back to article Apple sued over iPhone caller ID

When Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone at Mac World back in January 2007, he told the Apple faithful that his portable status symbol was backed by 200 patents. And the Apple faithful cheered. But that hasn't prevented an onslaught of iPhone-happy lawsuits. After all, this is America. Other patent holders have already sued Steve …


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  1. Dazzer
    Thumb Down

    This is tiresome...

    How many more patent trolls are going to come out of the wood work every time someone releases a new device that attracts a lot of publicity. Show me one (1) other mobile phone made since 1995 that doesn't feature a caller ID feature. There are even a hell of a lot of land line phones that will do that. Why doesn't this bozo go after Nokia or Samsung or even BT?

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  3. Daniel Wilkie


    Isn't that pretty much the same as any other caller ID - every phone I've ever had has shown me the name and number of incoming calls...

  4. Craig Newbury

    How is this...

    ...any different from how other phones display a persons name when they call, or am I missing somthing.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Unless I'm wrong...

    ...and it's entirely possible as it's past 1am and I've been in the pub...

    Shouldn't this guy be suing the manufacturers of virtually every mobile phone ever made? I've never had a mobile that didn't do this.

    Why did he pick on the iPhone?

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Caller ID?

    He patented Caller ID? So surely ALL mobile manufacturers are paying him for the privilege, yes?

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Jobs Horns

    Why go after Apple ?

    My original StarTAC could do this and that was just over a decade ago !

    So why go after Apple - because Steve is evil ?

  8. fluffy

    Interesting he'd be bringing it up now

    Basically every single cellphone made since 1997 has had this capability,

    Patents need some basic reform. Show damages or GTFO.

  9. Peter H. Coffin


    I wonder how this bozo managed to patent this in 1990, after it'd been publically available for almost a decade in many markets...

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Not just clunky...

    Not only did this frivolous patent holder fail to design a sleek, glossy, black-and-chrome embodiment of his "invention," but that 617 number doesn't even belong to Abraham and Son! Also, I believe Abraham actually had 2 sons.

  11. Webster Phreaky
    Jobs Horns

    Yep, Apple and Stevie Gods, the Great iNOvator......

    and it suspiciously has happened all too frequently in the past (hence a long history of lawsuits and examples of copied products). But of course the Apple Kool Aid Drinkers in denial will disagree with no evidence to disprove.

    But Apple HAS created one thing quite unique! A 44% $85.50 LOSS in AAPL stock in less than 60 days! That'a way Stevie!

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    OK, this guy is an idiot...

    If I held the patent for caller ID do you think that I would have waited until the year of our Lord, 2008, in hopes of that Apple Computer, Inc. would develop a 'cute' little hand held telephone communications device?

    Not only no, but HELL no! I would have gone straight to the horses ass and went after AT&T, BT and every other telcom I could sick my fee happy lawyers on.

    What a tool...

  13. JK

    Just another great example...

    ... of how badly the US patent system is broken. Obvious idea, and apart from producing the actual physical device matching the picture, there would be no reason to patent that idea. Additionally, suing another company for making a completely different product with that same *very obvious* idea is just ridiculous.

  14. Matt Horrocks
    Thumb Down

    Another stupid patent...

    Wonder if every other mobile manufacturer has licensed this patent... and anything that uses caller ID on a landline. Doubt it.

    They'll sue us for reading the number off the display, performing a look up against a directory (in memory) and thinking "ah, it's Joe calling me" next... only difference is the display.

  15. Gareth
    Thumb Down

    Prior art?

    Isn't this also a feature on every cellphone ever made, and most landline telcos too?

    Wikipedia describes Caller ID as being developed in the late 70s - surely there's plenty of prior art to invalidate this patent?

    Anyone remember if the early brick/bag phones in the late 80s supported this?

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Oh really...

    ...this is just getting pathetic! They're describing nothing more than phone caller ID, something which I'm sure has been around longer than this patent. As much as I hate Apple, I hope Apple counter-sue for any reason they can, just to get rid of muppets like this.

  17. Steve Browne
    Paris Hilton

    Caller id

    The problem here is that caller ID has been around ever since crossbar exchanges were invented, 19th century anyone? The originating exchange would send the calling number to the receiving exchange in a 2 out of 5 code. I used to read teh relays that stored the number! (They are number 0, 1, 2, 4, 7 and you add the two digits together for the relays operated, and if you get 11 subtract 1 giving 0. (Think about it).

    In the 1980s they started sending this information down the receiving line too, so a phone equipped to receive the signal could display the number of the incoming call. Now, looking this number up in a local address book is a patentable idea? I mean, weren't people doing this anyway?

