back to article Imagine a patent on organizing computer files being used against online shopping sites. Oh, it's still happening

In another sign that corporate America has had enough of patent trolls, this week monster retailers Macy's and OfficeMax accused SpeedTrack in court of creating a "fable" – and asked a judge to kill off its patent infringement claims for good. At a hearing in Oakland, California, lawyers – who are defending web retailers sued …

  1. K Silver badge
    Devil

    SpeedTrack's system provides..

    ".. related and relevant search responses to specific keywords if those keywords turn up no results."

    Surely that would put every website that "recommends" alternative search in the cross-fire?

    Anyway if P0rnhub is a licensee, I'm not impressed they should be refunded! .. Alway wanted was a some belching... instead they replaced the B with an F!

    1. Danny 14 Silver badge

      Re: SpeedTrack's system provides..

      so basically what i did in dos mosaic and early search engines back in the 90s

  2. Peter Prof Fox

    Dear Judge,

    Once upon a time in the land of wibble-wobble, lived a princess who was offended by something the defendants said. So I demand lots of dosh. Lots. Lots and lots.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Well...

      It's the custom of the land that attorneys puff up and reach twitter levels of outrage within a minute from cold start.

      Yes, Modern Life is just Gulliver's Tales with added iPhonicity, but here we are.

  3. ecofeco Silver badge

    Oh for the love of...

    It's a damn database, like any database since the dawn of databases.

    Prior art and all that.

    1. Grikath Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: Oh for the love of...

      not quite...

      It's a database with #hashtags...

      1. HildyJ
        Facepalm

        Re: Oh for the love of...

        It's more than a database with or without hashtags. That said, it sounds like a subset of DOS based Lotus Agenda, patented in 1988. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lotus_Agenda

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Oh for the love of...

        "It's a database with #hashtags..."

        At least it doesn't have rounded corners.

      3. td97402

        Re: Oh for the love of...

        I was developing code back in the early to mid 80’s. I stored text files with categories appended for later ease of retrieval. I want to sue these Speedtrack people. Where can my lawyer reach them?

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: Oh for the love of...

          "I want to sue these Speedtrack people"

          You can't, any patent you might have enjoyed would have long since lapsed.

          On the other hand if you can prove this prior art then Speedtrack's patent gets to go away.

    2. StargateSg7 Bronze badge

      Re: Oh for the love of...

      Not just a database, BUT SPECIFICALLY A LINKED-LIST manner of organizing and categorizing searches, items, products and services. Linked Lists are 50+ years OLD --- COMPLETELY AND UNEQUIVOCALLY DEFINED AS PRIOR ART! A linked list is a series of POINTERS (i.e. links)

      which can include links defined as memory addresses to ANY type of computer-stored data be it numbers, text, binary data or binary code, source code or scripts of any type. Linked Lists can also comprise index location numbers to OTHER single items AND linear arrays or multi-dimensional arrays of items. Linked lists can also comprise not just memory addresses (i.e. pointers) to said other related or affiliated items of any type or size but ANY type of reference which LINKS to a related or categorized single item or grouped-together series of items!

      This invention in my opinion sounds IDENTICAL to a LINKED LIST !!!

      PATENT DENIED !!!!

    3. MacroRodent Silver badge

      Re: Oh for the love of...

      The abstract sounds just like a SQL view. If the defendants do in fact use a relational database, they should point out theirs is an obvious application of ideas presented in the 1970's.

      1. Danny 14 Silver badge

        Re: Oh for the love of...

        prior art is the second line of defence. first is to get is tossed and invalidated. if it isnt then you basically then say 'yes we do this but your sueball is silly because of prior art'

  4. mkaibear

    What are the claims?

    The abstract is irrelevant. It's refined after search and not after exam whereas the claims are refined as part of the exam process.

