3 Comments

Summary:

Patent trolls appear to be flourishing despite repeated calls for Washington to rein them in. The latest evidence includes new lawsuits against Amazon, Dell and HP over a system for inserting links into news articles.

Troll
photo: Flickr / puuikibeach

Online News Link, a Texas-based shell company, claims in a new lawsuit that Amazon is infringing on three patents that describe a method of inserting links into online newspapers and other media.

In its complaint filed last week, Online News cites US Patent 7,508,789 and two others, which it acquired through a series of other shell companies, and which it has used to sue Apple and other media companies in the past.

The overview of the patents describe a system where an “associated linking reference is sent to the remote site” and, in a more detailed description, the patents refer repeatedly to digital newspapers and include the following description and an image of news terms with links:

When an underlined term in FIG. 2A is selected by a user, microcomputer 290 extracts the linkage reference and transmits it to database 259. The linkage reference allows database 259 to retrieve the necessary information quickly without doing extensive searches. As a result, the response time of system 250 is fast. The retrieved information can itself contains linkage references and can be searched.

Patent Screen Shot 2013-08-19 at 1.12.42 PM

It’s unclear what these patents have to do with Amazon. A lawyer for Online News Link, Eric Albittron, declined to comment on the case or specify which of Amazon’s products are infringing the patents. Albittron likewise refused to explain what exactly Online News Link does in the first place.

Texas corporate records reveal that the shell company, which is also suing Dell and HP, is controlled by Acacia Global Acquisition LLC, whose name suggests it is tied to publicly-traded Acacia. The firm is known in intellectual property circles as “the Mother of all patent trolls.”

Patent suits like the one against Amazon, which can cost millions of dollars to defend, have given rise a national debate about the merit of so-called patent trolls, who amass old patents and make a business out of threats and lawsuits against companies that produce things. The troll model is effective in part because shell companies like Online News Link don’t have assets that can targeted in a countersuit.

Congress, the FTC and President Obama have proposed reforms to curb abuse of the patent system but, so far, the troll suits have continued apace. Update: Online News Link has also filed suits against Netflix, Overstock and other tech and media companies.

  1. A quote from the patent application…. “Further, it is difficult to prevent unauthorized persons from access a web page because more than 20 million people in the world has access to the Internet.”

    Share
  2. a

    Share
  3. It is indeed surprising that any software can be patented because patents by definition apply to products, which are reproduced or manufacturing processes. Here is a quote from the UK IPO site:

    Some computer-implemented inventions are patentable whilst others are not. This is because software straddles the technological and business worlds. It uses technology, that is, computers, but often for non-technical purposes. Whether a computer-implemented invention is patentable depends on the contribution the invention makes. For example, if it provides improved control of a car braking system, it is likely to be patentable, but if it merely provides an improved accounting system, it is probably not patentable.

    Online technology is bringing international patenting together and the US is now falling into line with the UK. For any inventors out there good books are Dummies and David Pressman and Amazon have a great little ebook on DIY Patenting Internationally.

    Share

Comments have been disabled for this post