Stupid Patent Of The Month: Suggesting Reading Material

from the how-about-reading-the-alice-decision? dept

Online businesses—like businesses everywhere—are full of suggestions. If you order a burger, you might want fries with that. If you read Popular Science, you might like reading Popular Mechanics. Those kinds of suggestions are a very old part of commerce, and no one would seriously think it's a patentable technology.

Except, apparently, for Red River Innovations LLC, a patent troll that believes its patents cover the idea of suggesting what people should read next. Red River filed a half-dozen lawsuits in East Texas throughout 2015 and 2016. Some of those lawsuits were against retailers like home improvement chain Menards, clothier Zumiez, and cookie retailer Ms. Fields. Those stores all got sued because they have search bars on their websites.

In some lawsuits, Red River claimed the use of a search bar infringed US Patent No. 7,958,138. For example, in a lawsuit against Zumiez, Red River claimed [PDF] that "after a request for electronic text through the search box located at www.zumiez.com, the Zumiez system automatically identifies and graphically presents additional reading material that is related to a concept within the requested electronic text, as described and claimed in the '138 Patent." In that case, the "reading material" is text like product listings for jackets or skateboard decks.

In another lawsuit, Red River asserted a related patent, US Patent No. 7,526,477, which is our winner this month. The '477 patent describes a system of electronic text searching, where the user is presented with "related concepts" to the text they're already reading. The examples shown in the patent display a kind of live index, shown to the right of a block of electronic text. In a lawsuit against Infolinks, Red River alleged [PDF] infringement because "after a request for electronic text, the InText system automatically identifies and graphically presents additional reading material that is related to a concept within the requested electronic text."

Suggesting and providing reading material isn't an invention, but rather an abstract idea. The final paragraph of the '477 patent's specification makes it clear that the claimed method could be practiced on just about any computer. Under the Supreme Court's decision in Alice v. CLS Bank, an abstract idea doesn't become eligible for a patent merely because you suggest performing it with a computer. But hiring lawyers to make this argument is an expensive task, and it can be daunting to do so in a faraway locale, like the East Texas district where Red River has filed its lawsuits so far. That venue has historically attracted "patent troll" entities that see it as favorable to their cases.

The '477 patent is another of the patents featured in Unified Patents' prior art crowdsourcing project Patroll. If you know of any prior art for the '477 patent, you can submit it (before April 30) to Unified Patents for a possible $2,000 prize.

The good news for anyone being targeted by Red River today is that it's not going to be as easy to drag businesses from all over the country into a court of their choice. The Supreme Court's TC Heartland decision, combined with a Federal Circuit case called In re Cray, mean that patent owners have to sue in a venue where defendants actually do business.

It's also a good example of why fee-shifting in patent cases, and upholding the case law of the Alice decision, are so important. Small companies using basic web technologies shouldn't have to go through a multi-million dollar jury trial to get a chance to prove that a patent like the '477 is abstract and obvious.

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


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  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 27 Apr 2018 @ 6:04pm

    Prior Art

    They should be suing librarians. They have been suggesting related reading material to me for over half a century, and somehow I am quite certain that it was happening long before that.

    Oh, they said electronic text. Didn't we settle that whole 'on a computer' thingy a while back?

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

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 27 Apr 2018 @ 6:12pm

      'How much are you willing to spend to prove that you're right?'

      Oh, they said electronic text. Didn't we settle that whole 'on a computer' thingy a while back?

      Sure, however...

      But hiring lawyers to make this argument is an expensive task, and it can be daunting to do so in a faraway locale, like the East Texas district where Red River has filed its lawsuits so far. That venue has historically attracted "patent troll" entities that see it as favorable to their cases.

      Parasites like this bank on how expensive it is to fight back, even if they know they'd lose(assuming they don't cut and run as soon as it looks like that might happen), in order to 'persuade' their targets to 'settle' for less and make the problem go away.

      Thankfully, as the second to last paragraph points out it's much more difficult to drag a case into 'We've never seen a patent we didn't think was valid'-East texas these days unless someone's stupid enough to do business there, which I would hope has put a serious crimp on said parasites ability to extort people that actually do things.

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

  • identicon
    Girth Vader, 27 Apr 2018 @ 10:00pm

    Stop it. Just stop it!

    My doctor has ordered to me to cut down on the popcorn and I'm never gonna get under 350 lbs at this rate.

    Is there a patent for lawsuits that cause weight gain yet?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Apr 2018 @ 4:45am

    If Amazon wants to earn a bit of Karma, they should sue this troll into bankruptcy

    THEN they should sue the individuals behind it into bankruptcy

    THEN they should sue the families of those individuals into bankruptcy

    THEN they should swear an oath than whenever ANY of the above EVER try to start a business, they'll sue them right back into the ground

    RUIN these peoples lives completely, utterly and forever even if it means those people suffer or kill themselves and a massive shudder will go through the world regarding being a patent troll.

    This will SAVE LIVES because these monsters are suing hospitals, preventing people getting medication and life saving surgery etc.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Apr 2018 @ 5:54am

      Re:

      "The lesser of two evils" or "The greater good" has ever been the words to send shivers down my spine because when a good man believes those words, he is preparing to do great evil.

      This is a quote from a fictional book but it represents my own view very well.

      My point is that they have already done what you have suggested in the name of patents and copyright, and we didn't think it was right then. What would make it more justified to do, for anyone representing our side of things? Because our side is "right"?
      Even though we can't see it, the other side probably have people who have found some way to justify their actions (like "it is not illegal, therefor it is okay").
      If we start doing "eye for an eye" then people will start to view it more from their side and it will delay any form of progress when it turns into a more partisan issue.
      We have already made great progress against these people and while we may not get to personally punish everyone who have made money in this way, I think that we are nearing a point where it will no longer be profitable enough... at that point, we have won.

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

    • icon
      madasahatter (profile), 28 Apr 2018 @ 6:16am

      Re:

      These two patents should run afoul of prior art. Amazon has been making recommendations since I can not remember (at least 14 years or so). Google has been returning search results based on a text string for about 20 years now. For that matter the whole idea of targeted ads is based on variation of both what Amazon and Google do.

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

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 28 Apr 2018 @ 1:14pm

    NOMINATION

    for Patent of the year award...

    Can we send them an award?? the Mighty BURP..

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Apr 2018 @ 6:15am

    Another patent that should never have been awarded to begin with. When do EFF plan to start the "Stupid Patent Bureau of the Month" series?

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


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