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Company that loves to sue sues Boston University for using a link-shortening service

A company that claims it has a patent on the idea of linking a number entered in an online box to a specific article has set its sights on Boston University, claiming the school's use of a link shortener is outrageous and deserving of punishment - or a large enough settlement to make the case go away.

In a suit filed today in US District Court in Boston, Internet Media Interactive Corp. of Wilmington, DE alleges that BU's use of a system in which readers of some of its online pages are directed to a Web page where they can type in a numerical code to access a specific article violates a patent the company owns - and which expired in 2016.

The company says it's seeking a declaration that BU was in the wrong and the awarding of "reasonable" royalties on BU's practice, plus whatever damages would make BU think twice about ever doing such a bad thing again.

The company has sued everybody from Barnes & Noble to the Bunn-o-Matic Corp. (which churns out coffee makers, not robot rabbits) - 85 companies and non-profit groups since 2012. The BU complaint appears to have used a fill-in-the-blanks template, because it states:

Internet Media has the exclusive right to enforce and collect all past damages for infringement of the ‘835 Patent for the period starting six years prior to the filing date of this suit (October 29, 2015) through the expiration date of the ‘835 Patent (August 30, 2016).

This would not be the first case where the company basically recycled a suit against one party against another. Last year, a judge overseeing the case the company brought (and then dropped) against Shopify, Inc., wrote:

The Court is certainly troubled by the apparent lack of effort expended by Plaintiff in putting together a respectable pleading in this case. Recycling old complaints without bothering to give a careful review to remove information unrelated to the current defendant is not an appropriate way to litigate.

Ed. note: If "prior art" means anything, in the mid-1990s, as editor of a trade-publication Web site, I helped create a system that let visitors type a number into a box to jump to a specific article - several years before the Patent Office granted the patent at question in the suit. We used it through at least the first couple of years of the new millennium. We never thought to try to patent it because it seemed like such an obvious idea.

And a conflict of interest note: The kidlet is currently a student in a graduate program at BU, although I have not consulted with anybody at BU about this article.

PDF icon Complete complaint166.28 KB

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Time flies! Not such a kidlet any more.

Voting closed 30

that's a full-grown kid!

Voting closed 20

I mean, she can legally drink and everything!

Voting closed 17

Mine finished grad school, turned 30 (a shock for both of us), and has a steady job that pays more than mine!

Voting closed 19

This is an example of being clueless about what real life problems are.

Voting closed 12

since this is a non-palpable instance, i always thought the u.s.p.t.o. wouldnt allow it (aside from process improvement patents).

software is essentially rudimentary math questions executed very rapidly and natural numerical facts are not protected (aside from pharmaceutical formulae).

remember that visicalc could not patent; therefore, cambridge based lotus was able to copy their idea using their own source-code since the visicalc source is copywrited (copyrite is a separate entity than patent and are protected by courts and not the p.t.o.)

Voting closed 16

I don't know the visicalc story, but patents *are* about ideas -- processes, methods, and techniques that have commercial value. That's the whole point.

You're correct that copyright is different, and is about concrete implementations of ideas (a series of words, not the idea they convey), and is a separate matter.

But the current state is that there are a bunch of software patents out there that are ridiculously broad (like "having an API server attached to a database") that never should have been issued and mostly don't get enforced, just waved around as threats by large patent-holding bodies so that their competitors don't try to enforce *their* patents. The big exception is the patent trolls (like this one) which make a game of "it's bogus, but maybe you'll pay us to make the problem go away."

Voting closed 13

This is true, but there are also many software patents for real inventions. The assertion that "software is essentially rudimentary math questions executed very rapidly" is idiotic. This is like saying that all inventions are just manipulations of the laws of science, which are pretty basic, really. Does the person who wrote that think that turbulent flow, protein folding, facial recognition, etc., etc., are "rudimentary math questions"?

Voting closed 13

The assertion that "software is essentially rudimentary math questions executed very rapidly" is idiotic.