    I despair of reading these articles. I have to think there is something seriously wrong when such a non idea can be patented. I mean, what else are you going to do with a phone number? other than look it up in a directory to find out to whom it belongs. Innovative> No!, Obvious? Extremely!

    And the merkins want to foist similar legislation onto us? I really feel sorry for them, they live in such a f***ed up country and think it is the best. Loonies, asylum, taken over springs to mind.

  18. Herbys

    Patent reform

    I agree that patent law needs a reform. But in this case, the problem is that this shouldn't be patentable with CURRENT law. A patent has to be for a non obvious idea. Idntifying who was calling based on their number is obvious and was obviosu even in 1980. It was not technically feasible back then due to the state of technology, but it was something that probably every phone user thought at some point ("I whish I could see who's calling").

    So before a patent reform, we need new patent officers. I'm not asking for Einstein to come back, but at least people to whom using a pedal to accelerate a car doesn't seem like an original idea.

  19. Anonymous Coward

    for the last forty odd years...

    ... my arse has done little more than produce foul, noxious, steaming piles of crap on a regular basis.

    do you think i should sue microsoft for copyright infringement?


    mines's the one with the bottle of kool-aid in the pocket!

  20. Al


    Talk about clutching at straws, this guy must be desperate for cash to make this much of an arse of himself.

  21. Anonymous Bastard
    Thumb Up

    @ Steve Browne

    Kudos for the use of "merkins".

  22. Paul Banacks

    Patent reform

    Patents, and other forms of so called "Intellectual Property" need to be scrapped altogether. With the billions of people in the world, it cannot be fair to grant monopolies on ideas to just the few.

    Patents were invented long ago to encourage invention. I suspect that, in the majority of cases they have the opposite effect. Nowhere is this more clear than when you look at software patents.

    Information is free, as in freedom so why do we tolerate those small minded fools who impose arbitrary restrictions to encourage greed like the above.

  23. Grant Mitchell

    @everyone say "but phone x has this"

    Are you sure the companies manufacturing phone x haven't paid to use this patent?

    Ok, I'll admit it's unlikely, and that it's a stupid patent... but where is the evidence that Nokia, Motorola et al. are not paying to use this "idea" (in the very loosest sense of the word!).

  24. Alain Moran


    Umm, I think you are getting confused between UK patent law and US law ... the US takes the stance that you can patent anything you like and it is upto the courts to decide whether the patent is valid in that particular case ... those damned yankees they do love their lawyers.

  25. Uwe Dippel
    Black Helicopters

    @Herbys at al

    Nice thought.

    But its not that the patent examiners were/are dumb. We (I am an ex-) have been arguing on this matter forth and back. For ages. And the majority of us were in agreement. What we have been saying was brushed off by our bosses who had essentially political mandates.

    Figure who succeeded in the end.

    Just as a reminder: the misery of the USPTO was not self-inflicted. They brushed off software patent applications easily, with a single stroke, until the Diamond v. Diehr decision of the US Supreme Court (political mandates, anyone? wink-wink) forced the office to write out such patents.

    See, it's you guys instead. Call your MP and ask her stand on patents; and if she flounders, give her the boot next elections round.

  26. Tony Peters
    Paris Hilton

    Just wanting publicity?

    Can he sue for patent infringement? As virtually every mobile phone in recent history has had a Caller ID feature surely he would have had to sue each maker since he first recognosied this feature. Just suddenly sueing now probably won't hold up as he hadn't actively tried to protect his patent in the past.

    Paris as she always likes a little extra publicity!

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Citation required

    Stop calling this guy a patent troll. For all you know Nokia, etc have already licensed this patent and Apple thought they were untouchable and didn't license it.

    Paris because like her you are all jumping the gun.

  28. Joe Ragosta

    Not so bad

    This one isn't as bad as most of you are claiming.

    First, it is not the same as caller ID. In caller ID, the central exchange provides the information on who is calling. In this patent, the information on who is calling is found in a database on the remote device. So caller ID prior art may not invalidate it.

    As for the rest of you complaining that this has been on cell phones since 1997, you really need to learn how the patent system works. He filed for the patent in 1988. Whether people are using it today (or even 1997) is completely irrelevant to the topic. What is relevant is whether this was common in 1988. Frankly, from my memory, cell phones in 1988 were the size of a small suitcase and didn't have this feature, so he may actually have something.

    Why doesn't he sue every other company out there? How do you know he hasn't received a license from everyone else?

