Source: ArsTechnica - Joe Mullin
Xerox gets a new toy, and it may be visiting a courthouse near you.
Once a month, the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s crack team of patent lawyers reaches deep into the US Patent Office’s giant sack of freshly issued patents. Then they pull out one of the shadiest, saddest, painfully obvious, never-should’ve-gotten-even-close-to-issuance patents and subject it to public scrutiny.
This month, EFF attorney Vera Ranieri selected a highly questionable Xerox patent and yanked it into the bleak January sunlight. US Patent No. 9,240,000, entitled “Social Network for Enabling the Physical Sharing of Documents,” boils down to a system of sharing documents online. It looks like exactly the kind of patent that shouldn’t have made it through the system, considering new guidelines put in place as a result of the Supreme Court’s Alice Corp. v. CLS decision .
“Ultimately this patent is one of hundreds or thousands of patents that don’t describe actual inventions, but rather just rehash old, obvious ideas ‘on a computer’ using confusing language,” writes Ranieri. “The failure of the patent office to prevent this patent from issuing is regrettable, and shows just how dysfunctional our patent system is.”
The Xerox patent, which was first filed in 2011 and issued this month, is a classic example of “patent-speak” used to dress up fairly simple ideas with complicated-sounding language. For instance, a key claim in the Xerox patent describes “a plurality of programmatic instructions stored on a medium.” (So… “instructions”?)
Such phrases are “essentially meaningless outside the patent system,” Ranieri writes.
There are probably hundreds of pieces of prior art that could be found for an essentially simple idea. The one highlighted in Ranieri’s article, and pictured above, is a library circulation card. That’s a pretty old system of, well, sharing physical documents within a network.
Ars asked Xerox press contacts if they want to offer any thoughts on EFF’s newest patent commentary. If we hear back, we’ll update this post.
Better (and worse) than Stupid Pet Tricks
Since 2014, EFF’s “Stupid Patent of the Month” series has highlighted problematic patent monopolies given to both trolls, which do nothing but sue, and big companies.
But if you’re thinking the Xerox ‘000 patent described here won’t ever be used in anger, don’t be so sure. Xerox patents have landed in patent trolls’ hands in the very recent past.
In August, an East Texas-based entity called Loramax LLC acquired US Patent No. 5,689,642—formerly Xerox property—and used it to launch 50 lawsuits against insurance companies, airlines, and retailers. Patent blogger Steph Kennedy, who actually tracks patent trolls for fun (I’m not the only one!), named Loramax her “troll of the quarter” for Q3 2015.
It’s hard to know if a case like the Loramax litigations is just fallout from a careless sale of a nearly-expired patent, or Xerox is purposefully getting into what’s sometimes called patent “privateering”—essentially, a corporate embrace of the patent troll model.Tags: EFF - Electronic Frontier Foundation, Xerox, Xerox IP, Xerox sharing documents online patent