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back to article Google, Yahoo! and Amazon sued over email patent

The biggest names on the internet have been sued by a patent holding company which claims the firms are violating its rights by automatically routing email messages. Google, Amazon, Borders, Yahoo!, AOL and Ask.com owner IAC have been named in the suit, filed by Polaris in the famously patent owner-friendly jurisdiction of the …

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Oh for Duck Steak ...

Isn't it time someone patented breathing?

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Anonymous Coward

wait wha?

"automatically interpreting an electronic message[...]" Okay, that about covers every semi-automatic electronic controller that has a "DANGER" or "ATTENTION" output... soooooo, another wonderful example of US patent system!

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Anonymous Coward

Hope their lawyers aren't out of office

"1. A method for automatically processing a non-interactive electronic message using a computer, comprising the steps of:

(a) receiving the electronic message from a source;

(b) interpreting the electronic message using a rule base and case base knowledge engine; and

(c) classifying the electronic message as at least one of (i) being able to be responded to automatically; and (ii) requiring assistance from a human operator."

From a quick (5 min) run on Google, I found http://www.washington.edu/pine/changes.html, which indicates that in 1994 Pine got "Improved support for multiple incoming message folders.". That sounds to me like "automatically processing a non-interactive electronic message", and it has certainly received it from a source (as opposed to where, I wonder?); it must be in some way applying rules to sort the messages, or there wouldn't be any point in multiple folders, and I suppose you could say that all messages are classified as (c)(ii) requiring assistance from a human operator.

Improved support. Not "just added support". In 1994. When was this patent granted? 2002. There should be some kind of law against patent trolling, and the USPTO could do with a bit of a wakeup call about ridiculous software patents.

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JK

So, let me get this straight...

So, let me get this straight... basically this is a patent on Artificial Intelligence communicating with anything? So for lone programmers or the casual group that isn't backed by lots of money, we'd be liable to be sued (in the patent-owner friendly, east district of Texas) for creating any sort of AI software, including say, a chat bot for IRC, or even -- Hey! Doesn't Asterisk PBX sometimes violate this patent too?

When will the madness stop? (Rhetorical, of course. It won't.)

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Prior Art

So, aren't the claims in the patent basically what "procmail" does? If so (if I read the patent correctly), isn't procmail (which was first released in 1990 - see http://www.procmail.org/procmail.HISTORY.html - it was up to version 3.11pre7 before the patent application was filed) an example of prior art, thus making this patent invalid?

If it isn't, doesn't that mean that anyone in violation of this patent would have to follow the exact flow described in the patent for the "automatic determination" of messages?

If this patent is valid, wouldn't it make all SPAM filters also violators?

/me hates trolls.

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Silver badge

Bletchley Boffin Prior Art taken for a Ride/Magical Mystery Tour?

"So, let me get this straight... basically this is a patent on Artificial Intelligence communicating with anything?"

And if that be the case, JK, it is a claim on an intangible........ and just a simply complex Turing Test with no real value added........ which would then class it as a Virus/AI Virus?

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Bronze badge

2 words...

Prior Art.

When is the US patent system going to get fixed? This patent covers something that was around 10 years prior.... The applicants could well have still been in pre-school/kindergarten when emails were being automatically classified and redirected.

I for one will be ticked off with USA (and more specifically Texas) if these morons win.

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Anyone can file a lawsuit for any reason

...but this one definitely sounds like it's headed directly for a summary dismissal with prejudice. Unless there's any merit to it at all, it looks like a foolish and potentially very expensive decision.

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Just close the damn thing...

The patent office has to either revise its methods or close.

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Software Patents...

...should be banned world wide. It stifles innovation.

Companies seem to wait for "their patent" to become a common place before comming out and claiming damages.

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Ben

Vanilla SMTP?

Surely this covers plain vanilla SMTP? If I send a message to a remote mail server, that mail server interprets and routes the message deciding on whether the user exists, is on vacation or doesn't exist etc.

