cheesedude — 2014-02-02T05:01:51-05:00 — #1
I am sure many of you are already aware of this. A patent squatter (MasterObjects) filed lawsuits against Amazon, Google (in 2011), Yahoo, Microsoft, eBay, and probably others alleging patent infringement over "instant search" functionality. When you go to a search engine like Yahoo or Google and start typing in search terms, search suggestions or results are displayed as you type. Instead of executing a database query when a term is finished and someone hits the enter key, queries are executed and results are returned as the user types.
If the court finds in favor of MasterObjects, everyone using it is going to be on the hook for royalties or damages. While this is an obvious use of existing technology and the patent should be invalidated, I do not have much faith in the American court system to arrive at the proper decision. Lawyers are greedy pigs, judges are idiots, and juries are often stocked with people who have no clue about technology or the law.
Has this lawsuit discouraged anyone from incorporating AJAX database queries into their websites? I am working on a personal site now and would like to do this but I don't want to risk some pig patent troll demanding money for something for which no patent should have ever been granted. The big companies sued so far will end up spending millions of dollars defending themselves against this frivolous lawsuit. I don't know what chance a small webmaster would have. I'm trying to decide which way to go. It could be years before a decision in this case is reached.
john_betong — 2014-02-02T06:07:38-05:00 — #2
Before even Windows 3 was on the market, I used the DOS keyboard buffer to fill dropdown lists of customers and pickup/dropoff points. The journey would then either suggest an agreed customer price or accept the driver's fare.
The first time the Taxi Control System, with a fleet of about 100 cars, was run by a driver in his spare time, monthly invoices were printed along with the driver's credits on the first day of the next month instead of three weeks it took for the manual system.
Do you think I have a claim against MasterOjects?
rubble — 2014-02-02T07:43:27-05:00 — #3
Do you think I have a claim against MasterOjects?
Did you file a patent ?
I seem to remember somebody brought out an electronic collar for cats that would allow them access through a cat flap. But a childrens comic ( Beno ? ) had already patented when they used it in a cartoon!
But seriously how can somebody file a patent on something that is already in use?
The only winners in this case will be the lawyers again; I often wonder how lawyers can sleep at night .
ralphm — 2014-02-02T08:17:21-05:00 — #4
Has this lawsuit discouraged anyone from incorporating AJAX database queries into their websites? I am working on a personal site now and would like to do this but I don't want to risk some ... troll demanding money ...
I'm sure they aren't interested in little guys with no money.
They can afford very comfortable beds.
mittineague — 2014-02-02T12:26:12-05:00 — #5
AFAIK, at least in the US, you can't patent ideas, only the processes used. So he would need to show that others were using what he came up with.
Probably doesn't expect to win, but is hoping the big-leaguers will opt to settle out of court to avoid more expensive legal expenses.
force — 2014-02-02T18:35:03-05:00 — #6
Examples of "prior art" can invalidate a patent. So essentially, John's work could (in theory) have the potential to invalidate the MasterObjects patent. Patents only have a life of 20 years, if filed after 1995. Prior to 1995, they had a life of 17 years. Windows 3 was released in 1990, and Windows 3.1 was released in 1992, so it's likely John's solution came about way earlier than the filing of any current patent. However, I'm sure that John isn't the only one to work with some sort of "instant search" solution.
Also, I doubt that the MasterObjects patent goes back more than 10 years, since patents have a limited lifespan, and tolls don't typically waste their time with patents that have some age to them (since litigation can tie things up for years if someone fights the claim, and the investment in an old patent wouldn't leave much time to cash in on it). Once a patent term expires, the patent essentially enters the public domain.
Considering the term limits of patents, it boggles my mind at how long copyright term limits can be held--but then copyright system is backed behind industries worth trillions of dollars.
Lastly, there is also anti patent troll legislation floating around that could combat things like this.
john_betong — 2014-02-02T19:39:10-05:00 — #7
A patent was never filed because the feature was most likely manually copied from a library book, computer magazine or if I was lucky the magazine's free enclosed floppy disc
About 1984 the program was started to help administer the vast amount of small value journies incurred from a taxi fleet.
Way back in 1978, internet had not taken off and I often wonder about the source of limited information. Manuals were thoroughly read to discover any features which may enhance a program.
As far as lawyers are concerned I think they only use the courts for personal gain and are not interested in their clients.
force — 2014-02-03T01:19:44-05:00 — #8
That's like saying web developers are only in it for personal gain, and not because they're interested at how it lets them be creative, productive, and lets them share their interested with the world (wide web) around them. Any profession can be a labor of love, and not necessarily a means to make a fat stack of cash.