    The one issue is that he waited so long to file for infringement, but even that's not so bad. If he already had licenses from everyone else and Apple released a phone infringing on his patent in June 2007, filing in Feb 2008 isn't abnormal. If, OTOH, he hasn't received licenses from everyone else, then he's going to have a hard time explaining why he didn't file against Nokia in 1997.

    In any event, this one is not a clear patent troll like so many of the others.

  29. manuel moreno
    Black Helicopters

    displaying number and caller id on iphone?

    iphone needs to borrow some digital displays from 90's era and some specific calculator-graphic controller with mac os x drivers in order to this idea work?.


  30. Richard Silver badge

    @ Herbys

    That's PRECISELY a major failing of US patent law.

    Under Patent Law in the entire civilised world, a patentable concept must be "Non-obvious to someone versed in the field"

    However, in the USA that's not the case!

    Coupled with the fact that software can be patented, this means that the US patent system is the most horribly broken and innovation-stifling system in the world, and desperately needs reform.

  31. MaxSmart

    Now, now, kiddies

    I think the key is the local directory lookup. Incoming caller ID usually shows what the caller or his telco wants you to see. On my home landline, I can see anything from the caller's name to stuff like "Wireless Caller" or "Bum****, Egypt".

    This system looks the incoming number up in a local database, etc., so the display is more consistent and useful. Obvious now, but in 1990 it was probably a cool idea.

    What I want to know is, 2008-1990 > 17 years. How long is this patent good for?

  32. Pete W

    Some of You are Missing the Point

    Read the patent, the infringement is not based on caller id/telephone number display. It is based on the action of joining the telephone number from caller id with the data in your contacts database *stored on the phone*. Don't confuse this with the *enhanced* caller id that you get on your landlines, where the data is joined at the phone companies CO, then encoded and transmitted in the ring pulse.

    Truth: At some point this was someone's *original idea*, hence patentable (there may be prior art chronologically, apple can do this research).

    For those who argue that this is an obvious idea, may I suggest that your opinion might be have been partially influenced by the fact that the phones you've been using have done this for some time. If taking the number from caller id and joining it to the phone's contact data for the user to see prior to accepting the call was so obvious, why didn't you submit a patent 18 years ago?

    **Additionally, don't make statements about how this patent holder is attacking Apple, and that he should also go after all of the companies that produce similar product. This isn't a valid argument unless you know that he hasn't, which is not likely the case. This is an IT based site, we should expect better logic in our statements.

    Flame away.

  33. Dave
    Paris Hilton

    patent law doesn't need reforming

    ... its just that he can't claim the iPhone infringes his patent.

    you can't patent a concept or idea, you can only patent an invention. if he designed the circuitry for caller ID, and apple used the same one, then he's got a court case.

    but unless someone is using his exact design, he's wasted a lot of time and money, and i wish i was his lawyer.

    it's like Intel can't patent the 'idea' of a CPU, but could (and do) patent their particular design.

    considering the amount of ridiculous cases that are emerging out of the USA, i'm surprised this one made the news.

    ...and Paris because although she's never had an idea, i'm sure she could patent her particular way of 'doing it'.

  34. Dan Beshear

    Expired patent

    At that time, patents in the US expired after 17 years. 2008 - 1990 = 18. Oops, sorry, even if your claim was legitimate you're too late to collect. Next.

  35. mh.

    Nice try, but

    Patent 4,242,539 was filed in 1979 and covers caller ID. Got to be careful or this kind of lawsuit can end up getting your patent invalidated. I think the only way to stop this nonsense would be for judges to award nominal damages when the plaintiff is obviously pushing his luck. In the UK this is fixed at £2 and something similar in the US might stop people who are just trying to get a bit of cash.

  36. Andy Barber

    BT own the patent on...

    ...URL's! Honest!

  37. Anonymous Coward

    great new invention!

    I think I'll put in for a patent. I've come up with this idea.. you take four wheels onto a 'chassis' and you may insert a propulsion device as well as a directional and speed control... I'll call it.. an automobile!... yes. I better patent this quick!

    Did you know they also patent seeds? its a sad place we live in.


    Is this coat patented?

  38. Dick Emery
    Thumb Down

    Working demo before patent!

    Until you can demonstrate a working model patents should be disallowed. People come up with the same ideas everyday. But if one of those person makes a working demonstration and then patents it then every other person who had the same idea should ose by default.

    They even have companies that sit there just patenting any silly idea they can come up with on the off chance it might actually become real just so they can claim on it!

