inputs will usually put you in the middle of another program. The sites they are suing are doing nothing more than any TV channel. When one program completes, they start another. When you click a link to a news site for a story it might continue by first playing other related videos if there are any but then completely unrelated videos will continue to come up. YouTube has this autoplay option by default that you can turn off. This is a trolling nuisance suit that they are hoping that companies will pay them off just a little less than the legal cost to defend something even something this meritless. Even by trolling standards this one is a huge stretch. Can they bring this marvelous invention to court and demonstrate that it does anything similar to how they claim the Times is infringing on it?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2016 @ 5:31am

    It's rather late, so this comment may never get read. But anyway...

    OldGeezer - your comment about the drawing misses the point of how patents work (or are supposed to work).

    The description and drawings are meant to describe the invention, and tell you how to make/use it. I haven't looked at the description for this case, but if it doesn't tell you how to do the automatic channel changing (for example), the patent would be invalid.

    The description and drawings can include more than one invention and/or lots of background/tangential information, so it isn't very helpful if you want to know what does or doesn't infringe the patent.

    The claims define the monopoly that the patent grants. Because of this, infringement and validity must both be assessed by looking at what the claim calls for. You can't sue someone based on the description, only the claims

    Claim 1 requires pointer information in a TV program and that the channel is changed based on the pointer information. A manual AV switch doesn't have that so it doesn't teach the invention that's claimed. By the same measure, the patent can't be used to sue someone for providing a manual AV switch.

    I take the point that patent language can make things look a lot more complex than they really are, but the claim is pretty unambiguous about the pointer and the automatic switching, and those features just aren't in a manual switch.

    Where the drawings don't line up with the invention, or the description doesn't fully describe the invention it can lead to problems for the patent, and possibly make it invalid. I don't know if that's an issue in this case, but it certainly isn't the issue that's raised in the article.

    I have no problem bashing bad patents, and this one may well deserve bashing. But in my opinion the article is misleading, and some of the main criticisms are technically and legally wrong. That seems like a disservice to readers.

    In the past I've repeated lots of talking points from Techdirt on subjects that I don't have much background in, and I'm now wondering how often what I've said was simply wrong.

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


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