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.