    (In essence, the abstract is a very brief precis of what they want to patent, and the claims are an in depth list of what they have actually patented)

    Basing an entire article on the abstract is just lazy journalism

    1. TechnicalBen Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: IMO

      IMO does not matter what the claims are. Patenting code is so silly, because concurrent or prior discovery are just so common, it's like trying to patent individual numbers.

      Mine is the jacket with all the patent on all the primes, starting with the largest in descending order.

      (XKCD reference ;) )

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: IMO

        >IMO does not matter what the claims are.

        Really? As a patent attorney I am used to the claims being exactly what counts in infringement litigation. The Register has cleverly posted the abstract which is most excellent in generating outrage but it is the claims, specifically the independent claims, that count. And there are 4 independent claims: 1, 15, 18 and 20.

        1. A method for accessing files in a data storage system of a computer system having means for reading and writing data from the data storage system, displaying information, and accepting user input, the method comprising the steps of:

        (a) initially creating in the computer system a category description table containing a plurality of category descriptions, each category description comprising a descriptive name, the category descriptions having no predefined hierarchical relationship with such list or each other;

        (b) thereafter creating in the computer system a file information directory comprising at least one entry corresponding to a file on the data storage system, each entry comprising at least a unique file identifier for the corresponding file, and a set of category descriptions selected from the category description table; and

        (c) thereafter creating in the computer system a search filter comprising a set of category descriptions, wherein for each category description in the search filter there is guaranteed to be at least one entry in the file information directory having a set of category descriptions matching the set of category descriptions of the search filter.

        Reordering the steps might be a legal way around since the features recite "thereafter" which causes estoppel.

        For all the outrage here I do not see any constructive analysis on Ask Patent, in fact presently there is noting about the patent there:

        https://patents.stackexchange.com/questions/tagged/US5544360

        1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

          Re: IMO

          .... so, in other words, a many-to-many relationship. This kind of thing is very easily implemented in a relational database, let's pluck one out of thin air "SQL-92" (note how this standardised SQL predates this claim), and has been part of standard teaching of SQL/databases since before that time.

        2. Roland6 Silver badge

          Re: IMO

          >As a patent attorney I am used to the claims being exactly what counts in infringement litigation.

          But only if the method used by claimed infringement duplicates the method described in the body of the patent; remember it is the body of the patent that defined the 'invention' not the claims; the claims merely define what uses of the invention are patented.

          So if the description of the 'invention' contained int he body is insufficient for someone "skilled in the art" to replicate, without them having to invent stuff to "fill the gaps" then the patent itself is void, because it doesn't satisfy the basic criteria necessary for a valid patent to be issued. Reading through this patent it is clear that it fails this basic test...

          Also it fails to define 'user', 'database' and many other key terms. Hence, could knock up an implementation of something that looks a lot like the patent and provided I call my lookup table a 'database'(*), I don't infringe... :)

          Any one who has studied database techniques will know that a simple list with pointers to something can correctly be described as a database. Which is also probably why they are going after Amazon et al. because databases are just overlays on to a filesystem and hence are "A method for accessing files in a data storage system of a computer system"....

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: IMO

            >But only if the method used by claimed infringement duplicates the method described in the body of the patent; remember it is the body of the patent that defined the 'invention' not the claims; the claims merely define what uses of the invention are patented.

            The "body of the patent" is not a familiar term, do you mean the description? It is still the claims that count (and has basis in the description) but one can refer to the description for the understanding or interpretation as the author is his opn lexicographer.

            >So if the description of the 'invention' contained int he body is insufficient for someone "skilled in the art" to replicate, without them having to invent stuff to "fill the gaps" then the patent itself is void, because it doesn't satisfy the basic criteria necessary for a valid patent to be issued. Reading through this patent it is clear that it fails this basic test...

            If that is the case it should not be a problem having it revoked on grounds of insufficiency. Normally that is one of the first thing you look for when accused of infringement.

