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Patent Troll Uses Ridiculous “People Finder” Patent to Sue Small Dating Businesses

from stupid-patent-of-the-month department

Finding people close to you with common interests, and talking to them, has a very long history in human culture. We are social animals. We need to find other people close to us to work with, play games with, and build relationships and families with. Modern online social networks are built on top of these basic human needs.

The technologies that we humans use to do these things are constantly evolving, but the basic concepts are not. Software that promotes new kinds of social networks is a bad choice for the patent system, which hands out hundreds of thousands of 20-year monopolies every year on inventions that are supposedly new but often aren’t. No one should be able to patent an “invention” that merely describes a method of finding like-minded people.

Unfortunately, that seems to be exactly what happened with a patent we looked at recently. A patent troll called Wireless Discovery LLC has sued eight different social and dating apps for patent infringement, claiming they infringe US Patent No. 9,264,875, which claims “location-based discovery” based on people’s “personal attributes”. Wireless Discovery, which was created just before its patent was granted in 2016, sued eight different online dating apps in April—more of their little apps.

Claiming the “social mobile” world

Wireless Discovery’s attorneys say a simple combination of basic computing services is enough to infringe their patent. Its table of claims clearly explains what is required to infringe the ‘875 patent. For his lawsuit against the Zoosk dating network, the table of claims describes how:

  • Zoosk has a website that mobile devices can connect to.
  • Zoosk’s server collects information from mobile devices, including location and unique device identifiers.
  • Zoosk users can send and accept invitations to connect and message each other.
  • Zoosk shares profile information of logged in users, who are “members of the same social network” (i.e. they are on Zoosk)
  • Zoosk can connect users who are in close proximity to each other or at a distance.

And that’s all.

The Wireless Discovery patents were originally filed for a company called Ximoxi, which was trying to market a type of “electronic social card”. Ximoxi’s founder, Ramzi Alharayeri, who is the named inventor on the patent, said in a 2012 press release that its software was “the first social discovery app that works on iPhone, Android and Blackberry”.

In 2016, however, Ximoxi’s website said the app was still “under development”. He continued, “After our beta released, we had to get back to work fixing bugs and improving functionality.” Today, the Ximoxi site is deceased.

Not the first

The idea of ​​connecting nearby users to a social network is not at all an idea that should be patentable. But it’s also worth noting that while Ximoxi executed this concept in one way or another, it was far from the first. The Ximoxi patent was filed in 2014, but claims it is a continuation of a patent originally filed in October 2008, when Ximoxi Was found.

Location-based social networks on mobile devices, however, are a bit older than that. It was conceptualized and used long before smartphones were common. The New York-based “Dodgeball” app dates back to 2000. It was acquired by Google (along with plenty of press coverage) in 2005. By then, it was clear that different kinds of social mobile apps were going to take off. A paper presented at the IEEE 2006 Engineering Conference notes the growth of mobile social networks: “An entire sub-industry of the wireless sector is slowly being created as companies such as Dodgeball, Playtxt and SmallPlanet.net begin to capitalize on this new phase of the mobile technology platform. ”

None of these prior technologies were presented to the US Patent and Trademark Office in Wireless Technology’s patent applications.

Unfortunately, this is all too common. It’s the number of software patents that are granted — examiners only 6 p.m., on average, to complete the exam, and candidates can come back with endless revisions. In the end, persistent applicants get patents, even if they have no good reason to do so.

And these monopolies do serious damage. Most patent lawsuits filed in recent years are not litigation resulting from a company trying to defend the market for its product. Rather, they are initiated by patent trolls – companies with no products, who simply use patents to demand payment from others. In 2021, 87% of high-tech patent litigation in federal courts were filed by companies or individuals who make most of their money from licensing patents.

It is very difficult and expensive to have patents thrown out in court, even when the technology described in the patent existed long before the patent was filed. That’s why 10 years ago, Congress created a more robust review system for previously granted patents, called inter partes (or IPR) review. Over the years, various patent holders have attempted to weaken the IPR system, encouraging the patent office to reject many IPRs on technical aspectsor even say that IPRs are unconstitutional. Fortunately, these efforts all failed.

There are a bill in Congress that would strengthen IPRs, closing some of the loopholes that patentees have used over the years to dodge the IPR process. Right now, passing the Restoring America Invents Act as it was introduced is the best thing we can do to get bad patents out of the system.

Originally posted on EFF Deep Links Blog.


Filed Under: dating apps, patent trolls, patents, people search

Companies: coffee meets bagel, wireless discovery, zoosk