Yup. Most software, like, 99.99% of software has nothing to do with math. Well, unless you work at Mathworks.

As the holder of 12(?) software patents, I can tell you none of them have anything to do with math. And please, don't be impressed. The company I worked for for 18+ years patented everything and I just happened to be there and got my name on them.

Voting closed 10

The correct analogy would actually be closer to "things a person could do with pencil and paper and a telephone, but having a computer do it instead".

And in fact, there are a great many patents that boil down to "but on a computer".

(And yes, it is true that there are some "legitimate" software patents, but I'm pretty sure that's no more than 20% of them. There's a *lot* of junk, especially when you consider how many could be tossed on the basis of prior art. The patent office just doesn't have the staffing needed to do proper research on each one.)

Voting closed 11

no matter how complex the premise is, if it can only be actualized virtually (i.e.- not real) then i cant see how it would be considered a patentable invention.

all lines of your 12 protein folding programs source-code get compiled into millions-billions of assembly mnemonics such as:

lda #load the accumulator
cmp #compare (subtract) if z flag is greater than 0 then break
stx #store resultant in register x
goto next instruction

computers dont understand nuance; all they know is math.

Voting closed 11

So what? I mean, your brain isn't a computer, but the building blocks are just as simple.

Your example is amusing. It reads like "Zilog Z80 assembly language poorly recalled 45 years later". May I ask what "goto next instruction" accomplishes? I mean, practically the first thing I learned in my first computer architecture class is that you don't need to do that. It's basic to the notion of a computer that it fetches its own instructions.

It's true that the basic instructions of a processor are quite simple, but that doesn't make the processors themselves simple; on the contrary, they are bewilderingly complex, with many instructions being in various phases of execution simultaneously, the results kept or discarded based on the results of other operations. There are so many tricks involved that quite a few of them have been patented. If you ever try to write an assembly language program for a modern processor, thinking that there are no nuances you have to consider, you're doomed.

Voting closed 18

There are so many tricks involved that quite a few of them have been patented.

May I ask what "goto next instruction" accomplishes? I mean, practically the first thing I learned in my first computer architecture class is that you don't need to do that. It's basic to the notion of a computer that it fetches its own instructions.

just a make believe pseudo-code example (patent-pending).

Voting closed 9

If you can invent a truly useful and novel process that required serious effort to develop and only a computer can put it into practice, then you can patent it. The purpose of a patent is to provide a temporary, narrowly scoped monopoly in order to recoup invention costs.

And I don't understand your assertion that computers aren't real.

(Also: The processor in *your* brain only understands electrical potentials and chemical receptor binding, but that doesn't mean that typing a comment into UHub is biochemistry.)

Voting closed 6

And I don't understand your assertion that computers aren't real.

Existing or resulting in essence or effect though not in actual fact, form, or name.
Existing in the mind, especially as a product of the imagination. Used in literary criticism of a text.
Created, simulated, or carried on by means of a computer or computer network.


Voting closed 8

Is this a company that exists solely to buy patents (especially ones about to expire) and then threaten to or actually sue companies that "infringe" upon the patent? In 2013 this company sued Gillette. Could not figure out why. Perhaps they sued Gillette for inventing a razor blade.

Not to imply that this is that kind of company. I want to avoid being sued for libel. And a company that produces something at least produced something. Apparently they did invent some internet advertising method called "The Jump Code System."

Yet given that I could not find the company's website to learn what other inventions or services they provide, given the paucity of direct links to this company, yet the plethora of links to law suits where this company is the plaintiff, and from what I can see most are patent litigations, it would behoove this company to show up on web sites as producing something other than law suits.

Reminds me of one of local favorite litigation experts. The fellow who claimed to invent email.

Voting closed 13

I'll go right ahead and say it, since it's pretty obvious from their filing errors.

Other, less inflammatory terms include "non-practicing entity" (corp that holds patents but doesn't actually implement what the patents describe) and "patent assertion entity" (corp whose main business is patent lawsuits).

Voting closed 14