            >Also it fails to define 'user', 'database' and many other key terms. Hence, could knock up an implementation of something that looks a lot like the patent and provided I call my lookup table a 'database'(*), I don't infringe... :)

            Words are given the normal meaning unless given a special meaning in the description (ref. what I wrote about being lexicographer) but I cannot see how this is an issue here. For instance "user" would be any reasonable meaning of an user. Where is the problem?

            >Any one who has studied database techniques will know that a simple list with pointers to something can correctly be described as a database. Which is also probably why they are going after Amazon et al. because databases are just overlays on to a filesystem and hence are "A method for accessing files in a data storage system of a computer system"....

            Matching one single feature is not sufficient to cry "infringement!" as you have to match every single feature to have a case.

            1. Roland6 Silver badge

              Re: IMO

              >If that is the case it should not be a problem having it revoked on grounds of insufficiency.

              Agreed, however, remember we are dealing with a US patent and US courts who have different standards to the rest of the world...

              >Words are given the normal meaning unless given a special meaning in the description

              My point precisely. Thus for example in the case of websites, user is joe public not a developer...

              Likewise, database and other key words and phrases need to be given the meaning in common usage in 1992...

              >Matching one single feature is not sufficient to cry "infringement!" as you have to match every single feature to have a case.

              My point precisely. You can match the claims by using a database, which is recognised prior art...

              1. Danny 14 Silver badge

                Re: IMO

                except the US system is grant patent first and sue for validity later

        3. Dan 55 Silver badge

          Re: IMO

          Sounds like Hypercard, which came out five years before the patent.

        4. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: IMO

          So I am clocking up thumbs down, 11 as I write this. But why? Do you disagree with my opinion of just want to protest about something?

          And still no comments on Ask Patent.

          1. Roland6 Silver badge

            Re: IMO

            >And still no comments on Ask Patent.

            Maybe because that site isn't frequented by people skilled in the art and worked in the software industry in circa 1992 and so have a good understanding of the ideas in circulation at the time...

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: IMO

              >Maybe because that site isn't frequented by people skilled in the art and worked in the software industry in circa 1992 and so have a good understanding of the ideas in circulation at the time...

              Patent attorneys know Ask Patent and you reach it from Google Patents which is a very handy tool. In any case, my point was that if people really thought this was blindingly obvious they could submit their analyses there rather than just downvoting me. It is unclear if they disagree with what i state or if it is just a generic show of displeasure with patents,

              1. Roland6 Silver badge

                Re: IMO

                they could submit their analyses there rather than just downvoting me.

                Up voted because I agree with this point of yours, simply down voting without really challenging the viewpoint isn't really helpful - having myself at times wondered why I've been so massively downvoted.

                Interestingly, after reading around, I suspect part of the problem is group think - we read what we want to read, I have come to the conclusion that a key word used in this patent is 'access'. It is clear that the patent describes a method for shortlisting files TO BE accessed using the file system, which does not involve actually accessing the target files or the file system they are held in; which seems to totally invalidate Claim 1...

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: IMO

            "So I am clocking up thumbs down, 11 as I write this. But why? Do you disagree with my opinion of just want to protest about something?

            And still no comments on Ask Patent."

            because it another fucking attempt to patent standard data processing and search techniques by using bullshit language to hide the fact!..

            and coders recognise that this should never have been patentable in the first fucking place.

  5. Alan Sharkey

    But but but ....

    Surely database searches, which then output to a "hybrid" or "virtual" table have been around since the start of databases.

    I can remember writing something like that back in about 1980 on a Data General RDOS system. And, doing it again in DBASE3 when we used that - and so on.

    How did that get to be a patent?

    Alan

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Re: But but but ....

      As far as I can tell, they swapped the word "record" for the word "file".

      The patent seems to be claiming the idea of adding searchable metadata to files within an existing filesystem.

      In other words, if you're using a database then it does not apply.

      It's also "bloody obvious" to anyone "skilled in the art".

      Implementing it is quite hard and worthy of being a saleable product, but the idea is trivial and obvious to anyone who has ever encountered a database.

