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< Beware, Apple TV warranty isn't worldwide   Channel Intelligence vs. Uwyn : thoughts after the first day >
Request for help : first time I have to deal with a patent infringement complaint

I'm reaching out to the collective experience of my readers. Today I received a letter from a US attorney that claims that Bla-bla List infringes on US Patent No. 6,917,941.

Bla-bla List has just been an experiment for me with Rich Internet Applications. It has always been an open-source effort and I made it available as a free service to see how well it would fare out in the wild. Since this service never generated any revenue for me, paying for a lawyer to dig into this is something that I'd like the avoid (though maybe I can't).

Has anyone here ever had to defend himself again such a claim? Does the software being open-source or the service being free make any difference?

Thanks for any help or recommendations that you can give me.

update: people have asked me for the lawyer's letter and the claim, I scanned it and you can download it as a 1MB PDF from http://blablalist.com/ca-08-437.pdf or browse through it online at http://www.docstoc.com/docs/document-preview.aspx?doc_id=953027

update 2: seems I'm not alone in this, they have sued about any list application out there : http://www.techcrunch.com/2008/07/17/channel-intelligence-sues-just-about-everyone-who-offers-wishlists/

posted by Geert Bevin in Channel Intelligence vs. Uwyn on Jul 18, 2008 11:15 AM : 19 comments [permalink]
 

Comments

Re: Request for help : first time I have to deal with a patent infringement complaint
IANAL.

I wouldn't worry about it. You aren't under jurisdiction of US patent law. Software ideas and algorithms are non-patentable in EU, so his patent is pretty much invalid over here. This is anyway one of those trivial patents that just add "... with a computer" to a procedure that could be pretty much carried out on paper :-) This guy is very likely a small-time patent crook bottom feeder, the kind that lives from extorting a settlement fee from small websites by a threat of litigation over trivial patents. Even if this guy went on to sue you, it'd be a civil case, so you could keep traveling to USA without worrying about it. Even if he won the lawsuit, good luck to him collecting on whatever fees the court would reward him (you don't own anything seizable in US, do you - house, securities, plot of land?). You can tell him as much. I don't think he realized you aren't settled in US (or he does, but decided to try his luck regardless).

So in overall, I wouldn't worry. Of course, you might consider paying a local attorney to look into it. I think it would not cost you more than 3 hours of an attorney's time to basically confirm what I wrote above, and only after that reply to him pointing out that he'd not realize any profit from suing you and would do better to just f*ck off.
Re: Request for help : first time I have to deal with a patent infringement complaint
Thanks a lot for your thoughts Attila, I've thought about these things too.

I think that software patents situation in Europe might protect me, but of course I want to make sure. I wrote to the Free Software Foundation to see what they think.

I might indeed consult with a local lawyer, just to make sure. Sucks to pay for keeping something up that is free :/
Re: Request for help : first time I have to deal with a patent infringement complaint
Beware: if you're planning to go to the US anytime, they could sue you as soon as you enter the territory. If you ignore that and don't show up to the court you will be considered outlaw.
Re: Request for help : first time I have to deal with a patent infringement complaint
I wrote programs back in the 80's that did this. There must be prior art out there somewhere. Too bad I don't have the source code anymore or I could contest it.
Re: Request for help : first time I have to deal with a patent infringement complaint
Posted your request for help on Reddit. Let's see how that can help you.
Re: Request for help : first time I have to deal with a patent infringement complaint
Sorry... here's the link: http://www.reddit.com/info/6sfm3/comments/
Re: Request for help : first time I have to deal with a patent infringement complaint
Thanks for the post, let's hope that some people can give me some other directions. Much appreciated!
Re: Request for help : first time I have to deal with a patent infringement complaint
It's pretty ridiculous... please, keep us up to date with what your lawyer tell you.
Re: Request for help : first time I have to deal with a patent infringement complaint
I guess you know the FFII? They have been fighting software patents for years, so you might find additional help / info over there.
http://www.ffii.org/
Re: Request for help : first time I have to deal with a patent infringement complaint
http://www.wishlist.com/company/about.htm?navm=wl&rid=0

"Founded in 1998..."

Don't know if that helps any... just a quick stab at the problem.
Re: Request for help : first time I have to deal with a patent infringement complaint
Hi Geert! It's been a while - we met at some Java conference in Orlando that Joe Ottinger suckered me into attending. As for the comment about being careful if you come the the U.S. and being considered and outlaw... I'm not a lawyer, but that statement is wrong. There are two sorts of court cases in the U.S.: criminal and civil. A patent violation is not a criminal case or else it would be handled by a district attorney. This is a civil manner and you cannot be arrested for not participating in a civil trial. You _can_ be ruled against summarily, but I seriously doubt anything would come of this.
Re: Request for help : first time I have to deal with a patent infringement complaint
I worked for a dot-com in the late 90's that had a utility to coordinate and publish car pool data to interested parties. Effectively, it was a list of lists with keys of other lists.
I fail to see that this patent is enforceable, but I am not a lawyer. Unfortunately the dot-com is no more, otherwise I'd point you to it. My point is, that if you just google a bit,
I think you'll find that this is not a unique work and that many, many other folks have implementations of this patent (and many were created well before they filed). Hang in
there!

This type of patent does show that the US patent process is very broken. I do think you have a very strong position of prior art though.
Re: Request for help : first time I have to deal with a patent infringement complaint
Thanks for all the comments and suggestions, I really appreciate it. For those interested, I blogged about my thoughts after this first day: http://rifers.org/blogs/gbevin/2008/7/19/thoughts_after_first_day
Re: Request for help : first time I have to deal with a patent infringement complaint
I am not a lawyer but..

If you in Europe and is being sued in Delaware, I'd tell the plaintiff to go stuff their lawsuit where the sun don't shine, because as far as I am concerned, Delaware courts have no jurisdiction in any European country, unless the courts of that particular European country gives a ruling otherwise.

I personally live in the UK, so if someone wanted to sue me in a US court, id plainly say: "Go F yourself", and not give it another second of thought, but that's just me
Re: Request for help : first time I have to deal with a patent infringement complaint
Wille, it doesn't seem to be this easy since the server of Bla-bla List is in the US and the fact that the website is in English and accessible from the US does mean that for that part it falls within US jurisdiction. However, I can chose to let this slide and risk getting convicted by default, which will probably not have them come to Belgium to seize my assets, but when I do business in the US (which I do) they can come after that. I prefer to at least defend myself and get dismissed as a defendant. Then at least, they don't have a leg to stand on.
Raise money
Have you considered trying to raise some money in order to pay for the lawyer? There seems to be a bunch of people being attacked by this bullshit company (due to the US patent system, it's all very 20th centurish btw). There's a lot of people willing to fight software patents in any way possible, and perhaps donate a couple of bucks in order to do so.
Re: Request for help : first time I have to deal with a patent infringement complaint
Surely amazon.com itself represents prior art?

I'm pretty sure their wish list feature goes back before 2001. Surprised they didn't patent it themselves ;)

Re: Request for help : first time I have to deal with a patent infringement complaint
More possible prior art ...

http://www.thethingsiwant.com/commercial/aboutus.php4
(say's it was established Jan 2001, copyright notice is from 2000)

Re: Request for help : first time I have to deal with a patent infringement complaint
so basically these guys will be attacking everybody in the whole world who uses a database ??

what a laugh.....

they could start with attacking IBM who was using databases on their mainframes in the 1950 ties

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