  39. Diogenies

    Patenting fire

    When the great land of Oz reformed it patents system, a patent lawyer patented fire as a demonstration that the new system was even more dysfunctional than the old.

    The the callerid case here he talks about "circuitry that detects the origin telephone number of an incoming telephone call and compares that number with numbers in the directory for identifying the calling party." -

    If apple copied his "circuitry" then they may be in trouble (is sofware "cicuitry"?).

    Flame icon for the great patent on fire

  40. Jordan

    In the grand old land of Oz...

    Our CID doesn't send any information about the number calling, just the number itself so to get names with the number you have to have saved the name and number into the phone and it has to look it up so pretty much all mobiles are capable of doing this.

  41. Keith Sherlock


    "Not an iPhone" - :D

  42. Anonymous Coward

    Poetic Justice

    Clearly this is stupid...At the same time…you file 200 frivolous patents, it is poetic justice that other dumb patents bite you in the arse.

  43. Highlander
    Paris Hilton


    Patents, even in the US, only last a certain amount of time. Caller ID has been around far longer than the valid duration of a patent. the lawsuit is pure BS, nothing more, nothing less.

    The idea is that because someone added some new functionality to caller ID a less that scrupulous person can mis-apply a vague patent that shouldn't have bloody well been granted anyway.

    Caller ID has been around for ages. So how is it patentable to take the number from caller ID and bang it against an existing list of known numbers to identify the caller according to the name on the known caller list? And how would this be much different from taking the concept a stage further and allowing the known callers list to have a binary object field that contains an image file that can be displayed? That's the whole concept here. All standard off the shelf components tha we've had available for decades. In fact, I think I am correct in saying that the idea of a visual caller id has been dipicted in at least several major motion pictures and a couple of science fiction TV shows. But, why ever should we let that get in the way of some a$$ who doesn't care about fair, honest or right and just sees the dollar signs....

    Paris because I need something that leaves a better taste in my mouth than this does...

  44. Eugene Goodrich

    @All: why the bunched panties?

    So it's some pathetic patent. We should all just find our comfy chairs, grab a lager (think I'll do that right this moment, actually), and watch how the courts treat this.

    The USPTO may be "broken" in that it allows such crap in the first place, but it's backed by the judicial system which sorts things out laboriously, expensively, slowly (step by step), and with an unpredictable but slowly-adjusting-to-modern-technological-advances mien. So it's not really broken after all, is it? ;)

    I hope the patent holder ends up having to pay Apple's lawyering fees.

  45. Justin


    Dave, you're correct when discussing patents in the rest of the world, however in the US you can patent a method, e.g. a way of doing things. Though this does allow you to patent software, which in some cases is fair if you've come up with something bloody clever than ought to be able to patent it, this is more difficult in Europe (I know this through a friends experience of trying to patent clever piece of software he's written).

    This is partly why the US Patent System is open to so much abuse, you don't have to prove your idea, just simply describe it, it is daft. What is in this patent is essentially a method for identifying a caller using a contact database on the phone.

    However it probably is a frivolous patent as I expect you could argue that CTI type systems may have already had a similar feature in call centres, I am not going to bother to find out that's Apple's Job :P

  46. Mectron

    @Pete W =- Better Logic

    This guy is trying to STEAL money from Apple. As much as i ate Apple and think the iPhone is (as usual for ALL Apple product) just hype. That guy is just a small (very small) time crook.

    Patent, copyright and intelectual property laws are broken period.

    You should not be able to patant just an idea. but only actual product and for the patent to be valid the product must be comercially available. As for software patent.... well it simply cannot be patented in any way.

    Last... you should be able to protect (c) music and film for no more then 1 or 2 years. This is the ONLY way to encourage creatity. As the studios/Labels will no longer be permited to make infinite money on the same old Cr@p.

  47. Alan Donaly
    Thumb Down

    USA patents

    are the way they are because companies like Apple, and Microsoft not to mention Intel, Sun, and IBM want them to be, they spend good money to make it this way, because they know against them this sort of law suit is a nuisance only . The fact is they steal with impunity pay very little of their total profit when caught, and they sue the life out of any startup that has the temerity to do the same. It's broken all right but these corporations with their crocodile tears shouldn't fool anyone.

  48. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ban the allowing of obvious patents...

    Would stop all this patent squating.

    Matching a CLI against a name in a lookup table is IMO an obvious thing to do.

    Not really novel thinking.

    It's about time these obvious ideas were stopped from being patented.