      1. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: But but but ....

        >Implementing it is quite hard and worthy of being a saleable product

        Well given the original patent contains the following information:

        Original Assignee: Paragon Concepts Inc

        Priority date 1992-11-23

        Paragon Concepts were the original developers of the Nisus wordprocessor - still available on Mac.

        I suspect that given what was happening at the time, Paragon were trying to implement document management system style features on the Mac, using as others were doing a file system overlay.

        What this means is that 'user' in the patent actually means the end user and creator of the files being accessed; which is a fundamentally different user to a user of Amazon's or any other third-parties website.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: But but but ....

          Oh no! I have a website with music I composed, and there is a database that contains the data for it, but it contains paths to where the files are so people can download them. And it has a "categories" column. It's been online for a while, but probably not long enough for me to claim I invented categorizing files (isn't it so curious that nobody thought of categorizing data stored in a file system until 2009?). I must be anonymous because I'm going to get sued now, aren't I?

    2. Richard Jones 1
      WTF?

      Re: But but but ....

      I was trying to see what was different between the current fiction, sorry case and what you said about data bases, e.g. DBase 3. I was doing much the same thing in the early 1980s onwards on PCs sorting production data from online systems to produce all sorts of shopping lists of information, e.g. lists of under performing devices and connections. Clipper programs ran pretty much autonomously 24 hours per day, and before that compiled MS Quick basic; one version of which came out with a bug that if you opened and closed many files it eventually fell over. I was one of those who 'benefited' from that particular bug. That should date it to the middle part of the 1980s. Those versions also had a 'soundex' function in case you used a wrong spelling and a look up list of valid entries that could be used to find targets. The lists were dynamic back then since they were added to by the program while operating as it was able to add fields according to need from the data encountered. Useful when converting accounts records to in service operational data and ensuring customers got what they paid for, and only what they paid for.

      1. Alan Sharkey

        Re: But but but ....

        MY RDOS search was "files" as it saved all the found data to a new file and then used that for the resultant prinout/view.

        So, I can claim "prior Art" here :)

        Alan

    3. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

      Re: But but but ....

      It is how they phrased the claims that made it 'patent-able'. In reality, what they are describing has been done manually for millennia and electronically since real databases existed. So the prior art is very old. The electronic implementation can take numerous forms, mostly depending on the specific database engine used. But even there it is still prior art or obvious to anyone skilled in the arts. Taking an idea and reimplementing it is not worthy of a patent and the Nine Seniles even managed to get that one right.

  6. Christoph Silver badge

    It goes back further than that

    You don't even need a computer - you can select all the punched cards which have a particular hole punched in them. By electronic read, or simply sticking a rod through.

    1. Frederic Bloggs

      Re: It goes back further than that

      In the 1980s I wrote a rather nifty builders merchant system that worked just like that, complete with "pick lists" generated from the "files" of data (not just a simple price, pages of info about it as well) - meaning that the user did not have "search" by typing out words (although they could, but rarely did). The merchants absolutely *loved* it.

      And what about yer standard menu system on the browser you are using to read this? Isn't that a set of "pick lists" bringing up "files" (especially if one considers the history or book mark pages)?

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Isn't this just another CAFS?

    I seem to remember that being around a long time ago.

    Then back in the days of VAXen, the filesystem allowed some form of ISAM access via keys.

    Anyway this patent troll needs to be taken to the cleaners and made bankrupt and this can be use s a warning to all those other trolls that inhabit East Texas.

    1. DJV Silver badge

      Re: Isn't this just another CAFS?

      Please don't restrict it to just the trolls in East Texas! The buggers are known to exist elsewhere as well.

  8. Version 1.0 Silver badge

    Move on please, there's nothing to see here.

    The "troll" is just doing what lawyers do - they saw fruit on the tree and they are picking it. We created this problem when it was decided that patenting software "methods" was a good idea. And it's going to keep on happening until we fix the patent system

    1. TechnicalBen Silver badge

      Re: Move on please, there's nothing to see here.

