San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has throttled a notorious patent used to wrongfully demand payment from cities and other municipalities that use tracking systems to tell transit passengers if their buses and trains are on time.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has drastically narrowed the patent owned by ArrivalStar after EFF filed a formal request to reexamine the patent's legitimacy with the help of the Samuelson Law, Technology, and Public Policy Clinic at Berkeley Law. The ArrivalStar patent had been used as the basis for dozens of lawsuits against entities like the state of California, the city of Cleveland, and the Illinois Commuter Rail.
"This is an important victory for municipalities across the country that were faced with a tough choice: fighting an expensive lawsuit, paying ArrivalStar's settlement demands, or abandoning a public service," said EFF Staff Attorney Julie Samuels, the Mark Cuban Chair to Eliminate Stupid Patents. "We're gratified the patent office recognized that you can't patent something as obvious, broad, and vague as 'tracking something and notifying customers about it.'"
ArrivalStar had claimed its patent was based on an invention from 1999 and argued that many transit-tracking systems – as well as some package-tracking services – were infringing. But EFF and the Samuelson Clinic were able to show that as far back as 1992, public technical reports described a "Smart Bus system" that used the same methods described in the ArrivalStar patent. In the patent office's ruling, all but two of the patent's claims were struck down, fundamentally undermining any future attempts from ArrivalStar to use this patent to sue over transit-tracking systems.
"The ArrivalStar patent is an example of the current chronic misuse of software patents," said Jason Schultz, EFF Fellow and Co-Director of the Samuelson Clinic. "When the patent office issues a bad patent, it gives patent trolls a dangerous weapon to use against both small and large businesses – and in the end, consumers get fewer choices and higher prices. Even though we were eventually able to disarm this threat, a lot of damage was done in the meantime, and there are still a lot of bad patents out there."
EFF is currently working to bust a dangerous patent that a Texas company is using to shake down podcasts and podcasters like How Stuff Works and Adam Carolla, in addition to smaller podcasters. You can learn more about EFF's efforts to fix America's patent system at https://defendinnovation.org.
For the full decision from the USPTO:
Staff Attorney and The Mark Cuban Chair to Eliminate Stupid Patents
Electronic Frontier Foundation