Stupid Patent of the Month: HP Patents Reminder Messages

from the remind-me-what-the-patent-system-is-for? dept

On July 25, 2017, the Patent Office issued a patent to HP on reminder messages. Someone needs to remind the Patent Office to look at the real world before issuing patents.

United States Patent No. 9,715,680 (the '680 patent) is titled "Reminder messages." While the patent application does suggest some minor tweaks to standard automated reminders, none of these supposed additions deserve patent protection.

Claim 1 of the patent states (comments in brackets):

A non-transitory computer-readable storage medium containing instructions, the instructions when executed by a processor causing the processor to [use a computer to]:

receive at a first computer system, via a network, event data descriptive of an event to occur at an event time [get event and time information];

receive via the network, reminder data descriptive of a reminder time to occur on or before the event time [get the reminder time];

at a time after receipt of the event data, receive via the network article data descriptive of an article to be associated with the event, the article data created during an electronic scanning operation [receive some additional information (created by scanning) relating to the event]; and

at the reminder time send via the network a reminder message describing the event and the article to a second computer system, for presentation at the second computer system [at the reminder time, send the reminder message].

Although this claim uses some obscure language (like "non-transitory computer-readable storage medium" and "article data"), it describes a quite mundane process. The "article data" is simply additional information associated with an event. For example, ‘buy a cake' might be included with a birthday reminder. The patent also requires that this extra information be input via a "scanning operation" (e.g. scanning a QR code).

The '680 patent comes from an application filed in July 2012. It is supposed to represent a non-obvious advance on technology that existed before that date. Of course, reminder messages were standard many years before the application was filed. And just a few minutes of research reveals that QR codes were already used to encode information for reminder messages. For example, QRickit suggested using QR codes for calendar events and reminders (with the option of adding additional information beyond the event descriptor). This 2011 article suggests using QR codes to embed information such as "assignments for the week." The only even arguable difference from the prior art is that the patent's claims require the "article data" to be received after the event data. In our view, that is not a distinction that warrants the government-granted monopoly power inherent in a patent.

The Patent Office reviewed HP's application for years without ever considering any real-world products. Indeed, the examiner considered only patents and patent applications. We have complained before that the Patent Office seems to operate in an alternative universe where only patents provide evidence of the state of the art in software. The fact that the Patent Office doesn't take developments in real software into account in its assessment of prior art speaks poorly for its ability to determine whether patent applications actually reflect new inventions.

In addition to failing to consider real products, the Patent Office gives little weight to common sense and takes an extremely rigid approach to evaluating whether or not a patent application is obvious. This leads to patents on things like taking photos against a white background, filming a yoga class, voting for a favorite photo, and out-of-office email. Much of the responsibility for this mess rests with the Federal Circuit, which has failed to apply a Supreme Court case called KSR v. Teleflex that calls for a flexible, common sense approach to obviousness. Together with Public Knowledge, EFF recently filed an amicus brief [PDF] asking the Supreme Court to consider the obviousness standard in patent law and to reaffirm that examiners can reject common sense combinations of known elements.

Even leaving obviousness aside, HP's patent application still should have been rejected under Alice v. CLS Bank. In Alice, the Supreme Court ruled that an abstract idea does not become eligible for a patent simply by being implemented on a generic computer. As with many software patents, the patent goes out of its way to explain that its method can be implemented on a generic computer, or, as the patent puts it "generally any computer." Despite this, the prosecution history [PDF] reveals that the examiner never even mentioned Alice, even in office actions written well after the Supreme Court's decision came down. We have written many times (e.g. 1, 2, 3, and 4) to protest that the Patent Office is not doing enough to diligently apply the Alice decision. The '680 patent provides yet another example of abstract software patents being issued despite the Supreme Court's ruling.

In case you want to set a reminder, the '680 patent will expire on December 16, 2035.

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


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  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 3 Aug 2017 @ 6:14pm

    Reminder set prior to the issuance of this patent, and recurring...despite this patent

    Don't buy HP products. This issue just adds to the ridiculous situation with inks for my HP inkjet multi-function printer (my third because their policies became worse over time) which not only have expiration dates (for no discernible reason other than to sell me new cartridges) but don't make cartridges available that are not half full or don't have short expiration dates (even on their website). If only one of the three color cartridges has an expiration issue, even if newly installed, the printer does not work even for black and white only.

    Business plan, more money for HP, zero respect for consumers.

    Well, I now have a cheap laser-jet printer for black and white, and if I want to print pictures again, I will go with another vendor. There were others that had a better reputation for printing pictures, but I will have to check to see what their policies are with regard to expiration and cartridge availability before I buy again.