      Generally I'm against blaming the victims. But I can agree, if you put your fruit in an ants nest/wasps nest, then don't complain if you get stung!

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Move on please, there's nothing to see here.

      <em.We created this problem when it was decided that patenting software "methods" was a good idea.</em>

      Who's this "we" of whom you write?

  9. Blockchain commentard Silver badge

    Looks like they're breaking my (patent pending) patent of trolling large companies on the internet for large sums of money for using basic technology in the hope that the judge/jury are technically illiterate and find in my favour. Who needs Wonga when everyday is my payday !!!!!

    1. GrumpyOldBloke

      Did your patent describe a mechanism to remain a viable financial entity while trolling said large companies in one of the most expensive games on Earth.

  10. Jamie Jones Silver badge

    Burp

    They claim to have invented "search"?

  11. Onid
    Mushroom

    It's a hypercard stack at the end

    Dunno if anyone's noticed - at the patent itself the last page shows a hypercard stack.. These types of filters etc were standard buttons /popups. Strange as previous pages show directories ala dos (C:/ etc) then a hypercard stack on last page...

    1. Waseem Alkurdi
      Thumb Up

      Re: It's a hypercard stack at the end

      Really shameless, of them.

      Somebody was probably like:

      Boss: "Hey crayon holders! Lawyer says we need pics on that patent application .... get yo' lazy a$$es off that chair and go do something!"

      Graphic designer goes off to Google Image Search and looks for something that fits the bill ...

      Then finds something that fits the bill ... a HyperCard sample from somewhere.

      Changes it a bit ... and tada! You have it!

  12. Disk0
    Facepalm

    Most likely

    The judiciary use a similar system to access case files. "Show me every file with (x)" is one of the most basic features of just about any computer system. I hope the court can grok this...

    1. Waseem Alkurdi

      Re: Most likely

      I hope the court can grok this...

      And the court is in the United States, so there's, well, a lot of people who would disagree with you.

  13. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

    Card Catalog

    Showing my antiquity here, but how many remember going to the library and using a card catalog to search of books manually? Various methods have been developed to allow for search data stored in paper files relatively efficiently. All a computerized system does is make the searches more flexible and much faster. More flexible because you are not limited to the predefined searches like in the old card catalog (title, author, subject were typically all you could do). Now you could search on other possible information (publisher, year, edition, etc.) that could easily be stored in a database. The basic point is various permutations and adaptions of electronic searching have manual predecessors which should be considered prior art as the basic idea has been around awhile.

    1. DJV Silver badge

      Antiquity

      Me clam prior art! Sort rocks into big n litel! Big rocks for throw at Mamoht, lital rox for hit rabitz! Tastee - ug?

  14. Nick Kew Silver badge

    A method of ...

    In response to some of the comments here:

    A patent isn't for some broad, familiar concept like searching a filesystem. It's for a particular method of search. Thus for example something like a hash or a btree might be the basis for a method. But not an actual hash or btree - as those are of course obvious prior art. The concept of an SQL View wouldn't be patentable, but a method of doing it might be.

    I certainly wouldn't want to defend the patent system, particularly as practiced by the US as a weapon of economic imperialism. But better to focus attention on what patents really are, rather than a misunderstanding.

    1. TechnicalBen Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: See maths.

      So, if I patent a specific method of counting?

      Easily circumvented by counting a different way (different base, different order but then lookup table to put back, or different system (only evens, then take 1 away when I want an odd number etc).

      My examples may not be very good, but as said, if there is one method to do something in code, there is an infinity variable ways to also do it. Problem being, mathematically it often reduces down to one main method (see counting in binary!!!). To change on the whim of someone else having a patent on code, is like changing the meaning if pie, because someone else wants royalties for it!

      1. Nick Kew Silver badge

        Re: See maths.

