back to article Prof claims Lyft did a hit-and-run on his ride-sharing tech patent

Lyft is the target of a lawsuit filed by a former Georgia Tech professor who alleges the dial-a-ride upstart ripped off his patented idea. Prof Stephen Dickerson and his company RideApp claim Lyft is infringing on US Patent 6,697,730: "Communications and computing based urban transit system." He filed the patent in 1999 and …

  1. Tom Chiverton 1

    Prior art abounds in SciFi, as always.

    Can I get Johnny Cab around here ?

    1. Blue Sky Pen

      Not Exactly...

      Sorry to be technical but: patents and inventions aren't *ideas about doing things* but instead *reductions of practice*. People have long dreamed of flying, even told stories and made imaginary depictions of such inventions for centuries, but practical flying machines weren't available until the Wright Brothers--who developed and *reduced to practice* several inventions that made flying actually feasible. They patented the controls that actually made planes flyable. ** **

      I just skimmed over the '703 patent (publicly available) and while it might not stand up under today's examination guidelines (they are VERY different than they were in the late '90s and early '00s) it does seem to reduce things to practice that weren't conceivable when drafted. It's no like this guy came out of the blue--he worked at Georgia Tech and his work became public as soon as it was published in the early 2000s and it has dozens of citations. He probably has a case. ** **

      Patents expire after 20 years--and his will expire around 2020 so its unlikely to he will get much from Lyft going forward. IMHO they can at least pay him for paving the way for the existence of their company many years before school kids got together and thought they had a great business idea. He's a retired professor, how much does he need/want?

      1. Gordon 10 Silver badge

        Re: Not Exactly...

        He's still a patent troll who appears to have sat around with a thumb up his ass for 20 odd years.

        Lets give him nothing!

        1. UncleDave

          Re: Not Exactly...

          Read the article, //he now-retired Prof Dickerson got the patent's assignment returned to him from his former employer so he could launch RideApp//. The only thing is doesn't say is when it was returned....

      2. aks Bronze badge

        Re: Not Exactly...

        Surely he didn't reduce it to practice.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "They patented the controls that actually made planes flyable."

        Sure, they actually flew... and the patent was about an actual mechanism. They didn't patent the idea that airplanes could be actually somehow controlled in flight by the pilot with something in his hands, feet or using their body, with a simple flowchart saying "the pilot moves the actuator to left, and the planes turn left" - without resolving the problem of an actual coordinated turn to left.

        In this guy's patent there are only simple flowcharts - in many ways, a booking system - and no algorithms or real problem solutions to actually make the system work at scale. It's just what you can find in many sci-fi books.

        Also, there's a difference between consumer GPS assisted navigation and route planning, and simple GPS receivers. The latter were well available far earlier than 1999 - i.e. Garmin first GPS unit was released in 1990. By 1999, it was well known and used. Car use needed the availability of small enough device with memory space for the map data.

        I guess that sci-fi authors should have patented any idea in their books - they would have become richer.

    2. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Prior art abounds in SciFi, as always

      And in real life - the patent is just an extension of the usual cab monitoring systems except "on a computer" (rather than a dispatcher).

      As such, it should fail under the "Alice" precedent.

  2. martinusher Silver badge

    Also Known as ....

    Dial-a-Ride, the mainstay of senior transport in surburban USA for decades. (The "dial" bit is the giveaway -- its that old so the comms might have been electromechanical....but its still comms....)

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Also Known as ....

      "but its still comms..."

      But with a mobile phone. And with GPS. Just like "with a computer".

      It's said that the UK Patent Office would accept patents for perpetual motion machines provided they were accompanied by a working example. What a pity that isn't a universal proviso.

      1. martinusher Silver badge

        Re: Also Known as ....

        >But with a mobile phone. And with GPS. Just like "with a computer".

        A mobile phone is nothing special, its just a radio phone with vastly improved technology compared to the stuff available before about 2000. (Before about 2000 most phones were still analog, even cellphones.) As for GPS, it was available in the late 90s but it wasn't really practical for consumer navigation, it needed to be made a lot more sensitive, a lot more reliable, to use a lot less power and be integrated with a mapping platform.

