January 21, 2009 | By michael

U.S. Patent Office Rejects All Twenty Claims of Subdomain Patent

More good news for EFF's Patent Busting Project! Last week, the United States Patent Office (PTO) rejected all twenty claims of the Internet subdomain patent [PDF] on the Project's Ten Most Wanted list. Based on a combination of prior art that EFF had supplied and similar Internet newsgroup postings, the PTO concluded that the ideas claimed by the patent were obvious and, therefore, unpatentable.

The patent essentially attempted to claim ownership of the idea of virtual subdomains. But that idea was well known long before the patent issued. For example, over a year before the patent application was filed, members of the Apache developer mailing list were discussing how best to create virtual subdomains.

When we first looked at this patent, it was owned by a self-proclaimed "intellectual property holding company" called Ideaflood. Ideaflood used the illegitimate patent to threaten a wide variety of sites, including Freehomepage.com, T35 Hosting, and LiveJournal. Ideaflood also sued Google in one case and About.com and several other companies in a second case, claiming infringement of the subdomain patent. The case against Google was dismissed shortly after being filed, while the case against About.com was settled shortly after the defendants filed a motion seeking summary judgment and their attorneys' fees. The patent has since been reassigned to Hoshiko, LLC.

Now that the patent office has said the patent claims weren't novel, Hoshiko can try to convince the PTO to change its mind; amend its claims to narrow them while arguing that the narrower claims were non-obvious even if the original claims weren't; or give up on this patent. Let's hope Hoshiko will take the latter approach.

(For more about the next steps, you can take a look at the flowchart we included as an appendix to our white paper on the reexamination process.)

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