  49. Paris

    Others pay for this patent

    I'm not sure about it but I've read in multiple other places that Nokia and SonyEricsson are both licensing this patent (and probably so is every other major mobile phone manufacturer). If that is true then I don't see why anyone would take Apple's side.

  50. Ian McFarland
    Paris Hilton


    I don't think so.

    Apple should try to get this patent invalidated on the basis of its obviousness. Evidence that it is obvious is that just about every cell phone does this already. Others have mentioned this. I expect and hope that the courts will give this patent the treatment it deserves and invalidate it without much ado.

    Paris because it would even be obvious to her.

  51. Don Casey

    A little time on Google shows....

    This patent is valid, and the likes of Nokia/etc HAVE licensed it.

    While US patents USED to be valid for only 17 years, GATT changed that aways back and it's now 20, applied retroactively.

    So why should Apple get for free something Nokia, Motorola are paying for?

    As to whether or not one SHOULD be allowed to patent an idea rather than a thing... that's another rant. This strikes me as rather too obvious to be patented (system design 101, use a database to match incoming transaction data and do something with it), but then the USPTO seems unequiped to detect "obvious", at least when it comes to IT.

  52. Johan Bastiaansen

    pattent trolling

    These pattent trolls should be declared terrorists and shipped to Guantanamo Bay.

    Who patented to progress bar?

    EP 0394160: Dynamic progress marking icon. - Applicant(s): IBM (US)

    Gee, who would have thought.

  53. Anonymous Coward

    @not so bad

    > First, it is not the same as caller ID. In caller ID, the central exchange provides the

    > information on who is calling. In this patent, the information on who is calling is

    > found in a database on the remote device. So caller ID prior art may not invalidate

    > it.

    And which phone in the market doesn't do that? My last-year's-bleeding-edge TyTN does that, my aunt's Nokia from 1997 does, and if I recall correctly, so does my rich uncle's Panasonic ART 900 phone back in 1988.

  54. Charles Manning

    Fixing the patent system

    The US patent system will only be fixed when the USPTO can be sued for damages caused by issuing bollocks patents.

  55. Chris Girocco

    Patents and Sons

    They need patent reform in the US and a more intelligent vetting body that only awards true innovation.

    Abraham did have two sons, but one moved out before the patent was filed.


  56. fluffels
    Jobs Halo

    this sort of crap...

    ...just makes me really look forward to backdated software patents.

    oooh, i invented TCP/IP! honest!


    i love my iPhone.

  57. Andy Worth


    "Matching a CLI against a name in a lookup table is IMO an obvious thing to do."

    Well, that is true now but then everything seems obvious when it's been done for the best part of 20 years.

    I do agree that this guy is just trying to screw some money out of Apple, but then to be fair, if we're all honest I think most of us here would do the same given the chance....or if not Apple then Microsoft. Some people seem to think that his patent was frivolous, but then no more so than Apple's own (or in fact 200 of them....) for this one device.

    It reminds me of that advert, for Audi I think it is, where they say their A6 has basically 4 times as many patents as the space shuttle, or something like that. the problem is that almost every one of the 6000+ patents they "filed" for that car are a load of pointless bollocks (and quite a lot probably got rejected).

  58. TeeCee Gold badge

    iPhone backed by 200 patents?

    Only another 199 lawsuits from the patent holders in question to go then.

    Mine's the one made of 1000 dollar bills stiched together in a unique and entirely original way.

  59. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ Pete W

    Pete, I like your angle on the debate.

    I am an avid Apple user and supporter and I felt that this law suit was just another slap at Apple.

    I too was wondering if the patent infringement was based on the method used rather than the on screen out come, hence the law suit never having been raised before.

    True as you say, the the numerical ID of the caller is realized at the phone company's equipment and transmitted via wire or signal to your phone. This is true for land line systems and mobile equipment alike. Once the data has arrived at either your big old plastic landline receiver or your cool little mobile, the matching of the number and phone book entries has to be done in the terminal device. So we therefore end up back at the argument that Apple is using the same system as every other phone in the world, be it a hard wired device or a mobile device.

    In short no phone company stores the details of anyones contacts book so they can't send the caller name to you, your phone has to work that out from the number it receives.

  60. Ash


    I'm patenting "A means for the exchange of an atmoshperic gas through a permeable membrane, with a liquid-based transport system designed to distribute said gas through a network of vesels to various points along that network."

    That's right, I have a patent on your lungs, and i'm not interested in settling the case out of court.


    (Could 'God' claim "Prior art"?)

  61. Ascylto

    @ Webster Phreaky

    "But Apple HAS created one thing quite unique!"