In fact there are probably email systems pre-dating SMTP that do this - so plenty of prior art.

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Anonymous Coward

Prior Art

There is so much prior art!

The most obvious would be programs like Majordomo ( 1992) or listserv (1984) but I'm sure it can be pushed back further.

I wonder who ( or what! ) the US Patent Office employs as examiners?

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How about a shiny trophy?

We could have an annual event for all the patent holders out there. It would give them a chance to all dress up nicely and boast about which companies they have ripped off by applying for or buying ridiculous patents. The most spurious claim to be submitted to the courts wins that most celebrated of awards - the golden billy goat

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Sam

My latest patent,

I am going to try patenting this one,

A process where by an entity be it biological or mechanical that draws a gas or liquid from its environment or stored tank changes the chemistry of the gas and then expels the gas.

What you think? do you think i will get the patent?

When will this madness end?

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"Isn't it time someone patented breathing?" - already have

1. A method of automatically oxygenating the blood, comprising the steps of:

(a) Causing muscles in the chest to be manipulated in such a way as to cause the expansion of the intra-lung cavity.

(b) The resulting expansion causing a difference in pressure inside the cavity to outside, and the resulting pressure difference being resolved by means of an influx of molecules from the surrounding atmosphere comprising: 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen and 1% of water vapour, carbon dioxide and other gaseous molecules, the exact composition of which is a patented formula. This gas mixture will be stored outside the body at an average pressure of 101.325 kPa [this pressure is also patented by us, as are the words: 'pressure', 'vapour', 'gaseous', 'intra-lung', 'atmosphere' and all their associated plurals, derivatives, and roots. Also patented is the unit of measurement: 'kPa'. Further patented are the mathematical symbol '%' and it's associated uses.]

(c) When the above steps have been completed, the pressure will once again be equilibriised [the word 'equilibriised' is patented] and gas exchange takes place with Red Blood Cells [TM]. When this is complete, the altered gas mixture is then expelled by reversal of the above procedure.

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They missed a spot

Why did they not go gunning for Microsoft as well? Outlook plus Exchange should certainly qualify - Out of Office notifications, automatic classification of (at least some) spam (complete with asking for confirmation from the user)... even Outlook Express (or whatever its current name of the month is) should qualify.

For that matter, you could read the patent as covering pretty much every email system ever written:

a) Receive email "from a source" - yep, covered, even without Matrix-style silliness.

b) Interpret the email using a rule base and case based knowledge engine - well, one rule is that the email must be addressed to a legit mailbox, OR an alias. Add to that any anti-spam or attachment stripping and you're covered.

c) classifying the electronic message as at least one of (i) being able to be responded to automatically; and (ii) requiring assistance from a human operator - bounce messages for the misaddressed emails (at least in some configurations) for (i), or else queue for reading by a human operator (covers (ii)).

Great. They patented the mail server. And possibly much more, depending on interpretation. Quite clearly the Patent Officers either have no background knowledge in the fields they are granting patents in, are in someone's pocket or simply can't read the patent proposals placed before them.

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Latest: BT patents the hyperlink

Just like British Telecom when they were convinced they had invented the hyperlink:

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2000/06/19/bt_claims_ownership_of_hyperlinks/

And lawyers wonder why they get a bad name?

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Outlook anyone?

doesn't this cover nearly everything that even touches email?

for example outlook lets me set up a series of rules, so that mail can be automatically dealt with, ie an out of office reply that automatically responds to most things, but lets you set up rules to forward important mails on to somone who is in.

I'd like to see them go after Microsoft fro patent violation.

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AIUI

If you look at the patent, it's specifically tailored to e-mail systems which analyse the content of messages and decide whether it can be dealt with by auto-response or needs to be forwarded to a real person for proper human processing, e.g. those used by website helpdesks.

As such it falls outside of the 'normal' e-mail processing done by procmail et al although I suspect it wouldn't be too difficult for a lawyer to prove that there was software capable of doing this long before this patent application landed.

