Apple, Others, Hit with Remote App Activation Patent Infringement Suit

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Apple, Adobe, Microsoft and several other companies were hit with a patent infringement suit on Monday by BetaNet for violating a patent it owns. The case alleges the companies are violating a patent that describes a process for securely activating software remotely, according to The Loop.

The suit claimed the technology the companies are using to activate or authorize applications and data files falls within the scope of its patent from June 1993.

The patent describes a process where "the program file contains a first executive control program, representing a limited version of the program file. License transaction information is entered in the registration shell portion, and that information is transmitted from the registration shell to a separate registration program provided in a registration computer. The registration program merges the license transaction information with a second executive control program -- representing a complete version of the program file -- to generate a unique overlay file. The unique overlay file is transmitted from the registration program to the registration shell, and contains the second executive control program. The overlay file is installed in the main program file, thereby allowing complete operation of the program file."

BetaNet listed iTunes, Aperture, MobileMe and QuickTime as examples of Apple applications that infringe on the patent. The suit also named Autodesk, Corel, Eastman Kodak, IBM, McAfee, Oracle, Siemens, Sony Creative Sofware, and more.

The case was filed in the Marshall Division of the Eastern District of Texas, which is a favorite among companies suing for patent infringement because of the court's tendency to be sympathetic to alleged patent holders.

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Comments

Jeff Gamet

I’d like to think that BetaNet has a legit complaint, but there’s a little voice in the back of my head questioning why they waited until it’s almost 2010 to file an infringement suit against companies for a patent that’s been on the books since 1993.

jbruni

These business process and software process patents have got to stop. I’m all for giving an inventor rights to sell his product without infringement, but holding a patent for the sole purpose of suing someone who uses the same idea just seems to go against the intent of patents.

geoduck

I agree something’s fishy
I did a search for BetaNet and found a number of dead links. A connection to a company in Greece that didn’t appear to be related. And another company in India that looked like a training and consulting company.

I get suspicious when a company, especially a high tech company, doesn’t seem to have a web presence.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

They couldn’t sue over iTunes in 1993. Determining infringement of a patent involving software could require months or even years of engineering work. It’s not like they have access to the designs, intents, and source code. Then they probably contact the companies to make them aware of the patent and discuss licensing. Both sides have an interest in dragging that process out, and you get a lawsuit when that process breaks down.

Under our current system, one of the values of applying for and obtaining a patent is the ability to sell or transfer it to another party, who might be more aggressive about pursuing licensing than the original patent holder. That’s a good feature of the system. The ease of getting a patent, the inability to challenge a patent prior to a lawsuit, and the long terms of patents are the things that need to change. Patent trolls are a side effect of those.

jbruni

The problem with software and business process patents is you end up with a patent on the end result or idea, not on the explicit method of arriving there or on the exact mechanism (e.g. Amazon.com’s one-click business process patent).

With any luck, the Bilski case will do away with business process patents. And, since software patents were based on business processes, software patents will go with them.

computerbandgeek

The ease of getting a patent, the inability to challenge a patent prior to a lawsuit, and the long terms of patents are the things that need to change. Patent trolls are a side effect of those.

I’m not saying I disagree with you, but can you clarify what you mean by this? What do you think needs to be done to help reform the way patents work?

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

First, I’d look where litigation is fiercest and assume that the whole philosophy of patents in those areas is suspect. There’s absolutely no incentive for a party who knows they screwed up with a patent to not settle prior to going to court. For example, you don’t see a lot of litigation over patented compounds in pharmaceuticals. We do patents pretty well there, rewarding people for discoveries (typically after tons and tons of trial and error). And it’s a lot easier to check if you’re infringing on a patent over a chemical compound than a business process.

Business method patents and software (process) patents need a makeover. Allowing a challenge period before the patent is granted where others can try to cite obviousness, prior art, and the like would be healthy. Shortening the period of protection down to something more in line with the market would be healthy. This one in question in TIA is 18 years old, which is 2 lifetimes and then some in this industry. 5 years might be about right, 7 at the longest. We are in for a whole century of rapid technological change, and if we’re dragged down by 15 year old patents along the way, progress will have a serious drag on it.

The thing we lose site of most is that granting people monopolies on things they invent has costs. We have to evaluate and record their claims. We preclude others from using those inventions. We ultimately enforce those granted rights with our courts. There are direct and opportunity costs that we don’t see. It is exceedingly hard to even try to calculate the net benefit. Whether strong IP laws are necessary and/or sufficient to promote progress is a matter of faith with plenty of example and counter-examples and statistics supporting all sides of the debate.

I think alternative rewards for inventions would be worth exploring. Imagine a $40B/year “Obama Inventor Fund”. You invent something, and instead of applying for a patent, you apply for a share of the fund that year. However, you agree to forego applying for a patent while your application to the fund is under consideration, and if you accept what the fund offers, your invention goes immediately to the public domain. If you are rejected or don’t accept the fund’s offer, your application for the fund becomes an application for a patent. It has all sorts of political problems that a patent office supposedly doesn’t have, but it would make a large portion of the “cost of innovation” a line item. It would also tend to level out expected returns on invention rather than yield the steep long tail of the patent system, where some obscure patents net tens of millions while most sit framed on somebody’s wall.

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