EFF Challenges Tracking-Services Patent Used to Threaten Cities Across the U.S.
San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is challenging a dangerous patent used to wrongfully demand payment from cities and other municipalities that employ public tracking systems to tell transit passengers if their bus or train is on time.
Today, EFF with the help of the Samuelson Law, Technology, and Public Policy Clinic at Berkeley Law, filed a request with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), urging reexamination of the legitimacy of the ArrivalStar patent – used as a basis for dozens of recent lawsuits against entities like the state of California, the city of Cleveland, and the Illinois Commuter Rail.
ArrivalStar claims its patents are based on an invention from 1999 and argues that many widely used transit-tracking systems – as well as some package-tracking services used by delivery and shipping companies – are infringing. But in the reexamination request filed today, EFF and the Samuelson Clinic show that as far back as 1992, public technical reports described a "Smart Bus system" that used the same methods as those included in the ArrivalStar patent.
"ArrivalStar apparently believes that the broad language of their patents could potentially cover any system that tracks a vehicle or a package and notifies a customer of the status. Even if you could patent something that broad and vague – and we think you can't – you certainly can't patent something that was invented by other people years before," said EFF Staff Attorney Julie Samuels. "Yet because of this particularly baseless patent, municipalities across the country are being forced to choose whether they will fight an expensive lawsuit, pay ArrivalStar's settlement demands, or abandon a public service. This is not how the patent system is supposed to work."
Because of the deep and systemic problems in the American patent system, EFF has launched the Defend Innovation project to advocate for reform. EFF is asking the public to sign on to our petition at defendinnovation.org and to comment on seven recommended proposals we think would make the broken system work better for software.
"The patent office issues bad software patents every day, and those patents are hurting American businesses and consumers and hindering innovation," said Samuels. "It's time to create a blueprint for reform."
For the full reexamination request:
For EFF's Defend Innovation project:
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