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US Jury Busts One of EFF's 10 Dumbest Patents

08.24.2010
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The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) found out this week that another one of their top 10 "Most Wanted" patents was shot down by a jury in Eastern Texas District court.  The Most Wanted list includes the original 10 patents mentioned in the foundation's Patent Busting Project, which seeks to identify and weed out the worst software patents in the US.  

The list includes patents that clearly shouldn't have been granted due to obvious prior art.  Patents on VoIP, online test-taking, streaming media, and digital music encoding were all on this list.  The patent that was struck down today was given to Firepond/Polaris; it was a patent on a system using natural language processing to respond to email inquiries.  Thanks to today's decision, all but one of the 10 Most Wanted patents have been either busted, invalidated, reexamined, or narrowed.

                       

The EFF explains the patent problem plaguing the software industry.

Every year numerous illegitimate patent applications make their way through the United States patent examination process without adequate review. The problem is particularly acute in the software and Internet fields where the history of prior inventions (often called prior art) is widely distributed and poorly documented. As a result, we have seen patents asserted on such simple technologies as the hyperlink, video streaming, and paying with a credit card online.

In this recent case, the technical owner of the patent, Bright Response, LLC, sued Google, Yahoo, and eight other companies.  The jury found three of the patent's claims invalid because they had obviously been used in prior art and lacked a detailed written description.  The jury finally found the entire patent invalid, saying that Firepond/Polaris didn't invent the natural language processing system.  The decision was definitely good news for developers who want to create new products related to email and customer service.

Until the final judgement is entered, the EFF will be on the lookout for threatening behavior related to this patent from Bright Response.