    You cannot have something that is "quite unique". It is either unique or it is not.

  62. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Patent trolls

    Seeing as a lot of you are referring to patent trolls don't forget one of the greatest, Alexander Graham Bell whose birthday it would have been today if he'd lived to be 161.

  63. Kenny Millar
    Jobs Halo

    simple solution

    How about a change in the law such that:

    When filing for a patent, the patent OWNER must show that he will actually develop and sell products based on said patent. Patents may not be obtained purely to prevent others from creating such products, or to collect royalties from others. In other words, patents would only be issued as a means to protect a companies IP in real products.

  64. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Patent pending

    I have a patent pending on patenting the obvious.

  65. oxo

    Get a grip you lot

    This guy invented caller ID lookup in 1988, patented it, then licensed it to the major phone companies.

    Years later another phone maker comes to the market and decides it doesn't want to pay him for his invention which has become now so successful that *everybody* thinks it is obvious.

    Well they do have a choice.. Either license his invention, or don't use it.

    That's it. Nothing else to get excited about. It's just another day in patent licensing.

  66. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Father Abraham

    Had seven sons

    Seven sons had faaaaaaather Abraham

    And they never drank

    And they never swore

    And they only went... "I'll get me coat."

  67. Dan Webb

    @ Ascylto

    Check your dictionary - "quite" can mean "wholly" and "completely" as well as "rather". You can look up "pedant" while you're at it.

  68. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "It's about time these obvious ideas were stopped from being patented."

    But aren't the best ideas the ones that you hear and think "why didn't I think of that?"

  69. Gobhicks

    ... Sigh

    Several points:

    1. The life of a US Patent:

    For US patent applications that were pending on and for US patents that were still in force on June 8, 1995, the patent term is either 17 years from the issue date or 20 years from the earliest claimed filing date, the longer term applying.

    For US patent applications filed on or after June 8, 1995, the patent term is 20 years from the earliest claimed filing date.

    US 4924496: Filed 12 May 1988, + 20 years = 12 May 2008

    Issued 8 May 1990, + 17 years = 8 May 2007

    Therefore, patent expires 12 May 2008.

    2. Every mobile phone in the wolrd uses this:

    “Lawyer Lisa Tittemore of Bromberg & Sunstein LLP in Boston, the firm representing Figa, said many of the world's wireless phone makers have licensed the patent, including the three biggest - Motorola Inc., Samsung Group, and Nokia Corp. In addition, Figa sued Hong Kong electronics firm VTech Technology Ltd. over the patent in 2006; VTech and Figa reached a settlement last month.”

    Re Motorola, see:

    3. The US Patent System isn’t quite as dumb as you think

    @Alain Moran:

    “Umm, I think you are getting confused between UK patent law and US law ... the US takes the stance that you can patent anything you like and it is upto the courts to decide whether the patent is valid in that particular case ... those damned yankees they do love their lawyers.”


    “Under Patent Law in the entire civilised world, a patentable concept must be "Non-obvious to someone versed in the field"

    However, in the USA that's not the case!”

    Both wrong wrong wrong. The US Patent Office does examine patent applications for novelty and obviousness – they’re just not very good at it *sometimes*.

    4. Patent Obviousness

    @Ian MacFarland

    “Apple should try to get this patent invalidated on the basis of its obviousness. Evidence that it is obvious is that just about every cell phone does this already. Others have mentioned this. I expect and hope that the courts will give this patent the treatment it deserves and invalidate it without much ado.”

    Obviousness is to be judged as at the filing date: 12 May 1988.

    5. The truth about patents

    @Kenny Millar

    “When filing for a patent, the patent OWNER must show that he will actually develop and sell products based on said patent. Patents may not be obtained purely to prevent others from creating such products, or to collect royalties from others. In other words, patents would only be issued as a means to protect a companies IP in real products.”

    A patent is precisely a right to prevent other people from doing what is defined by the patent claims. A patent grants no rights to the patent owner to actually use the patented invention. You can patent an invention and not be able to use it yourself because of an earlier patent that you have improved on. Companies engage in cross-licensing deals all the time because of this. It also allows independent inventors to force large companies to license perfectly good inventions that the inventor isn’t in a position to exploit alone.

    6. Finally

    Finally, (@most commenters) can anyone wishing to comment on a patent at least take the time to look at the patent – particularly the claims, which define the scope of the patent protection – before spouting off!

  70. david wilson

    @Pete W

    >>"If taking the number from caller id and joining it to the phone's contact data for the user to see prior to accepting the call was so obvious, why didn't you submit a patent 18 years ago?"