        A lot of these patents should never see the light of day because they're "obvious". The trick, as someone has already pointed out, is in a practical realization of the concept. Unfortunately around this time the USPTO changed its rules to allow anyone to patent practically anything -- you remember those dumb software patents? -- and this would have been one of those sorts.

    2. Blue Sky Pen

      Re: Also Known as ....

      That has *nothing* to do with GPS, a technology that wasn't commercially available until about 2000. I know its hard to remember a time when we didn't have GPS everywhere (even in our pockets) but this tech was non-existent for commercial purposes until the year this patent was published. ** **

      Patents rely on *specifics*, not generalities. Engineers do things with specifics. Mud and concrete are basically the same thing except for a few *very specific* key ingredients--but those key ingredients make all the difference in the world between a building that reaches 90 stories and one that melts in the rain.

      1. the spectacularly refined chap

        Re: Also Known as ....

        That has *nothing* to do with GPS, a technology that wasn't commercially available until about 2000. I know its hard to remember a time when we didn't have GPS everywhere (even in our pockets) but this tech was non-existent for commercial purposes until the year this patent was published.

        Your dates are well off there. I remember seeing GPS units in Maplin when doing my A levels (95-97), they caught my eye not because they were new at that point but because of how cheap they had become, from memory down to around the £100 mark instead of five or six times that.

        Sure they weren't linked to large scale mapping in an integrated unit (at best you'd have a map of motorways and major A roads, enough to navigate to the first half of a post code) and selective availability was still in play so you didn't get the full accuracy, but as a tech it was around at least five years earlier than you think.

        1. aks Bronze badge

          Re: Also Known as ....

          Wikipedia says the first with a map was in 1981. Look up "Automotive navigation system".

        2. Korev Silver badge

          Re: Also Known as ....

          >Your dates are well off there. I remember seeing GPS units in Maplin when doing my A levels (95-97

          I was doing DofE back then. The leaders made it clear that the units were banned and also that they should be lent the unit so they could "test" it!

        3. Oengus Silver badge

          Re: Also Known as ....

          I have a 1995 BMW 740IL that has a GPS navigation system built in and is fully integrated with the vehicle entertainment system. The interface is a bit "clunky" compared to more modern GPS systems and it is a bit slow finding routes but it is fully functional and still can be updated to the latest maps. So GPS systems were definitely available prior to 2000.

      2. JohnG Silver badge

        Re: Also Known as ....

        "That has *nothing* to do with GPS, a technology that wasn't commercially available until about 2000."

        Somewhere in a cupboard, I have a Garmin GPS 12XL, that I purchased in 1998. However, Garmin's first handheld was the GPS 50, which was released in 1991.

  3. ma1010 Silver badge

    The stupidity of "business method" patents

    How to get rich in the US? Just use your imagination. Make something up! File a vague patent on some general idea. Then do absolutely NOTHING to make that idea actually work. Instead, wait for someone else to have the same (usually obvious) idea and spend a lot of money and time to make that idea into a reality the public can actually benefit from. Then sue those productive people because you did absolutely nothing to develop "your" idea.

    Fsck this bugger and ALL patent trolls. May they burn in hell! Patents should only apply to something the claimant made actually WORK, not vague ideas anybody can think up or (as another poster pointed out) steal from SF movies or books.

    1. Blue Sky Pen

      Re: The stupidity of "business method" patents

      Due respect. That's not how this works...

      Doing the work of actually *inventing* something isn't like sitting on the sidelines of a football game and saying, "anybody could have made that goal". People have to invent something and then *prove* it was new to/against patent examiners who literally get paid to reject stuff. It's tough.

      And regardless of how the examiners rule the application gets published for the rest of the world to review and pick-through for good ideas and new technologies. It's grueling.