        You're on much the same page as Darwin's contemporaries who "disproved" evolution by cutting off rats' tails and observing that the rats' children - through a number of generations - were still born with tails. It's easy to knock down a strawman.

        The problem with the patent system today is in the practice - as a deadly instrument of piracy - not in the original principle of rewarding inventors. AKA, rule by lawyers.

        1. Waseem Alkurdi

          Re: See maths.

          and observing that the rats' children - through a number of generations - were still born with tails.

          It's easy to knock down a strawman.

          Just wanted to point out something:

          In Darwin's time, DNA wasn't a thing, nor was Mendel's work, so this doesn't count as an example of a strawman (argument?).

          However, doing the same today would fit the definition of knocking down a strawman.

          1. TechnicalBen Silver badge

            Re: See maths.

            Information is information. While DNA was not know of. For centuries (or more) before hand, animal husbandry was know. Seeing the colour of domesticated animals being passed on, or mixes of (if other parents used) was know. Spotted/speckled and striped sheep etc. Though this may have been given different meanings or causes, no doubt many would have realised somewhere, such info was stored in the creature to pass to its offspring.

            The "proof by cutting off a tail" is failure to understand the logical observation and statements made from evolutionary theory. Such failure to analyse the conversation would fail to argue for any point (for or against). :P

            Where is my understanding wrong? Is applying patents to code, no more beneficial than asking to patent π ? (sorry if I misspelt before)

  15. Tom 7 Silver badge

    Imagine what this would be worth

    if they'd added the word 'phone'.

    The patent 'holder' should have extremely large type copies of Knuth dropped on them from a height conducive to causing as much pain for them and merriment for the rest of us.

  16. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    I'm considering a patent for a method of reading a book. It consists of (a) reading the first page (b) reading the second and subsequent pages in the order in which they occur in the book (c) stopping on reading to the end of the last page.

    1. Stoneshop Silver badge
      Headmaster

      Have you considered

      the possibility that a book may have pages missing, duplicated or bound in the wrong order? That would cause the reader to be presented with a different story than the writer intended. Or does your method include a way to resolve each 'subsequent page' reference to the actual page as it should be, over the air (electronic or avian)?

      1. Waseem Alkurdi

        Re: Have you considered

        the possibility that a book may have pages missing, duplicated or bound in the wrong order?

        In this case, see my patent for a novel method of parsing information that helps you circumvent this issue. It's called "Reading™".

        You pass the line of focus of two binocular optical scanners called "Eyes™" onto a special ID tag at either extremity of the page, known as a "Page Number™" (This field's name is too long, perhaps we should call it a PNumber™)? Scanning this field easily solves the aforementioned paradox.

  17. Paratrooping Parrot
    Black Helicopters

    The winners in these cases

    It seems to be that the way to make loads of dosh is to become a lawyer! All sorts of lawsuits are being filed and opposed. Is this some sort of conspiracy to help lawyers become rich?

  18. 89724102172714582892114I7551670349743096734346773478647892349863592355648544996312855148587659264921

    All humans infringe this patent whenever they visualise objects and their similars, must be sued to death.

  19. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Facepalm

    The inventive computer file control system could therefore be used as the basis of a new computer operating system.

    Not realizing that the fact that OS are basically schedulers + resource managers that are just associated to "filesystems" as a historical accident.

    These is not the basis you are looking for.

  20. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    It seems like they're trying to claim patent protection on the 'if' statement.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    some organizations have paid to use its technology

    = IT WORKS! = there's a sucker/police department created every day...

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    hybrid?

    I've used symbolic links for this purpose for decades.

  23. Dunstan Vavasour

    Northern California

    Makes a nice change to see a patent plaintiff filing in California.

    When NetApp, based in Northern California, sued Sun Microsystems, based in Northern California, for infringing their WAFL patents, they obviously picked on East Texas as being the relevant jurisdiction.

  24. CarlWoods

    I support and demand many doshas too. A lot of. Lots and lots.

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