    Err, because it was obvious, and patents aren't for obvious things?

    Looking up a number in a database clearly is and always has been obvious, right from the point that a phone network provided caller-number information to the recipient, since it's just an automation/extension of what most people do in their heads when they have caller ID and recognise a number from a few well-known ones "Oh, that's Fred - I won't bother answering".

    Chances are, a good fraction of even non-tech people who looked at a numeric caller ID would sooner or later think "It'd be good if it told me who was calling, not just the number".

    The point of having patents is to get people to put ideas in the public domain rather than keeping them secret, and to ensure they get some reward for doing that, so that good novel ideas don't get forever lost to society (or long delayed) if the inventor falls under a bus.

    Ideas that would be guaranteed to happen with little or no delay even if the first thousand people who thought of them fell under buses shouldn't be patentable.

  71. Ivan Headache

    @Dan Webb

    But unfortunately, unique is unique in that it requires no adjective to make it unique.

  72. Andy S

    I'd have been more impressed

    If the caller ID was a central database lookup. I would really like it if the phone company told me who was calling even if i didn't know the number. Any mobile or landline that is sold based on a contract, should perform credit checks and validation before granting, so should be pretty sure the name is correct.

    Even if it was just companies this would be good, no more <private number> instead it says <Spammers R' US>

  73. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Question to those critisising this guy going after Apple do you know that he *hasn't* tried this with all the other phone manufacturers?

    How do you know they haven't paid up?

    Just because the story reports the guy is going after Apple does not mean that he has not gone after others in the past. Do you seriously think he has had this patent and just sat on his hands over the last years of practically every phone manufacturer offering this feature?

  74. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Caller Display

    I remember that before caller ID you had a service called "caller display" in which a digital trunk "ISDN" could be programmed to display the name and number of the caller without the need for a local database, to me caller ID is not a big step from a system where the handset is not connected to the exchange and has its own address book, which in-turn has anyone patented the address book!!!!!!!!

  75. Bruno Girin

    Silver lining

    Look at it this way: if people keep suing the pants off Apple, Microsoft, IBM and the like for patent infrigement (rightly or wrongly), maybe those big companies will start lobbying to have the patent system scrapped or at least reviewed? One can dream!

  76. James Condron

    Sensationalist Journalism and the Morons who respond

    RTFP - Read The Fucking Patent

    This does more than mere caller ID, any idiot can see that after reading it- it appears, though, that the idiots who decided to comment didn't read this.

    Yes there are many problems with the patents system, I'm not going to deny this, but to get angry with no idea whats going on? Thats moronic- there are many problems with being moronic too.

  77. Shonko Kid
    Jobs Horns

    But didn't Steve invent Caller ID?

    >"circuitry that detects the origin telephone number of an incoming telephone call"

    In Steve's defence, this just isn't how it works in the digital age. The handset doesn't have to detect the number at all, it get's the information from the cell as part of the call initiation protocol.

    So, it may be that this guy did have something novel, if he'd figured out a way of 'detecting' the number. Otherwise this is trivial stuff.

    As for the likes of Moto, Nokia and Samsung licensing this, it's likely such licensing predates the 'all digital' world, and they probably just pay him off rather than risk a PR frenzy in court.

  78. Kirstian K
    Paris Hilton

    Talking of daft patents

    Didnt i read a while ago,

    Micro$oft patented the work 'and' for use in development languages or something?

    im afraid i cant remember the deatils, but remember being gob smacked at the audacity etc..

    but that is kinda great too.


    Paris angle, coz she prob patented 'whatever..!'

  79. Dana W
    Jobs Halo


    "But Apple HAS created one thing quite unique! A 44% $85.50 LOSS in AAPL stock in less than 60 days! That'a way Stevie!"

    Best sales year EVER, first serious market expansion since the 90s. Second biggest player in the laptop market. Number two in smartphone sales in the US over Microsoft "Go Symbian!" And From a company that was on its last legs ten years ago.

    And the Stock is still worth twice as much as it was a year ago, way to go Stevie indeed. ;)

    The press drove the stock up too high with iPhone hype. But of you think Apple's best year ever and a huge market expansion in a time of recession that is phenomenal is a failure, you need to get your head examined.

    Look a at any of the other stocks? Just because the US dollar is rapidly turning into toilet tissue is hardly Apples fault.

  80. Simon

    If you want to know about the quality of American Patents

    This one shows what sort of things you can get past the USPTO's examiners:,M1

  81. Stephen Bungay

    Blatently obvious...