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Anonymous Coward

My own humble little site does that in a crude way...

I don't think that writing your own program, to do something so f***ing blindingly obvious as routing email responses based on content, can possibly be construed as a breach of patent.

The US patents system is ludicrous.

Hang on a minute though, if it forces all those companies which currently use it to actually get a human being to respond to me instead...

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Anonymous Coward

Light switch?

"1. A method for automatically processing a non-interactive electronic message using a computer, comprising the steps of:

(a) receiving the electronic message from a source;

(b) interpreting the electronic message using a rule base and case base knowledge engine; and

(c) classifying the electronic message as at least one of (i) being able to be responded to automatically; and (ii) requiring assistance from a human operator."

*flick* - bulp goes on, *flick* - bulp goes out.

A being the switch

B being you (says nothing about it being an electronic knowledge engine)

C being the lightbulp

I would think this is a case of prior art...

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g e
Silver badge

BWAHAHAHA

Such outrageous nob-cockery

Anyone know how old procmail is? There'll be shedloads of prior art for this, surely.

I feel it important, though, that the companies being sued endeavour to cost Polaris as much money as humanly possible (or lawerly possible, come to think of it) in prosecuting this so they go bankrupt to the point where even SCO could afford to buy them.

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Prior art flood

I remember implementing a system for the Whitehouse which filtered emails containing words like "bomb" and "explosion" and forwarded them to security way back in 1992. I know that Texas produces some very backwards presidents and tends to live in the dark ages, but this is just silly.

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Legal Question

Does Texas have an equivalent of vexatious litigation (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vexatious_litigation)?

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Why I want to Be a Patent Lawyer When I Grow Up

In the United States, the initial application for a patent is intentionally left as vague as possible in order to allow for latitude when enforcing it. The problem is that the Patent Office is staffed by government workers, people for whom technology is still a black box. So when these ridicoulously broad patents are applied for, the person reviewing it has no clue what's really being said/done. Then, there's such a huge number of patents that they've pretty much given up really searching for prior art the way they're supposed to.

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Anonymous Coward

/bin/vacation ?

Vacation (and how old is that?!) satisfies all the claims (as do various listservs that report spam, need for moderation -- some senders are mark for moderation before post, other aren't ). Where's my cluebat!

Vacation.

(a) receiving the electronic message from a source;

vaction receives messages. CHECK!

(b) interpreting the electronic message using a rule base and case base knowledge engine; and

vacation checks the database of senders that have been notified of my absence. CHECK!

(c) classifying the electronic message as at least one of (i) being able to be responded to automatically; and (ii) requiring assistance from a human operator."

vacation decides whether or not a mail message should be responded to. Specifically based on whether or not the sender has been notified of the recipients absence. (i.e. human operator (sender) needs to be made aware of recipients absence if they have not been told with the last N days.

CHECK!

Again.... where's my cluebat!

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It's Inevitable...

Can anyone "in the know" confirm or refute the following beliefs about the US Patent system:

1) They operate on the basis of "first to file" not the "first to invent" and

2) They operate a "presumption to grant" on the basis that "the market" will sort out any mistakes later.

I'm not sure what thet actually leaves for the Patent Office staff to do, except perhaps to make sure no-one already has a patent with the same title.

So, if I see a nifty idea in a piece of GPL code, I can patent it and then sue the authors when it become popular.

As for breathing, I'm sure a patent exists, couched in such vague and wooly terms that it is not readily recognisable as such, and the owner is just waiting for breating to become monetised so that they can claim financial loss...

At least we don't have s/w patents in Europe... yet!

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The message hasn't got through

Look people, read between the lines.

Don't innovate. Don't create software.

If you do, you will be sued. It's that simple.

Man, some people are slow on the uptake.

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Prior Artifice

Sadly, it appears no more Einsteins will be emerging from today's patent offices.

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