    HP products, on the other hand, will never be considered by me again.

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

  • icon
    Roger Strong (profile), 3 Aug 2017 @ 8:08pm

    Prior Art

    Event data: Chemically imbalanced white supremacist 'Proud Boy' criticized on Twitter

    Reminder message: "Send threats and glitter bomb"

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

  • identicon
    Daydream, 3 Aug 2017 @ 11:44pm

    This weekend's homework: Evaluate whether patent law should be abolished.

    Answer the following three questions:

    1. What is the intended objective, or 'ideal', of patent law? Quote 1 reference.

    2. How are patents being used today? In your opinion, does this agree with the intended use of patents? Quote 2 examples.

    3. Describe a possible alternative to current patent law. In your opinion, would this alternative be more or less effective in accomplishing the intended objectives/'ideal' in question 1?

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

    • identicon
      Lif, 7 Aug 2017 @ 5:19am

      Re: This weekend's homework: Evaluate whether patent law should be abolished.

      This weekend?

      Please be patient amigo, Let me check my ̶c̶a̶l̶e̶n̶d̶u̶h̶

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

  • icon
    orbitalinsertion (profile), 4 Aug 2017 @ 2:20am

    We have complained before that the Patent Office seems to operate in an alternative universe where only patents provide evidence of the state of the art in software.

    That's the universe where patents, and only patents, are innovation. We know this place.

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

  • identicon
    Jesse Jenkins, 4 Aug 2017 @ 7:18am

    Stupid patent

    I think this patent filed before Alice resolved.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Aug 2017 @ 7:37am

      Re: Stupid patent

      I think this patent filed before Alice resolved.

      I think this patent granted after Alice resolved.

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

    • identicon
      TripMN, 4 Aug 2017 @ 7:43am

      Re: Stupid patent

      Filed, perhaps, but the patent was issued two weeks ago... meaning the USPTO had time to consider Alice... and failed miserably.

      As a software developer, there is nothing in this patent that is novel or unique, even for around 5 years ago. They are describing a generic calendar/reminder function using a computer and adding the "twist" of being able to use a QR code to "add more info to the reminder".

      About the most novel part of it would be the bad UX of having to use a QR code to update the reminder. What a wonderfully bad setup it would be to have an application on an internet enabled device that you had to have a piece of visual medium to scan to do the update.

      HR perp: Hey, we need to update that reminder about the company picnic next week. How do we get QR codes out to everyone in the company?

      IT: Like I said before, you can email a picture, fax a printout, or print copies and send in the mail to everyone. Totally up to you.
      ... we should have just gone with Google.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Aug 2017 @ 7:40am

    Abolish Patents

    There's enough stupidity already.

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

  • icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 4 Aug 2017 @ 8:12am

    Wikipedia says Google Calendar came out in 2006.

    So that's the "event" and "online" components covered by a well-known and widely-used service about 6 years before the patent.

    How's that for prior art?

    Why, it's at least as strong as the prior art proving that email wasn't invented in 1978.

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

  • icon
    Wolfie0827 (profile), 4 Aug 2017 @ 8:21am

    I've come to the realization that the patent office is using one of two methods to get the workers it needs.

    One: It is raising the workers from birth in an isolated government controlled environment with no input from the real world or ...

    Two: They only hire those with an IQ so low that they think a ballpoint pen is magic!

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

  • identicon
    J.R., 4 Aug 2017 @ 9:55am

    Next Stupid Patent

    "Using a Calendar for Something Other than Desk or Wall Decor."

    To be followed by, "Thinking about the Future."

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

    • identicon
      Life, 7 Aug 2017 @ 5:13am

      Re: Next Stupid Patent

      ideas for non electronic calendars:
      Good ol Target Practice
      Paper Airplane Contest
      BBQ Fire-starter fuel
      shred for bird cage
      Shipping packaging
      Dishing out the Paper Cuts
      Anti-ANTIFA protest sign
      PAINT THEM WHITE and use them for CANVAS

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

  • identicon
    Life, 7 Aug 2017 @ 5:03am

    Are you Coming to my next holiday after the Crontab!?

    I keep extra RO h2o filters, very confusing, so they're on schedule for good times on My holidays.

    # Cable unplugged
    # at 3:45 am make coffee
    # echo covfefe > lpt0

    # X + 90 days ring audio alert "replace filter"
    # sleep in mode
    # mplayer LoudestDamnedAlert.ogg

    See you all at My next holiday after the crontab!

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


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