It's a bit short-sighted to think of any profession that way. Lawyers especially get a bad rap--mainly because of slimy, morally questionable criminal defense lawyers portrayed in films and TV. Not all lawyers are criminal defense lawyers for the Sopranos--there are literally dozens of specializations, just like in the technology field. Not all lawyers are morally questionable (but this just simply tends to make a good story). Being a lawyer isn't always an easy task, as it can be an extremely complex profession that sucks up a lot of your time (much like the tech field). When you actually break down the hourly rate and expenses, you actually don't end up making as much as you think you do. It takes a very long time and quite a bit of effort to climb to the top where you are making an impressive salary--you just don't always see all the hard work that goes into getting there. It's not magic and it doesn't happen overnight. Some started as unpaid interns.
For me personally, I do enjoy looking into aspects of law when they brush up against technology. It can be a fascinating topic--how the things that spring out of society can shape future law, and how old laws are interpreted and applied to a changing society. So yes, it is completely feasible that there are people who consider the practice of law to be a labor of love as much as anything else, rather than a quick n' easy method of making a buck.
cheesedude — 2014-02-03T09:17:09-05:00 — #9
Perhaps. But MasterObjects and the law firm representing them do not seem to be discouraged by that. The law firm is most likely working on a contingency basis, meaning that they or a financier (there is an entire industry in America for providing funding for large lawsuits in exchange for a piece of the pie), are investing time and a bit of money (the actual costs of a lawsuit are largely attorney fees and salaries) in expectation of a future payoff. As they are lawyers and they know the system is rigged in their favor, they are making a calculated bet that the outcome will be financially beneficial to them.
Under American law, the loser does not pay the winner's attorney's fees. So there is little risk in filing a frivolous lawsuit against a business. MasterObjects will not be on the hook for the millions of dollars in legal fees the big companies are spending to defend themselves against this frivolous lawsuit. Attorneys never are on the hook for costs of the winners despite the fact that working on contingency and thus are equity partners in the lawsuit.
As far as tort reform goes, that was proposed in the American Congress in the early 2000s and defeated with a filibuster threat (at least regarding medial lawsuits). Why? Because trial lawyers are big political donors, at least to one side of the argument. The last thing the big money lawsuit industry is going to do is reduce their income. If their income goes down, political donations will go down as well. That means concerned parties will fight any "loser pays" laws because parties they represent will have a financial disincentive against filing frivolous lawsuits. These lawsuits cost everyone. Everyone who buys a product or goes to a doctor pays.
Patents were intended to protect the effort and monetary investment made to create novel inventions. The lightbulb was a novel invention. It did not exist before. What the patent system has become is a method of patenting broad ideas with the intention of creating a roadblock to innovation in order to extort money out of others. I've read a number of patents over the years. Some are so ridiculously broad it makes me wonder how they were ever awarded like the patent for a "method of swinging on a swing". And others are nothing more than taking existing technology and putting it together, for which no patent should be awarded in my opinion. Could combining existing CSS3 rules to create animations and other effects be awarded a patent? Should it?
Large companies like Google have spent billions of dollars buying patents for no other reason than to defend themselves against potential and existing lawsuits. That money is completely wasted. An absolute waste. If it comes down to keeping the existing system or abolishing patents altogether, I would favor abolishing patents.
Not true. If there is a dollar to be extorted out of someone, patent trolls will eventually come knocking.
In that article, a patent troll sent out hundreds of letters demanding payment for patent infringement on office equipment like scanners. The state Attorney General went after the troll so nobody was on the hook for payment. But if any one of the recipients of the letter consulted an attorney, that is money out of their pocket. That isn't the first case I have read about and it will not be the last.
Someone went after users of Linux and the court ruled against them. The basis for the patent infringement claim, according to the article, is that mathematical operations were rounded before a computation instead of after. But it doesn't matter, because money was spent defending against the claim.
So if MasterObjects is successful in their frivolous patent claim, I believe they will eventually come after the little guy. The cost of sending letters to thousands of webmasters demanding payment of a few thousand dollars with the threat of a costly lawsuit is small. That is why I was wondering if anyone else is concerned.
john_betong — 2014-02-03T09:20:27-05:00 — #10
OK you have convinced me, There must be lots of good people in the legal profession and only the bad experiences are published.
mittineague — 2014-02-03T10:19:02-05:00 — #11
Yes, a great number of them work "pro bono" - for free. And they have "passed the Bar" so their working for free does not imply their skills are any less.
Do they use it as a tax write-off? Probably. But the point is many "little guys" are helped.
Do you see such in the news? I can't recall having ever seen even one. Advertisements for class action and accident laywers abound. as do celebrity and "big guy" lawsuits.
Media coverage of what is deemed newsworthy can distort perception if you let it.
system — 2014-10-08T01:33:08-04:00 — #12
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