Today, we’re going to focus on Raniere’s U.S. Patent No. 9,421,447, a “method and apparatus for improving performance.” The patent simply adds trivial limitations to the basic functioning of a treadmill, like timing the user and recording certain parameters (speed, heart rate, or turnover rate.) Since most modern treadmills allow users to precisely measure performance on a variety of metrics, the patent is arguably broad enough that it could be used to sue treadmill manufacturers or sellers.Given Raniere’s litigation history, that’s not such a remote possibility. NXIVM has sued its critics for defamation—enough that the Albany Times-Union called NIXVM a “Litigation Machine.” And Raniere sued both AT&T and Microsoft for infringement of some patents relating to video conferencing. The latter suit ended very badly for Raniere, who was ordered to pay attorneys’ fees after he couldn’t prove that he still had ownership of the patents in question. So it’s worth taking a look at how Raniere got the ‘447 patent.
On August 29, 2017, the Patent Office issued U.S. Patent No. 9,747,468 (the ’468 patent) to JP Morgan Chase Bank, titled “System and Method for Communication Among Mobile Applications.” The patent covers the simple idea of a user giving a mobile application permission to communicate with another application. This idea was obvious when JP Morgan applied for the patent in June 2013. Even worse, it had already been implemented by numerous mobile applications. The Patent Office handed out a broad software monopoly while ignoring both common sense and the real world.
This month’s stupid patent, a design patent, shows just how broken the current system of design patents is. Design patents, unlike the utility patents we usually feature, consist only of a single claim followed by pictures. It is generally the pictures that inform the public as to what is claimed. Importantly, in a design patent only the features drawn in solid lines are claimed. Anything in dotted lines is generally not part of the claim.U.S. Patent D767,583, issued on September 27, 2016, is a patent on a design for a “display screen portion with graphical user interface.” Here, the claim is to “the ornamental design for a display screen portion with graphical user interface, as shown and described.” As most design patent owners do, the patent also makes clear that “the broken line showing of the display screen in the figure forms no part of the claimed design.” Below is the sole picture from the patent showing the patented design:
On August 30, 2016, the Patent Office issued U.S. Patent No. 9,430,468, titled; “Online peer review and method.” The owner of this patent is none other than Elsevier, the giant academic publisher. When it first applied for the patent, Elsevier sought very broad claims that could have covered a wide range of online peer review. Fortunately, by the time the patent actually issued, its claims had been narrowed significantly. So, as a practical matter, the patent will be difficult to enforce. But we still think the patent is stupid, invalid, and an indictment of the system.
Several years ago, we wrote about InXile, a game studio that rode Kickstarter success to producing Wasteland 2. The theme of the post was about how open and awesome InXile had been to its backers and other Kickstarter projects, bringing a gracious attitude to the former and promising to use some of the game’s proceeds to pay it forward to the latter. These actions built a nice reputation for InXile, somewhat unique in gaming circles, by engaging with fans and customers alike, while also acknowledging the rest of the industry. In short, InXile was human and awesome. Yet, since then, InXile has occasionally acted aggressively in enforcing the trademark it has on the term “Wasteland” for the gaming industry. First, in 2013, it forced a smalll gaming studio to change the name of a game it had originally called Wasteland Kings to Nuclear Throne after InXile contacted them. And, now, InXile has gone a step further and fired off a cease and desist letter to a single developer attempting to produce his own shooter game, which he had entitled Alien Wasteland.
Given that Booking.com filed the trademark application as a “travel agency service,” Booking.com’s lawsuit, filed April 15 in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, states “there is no evidence in the entire history of Booking.com’s use of its trademark that any consumers or users of travel agency services refer to such sites as ‘Booking.com’s.’”
A Booking.com-commissioned survey found that 75 percent of its users “recognize BOOKING.COM as a trademark, not a common name,” the suit states.
It’s no secret that Sony has never been shy about wielding trademark like a cudgel. That said, there seems to be something new brewing with the company in its recent attempts to trademark fairly common terms, worrying some that it would use those trademarks in the same heavy-handed way. The first of those attempts was the recent Sony filing for a trademark on the term “Let’s Play”, which any gamer will recognize as the term for popular YouTube videos showing games being played, often offered by well-known YouTube personalities. While the USPTO had already refused the trademark on the grounds that a prior mark for “Let’z Play” had already been registered, a law firm that specializes in gaming law jumped in to try and have the court instead declare that “Let’s Play” is now a generic term.
Red Bull has filed a complaint with the United States Patent and Trademark Office against a small brewery in Virginia called Old Ox Brewery for the using a male cow in its name and logo. “An ‘ox’ and a ‘bull’ both fall within the same class of ‘bovine’ animals and are virtually indistinguishable to most consumers. In addition, an ox is a castrated bull,” Red Bull said in the lawsuit. “Applicant’s Old Ox marks so much resemble Red Bull so as to cause confusion, mistake or deception among purchasers, users and the public, thereby damaging Red Bull.”