The latest patent troll to sue Apple serves as a textbook example of the need for patent reform. A company called BillJCo, aka LBX Technologies, is essentially trying to claim ownership over the concept of short-range communication between devices using Bluetooth …
As with many such cases, the case is being brought by a so-called Patent Assertion Entity, aka patent troll: a company that purchases patents with the specific intention of filing infringement claims rather than making anything.
Patently Apple spotted the lawsuit.
Apple has been sued for patent infringement a company by the name of BillJCo, LLC (LBX Technologies). The company is also suing Hewlett Packard in a separate lawsuit. In both cases, the company/patent troll is claiming that their six acquired patents covering beacon technology have been infringed upon.
In their lawsuit, BillJCo states that “Apple makes, imports, uses, offers for sale, and sells in the United States devices that conform to and implement the iBeacon protocol and infringe the Patents-in-Suit. This includes devices that operate in compliance with BLE implementing IOS 7 and higher such as: 1) iPhone 4s, iPhone 5, iPhone 5s, iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, iPhone SE, iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus, iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone X, iPhone XR, iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, iPhone 11 Pro Max, iPhone 12 mini, iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro, and iPhone 12 Pro Max and 2) iPad (3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th generation), iPad 2, iPad Mini, iPad Mini 2, iPad Mini 3, iPad mini 4, iPad Pro, iPad Air, and iPad Air 2.
When you dig into the actual patents, they are incredibly generic – and should never have been accepted by the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). To pick just one of the patents cited in this case:
A method for information presentation by a receiving data processing system, said method comprising: receiving, by said receiving data processing system, an object, said object containing information and instructions for presenting said information, said instructions including an event specification to be monitored by said receiving data processing system for triggering when to present said information, said event specification including a whereabouts condition and a condition for detecting a particular user action by a user of said receiving data processing system, said whereabouts condition determining if a location of said receiving data processing system is in a vicinity of another data processing system; storing, by said receiving data processing system, said information in a memory of said receiving data processing system; processing, by said receiving data processing system, said instructions upon said receiving, by said receiving data processing system, said object; configuring, by said receiving data processing system, a trigger event for said event specification in response to said processing, by said receiving data processing system, said instructions; monitoring, by said receiving data processing system, said trigger event in response to said configuring, by said receiving data processing system, said trigger event; recognizing, by said receiving data processing system, said trigger event, after said monitoring, by said receiving data processing system, said trigger event; and presenting, by said receiving data processing system, said information, based at least in part by said whereabouts condition, upon said recognizing, by said receiving data processing system, said trigger event.
All of which is a long-winded way of describing the concept of devices communicating with each other and then triggering actions.
There are numerous problems with US patent law, assessment, and enforcement. To name just a few of them:
- The USPTO grants many patents that are incredibly generic, describing concepts, not methods.
- Many patents describe things people were doing long before the patent application was filed.
- Many patents describe things that are simple common sense and which everyone does.
- A company can enforce a patent it has never used.
- Anyone can buy a company that owns patents, and enforce them as if they were the inventor.
- It’s so expensive to defend a patent infringement case that companies are often forced to settle, even when it’s, uh, patently obvious that the case has no merit.
- Courts may grant injunctions on the sale of products, with massive financial implications.
- Fear of being sued for patent infringement is a huge barrier to new product development by small companies.
Even Apple is on record as saying it sometimes settles these cases because it cannot afford the lost time and income involved in defending them. When one of the richest companies in the world can’t always afford to see off patent trolls, what hope does a startup have?
Ridiculous cases like this need to be thrown out on first examination, and the patents invalidated. Beyond this, there needs to be penalties for frivolous claims that deter trolls more than their targets.