      1. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

        Re: The stupidity of "business method" patents

        @Blue Sky Pen - The argument is not that the idea did not take some thought but it is fundamentally implementing something already being done but now using a computer. GPS was a known technology in 1999 and it basic principles were well understood. How accurate it is was not well understood. The other bits have a pen-&-paper analogue. So the real question is not is this a new idea but how unusual was it to someone "skilled in the arts". The basic problem of business process patents is they obvious to someone with some computer knowledge but not necessarily obvious to a regular person.

        1. Nick Kew Silver badge

          Re: The stupidity of "business method" patents

          GPS was a known future technology as far back as the 1980s.

          I did some work in the late '80s on a system that was presumably prior art to the patent in question. It used a pre-GPS positioning system (non-global) and pre-GSM data network to monitor and track vehicles. Originally for security (we were part-owned by Securicor, whose business was secure transport of very-high-value loads), the system was expanding to include users like utility companies, who would use it to identify and call a nearby van when Mrs Miggins called to say she smelled gas. From distant memory, taxi companies were another target market, but I'm not sure whether any were signed up in my time.

          I left that job in 1989. I'm pretty sure the company migrated to GPS sometime in the 1990s.

        2. EveryTime Silver badge

          Re: The stupidity of "business method" patents

          > "GPS was a known technology in 1999 and it basic principles were well understood. How accurate it is was not well understood."

          I remember GPS as being quite accurate, and the accuracy well understood by 1999.

          A quick search confirmed this. I quickly found a Forest Service paper published in 1999 that talked about the improvement in accuracy using DGPS, and WAAS was generally available by 2000. Not every GPS receiver had the features, and low-end receivers often gave up some accuracy due to their noise, but it was clear that the system was potentially accurate to within a few meters.

          1. John Hawkins

            Re: The stupidity of "business method" patents

            The company I worked for mucked around with GPS in the forest in '92. The units were expensive (>100k USD) and not accurate in the pre DGPS days, but there was clearly potential for mapping our forestry roads etc. once the accuracy was improved.

      2. Richard 12 Silver badge

        Re: The stupidity of "business method" patents

        The USPTO don't get paid to reject patents though.

        Their mode of operation has been to accept almost everything, and let the courts decide whether or not the claims are valid if and when someone is sued over it.

        This has been going on since the mid 90s or so. They don't have the resources and they get paid by the application.

        For example, there was a patent issued in 1997 for colour mixing LEDs using PWM dimming. Something so obvious that I did it as a child before the patent was filed.

        1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: The stupidity of "business method" patents

          Their mode of operation has been to accept almost everything

          Only if "almost everything" means "about half". Take five seconds and do some fucking research, rather than just reposting the same myths for every article about patents.

  4. Jamesit

    ”It does seem odd, however, that Dickerson has only sued Lyft, not the much larger (and richer) Uber. Could it be he's trying salami tactics on the ride-sharing industry?”

    Uber could afford the legal fees to get the patent invalidated, Lyft might not be able to.

    1. Keef

      I think that was probably in the hack's (sorry if that's pejorative Shaun) mind when writing the article.

      I thought it was implied, I read it that way without it actually being written.

      Of course, I could be wrong, as usual :-)

  5. iron Silver badge

    Sounds like a typical patent troll, going for the smaller company who are more likely to settle than fight it so that he established a precedent for going after the larger company. Dick move prof, dick move.

    1. aks Bronze badge

      If I were Uber, I'd support Lyft directly or covertly in this case.

  6. M7S

    I dont know about Lyft, but I can see why he's not suing Uber

    "minimizing the social costs of urban transportation"

    From what I have read in these august pages, the social cost of Uber has been pretty high. Conventional cabs forced out of work (that might be seen as fair competition), allegations of extensive mysoginy at their head office, allegations that their drivers are not properly vetted, allegations regarding the "greyball" scheme to actively avoid regulators etc etc

    Clearly they're not copying his blueprint to bring nirvana to the travelling masses.

    I'd use the Joke icon, but I'm not entirely sure that it fits in this instance....

  7. deltamind

    Yes and I thought about google before google even thought about google, gimmie my billions!

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