Eek! a Patent Troll
So, yesterday a patent troll in the form of a company called Kelora Systems, LLC came to my attention, for reasons which need not concern us at the moment. And having followed up on it a bit I can now understand why so many companies are involved in the aparently insane pastime of suing and counter suing each other through nearly every court in the world. I'll tell you why in a minute, but forst to kelora.
What staggered me is that they claim that they hold a patent, 6,275,821, known rather familiarly as '821, which covers "a method and system for executing a guided parametric search"
What is that? I'll tell you in a few short lines what the patent takes pages to painfully struggle to express:
In order to help people select a product from a catalogue the system displays a list of products and product attibutes.
Then, on the user selecting values the list of products is filtered to show only matching products, and the available attribute values are filtered to only show ones which still apply to the subset of products.
Or more simply still, if your system shows a list of products and gives the user the ability to filter this list by price, or size, or colour, you are potentially infringing the patent. My favourite example can be seen in the left hand column of this page (on a website which isn't within the jurisdiction of the US courts).
I hear you, you just said OMGWTF, didn't you? Yeah, so did I.
So I dug into it a bit and uncovered some interesting bits and pieces, first of all these trolls are gunning for just about everyone you could imagine, and a whole lot of other folks too. And it seems like there are legal challenges afoot by a number of big hitters to get the patent overturned, this from last year which was only partially sucessful and another move in the federal courts to be heard in November (2011).
I know theres a lot of talk about software patents, but for someone to be allowed to use a patent for something as self evident as the "method" and as dated and stuck in the 90's as the "system" is a total indictment of the whole notion. I could understand the intention (but not necessarily agree with it!) if the company had invented a useful product which was differentiated on the basis of the method, and sought to protect their investment, and if it was limited to the field of use originally intended, but this is little more than a patent on the application of common sense to a well recognised pattern of problem (how do you let people browse an online catalogue).
If the US patent office allows people to patent things as non specific as this its little wonder the courts are filled with patent cases, this isn't protecting your R&D this is a land grab for the common sense of the future. And if the courts continue to uphold patents like this, and the patent offices of the world carry on granting them we may find ourselves in a situation where innovation is held to ransom by lawyers and patent trolls.