    The real question is how can such drivel as this be classed as an 'invention' deserving of a patent? The 'patent owner' can't possibly claim a patent on caller ID, AT&T would be a little upset at that, which means this 'invention' is merely the automatation of an index lookup and nothing more than that. Big deal.

    I recently saw another good one, a plastic chair mat to protect carpets from damage by office chair wheels, but this one was 'patented' (as if thats so impressive). What was so special about it? They left plastic loops on the edges to serve as handles.

    Honestly, emblazooning the word 'patented' or 'patent pending' on the piece of tat your trying to sell carries little weight.

  82. Joe Flynn

    To everyone

    Everyone who's said "but thats the same as every other phone!!"

    It's likely that every other manufacturer has licensed this patent already.

  83. david wilson

    @James Condron

    >>"This does more than mere caller ID, any idiot can see that after reading it- it appears, though, that the idiots who decided to comment didn't read this."

    There's a lot of verbiage in the patent, most of which follows essentially inexorably from the initial and pretty obvious idea of having a local database in which to look up numbers derived from the network.

    Adding and deleting entries, detecting when a call is in progress, displaying the information etc, are basically no-brainers.

  84. Morely Dotes

    @ Peter H. Coffin

    "wonder how this bozo managed to patent this in 1990, after it'd been publically available for almost a decade in many markets..."

    The US Patent system is severely broken. "Prior art" is obviously never considered by patent "examiners" (in quotes because they are, in fact, rubber-stamp operators).

  85. Anne van der Bom

    Is it a patent? Is it a user manual?

    Suppose I would describe "a device for distributing a load on a rotating axle evenly over two axles in which said device enables the two outgoing axles to spin at different rotational speeds." Although I haven't got a clue on how to achieve this, I patent it. Then some years after that, a smart engineer comes along and invents the diffential, and I sue his ass off for infringing my patent. Wouldn't everybody immediately see the injustice in that? It just doesn't feel right. The engineer in this case is the one that had the bright idea, the engineer did the hard work of proving that his idea could work.

    That's how I feel about this patent.

    This patent reads like a user manual. The result of a 'wouldn't it be great if there were something that could....' moment.

  86. Aaron Guilmette
    Jobs Horns

    Read before posting ...

    Landlines offer Enhanced Caller ID, which happens when the phone switch takes the number, does a directory lookup, and passes that data to your handset. Cell phones display a more rudimentary CID, showing the number only if it hasn't been blocked and hasn't been programmed into your phone or the name/number if it has been saved to a contact-type of object in your phone.

    While one may argue that it's obvious to mate the incoming numerical data with a local database, was it obvious when the patent was filed? It may not have been that obvious to the first cell phone manufacturers, because I had a bag phone that, while it did have a local phone directory/database, didn't have this feature.

    Just because it's obvious now doesn't mean it was obvious at the time of invention. For example, the modern pencil was invented around 1632. Nairne invented the rubber eraser in 1770 (138 years after the pencil), but it wasn't until 1858 (118 years after the eraser was invented) when Lipman patented (USPTO 19,783) gluing a piece of eraser on to the end of the pencil (the patent was later invalidated in 1875 because a court ruled that is wasn't an invention with new functionality, just gluing two existing pieces of material together that still performed their original functions -

    So, for almost 120 years, it didn't occur to anyone else (who thought to patent it, at least) to glue an eraser onto the end of a pencil.

    Evil Steve Jobs, because he's not above patent infringment.

  87. Barry Rueger

    Am I old or what?

    Wow. I'm amazed at the number of posts that suggest that caller ID has been around "forever" or on "every phone I've ever had." When I grew up there was ONE phone in the house, it was black, it had real bells in it and a rotary dial. And it was owned by the phone company.

    It was a big deal when we were finally allowed to BUY a phone and plug it into a wall jack. And an even bigger deal when we got our first $400 answering machine.

    So yes children, Caller ID isn't that old. I'm not even sure if it predates cel phones - it's a close call.

  88. michael

    @ pepol saying this was not obvoius

    we have a device that had a list of names and phone numbers the same device displays the number of the person calling

    it dose not take the intelegence of a lemon to do a lookup witch is all caller id is a look up between a number and the phones stored database it is no less obvious then any over database lookups

  89. Paul Douglas

    Mobile Industry

    I'm afraid this is why it's so difficult for new players in the mobile phone industry.

    Each of the big boys owns a shite load of essential patents which they trade, any newcomer into the industry gets battered with lawyers from the big players.

    Trust me, Jobs will have known this and have lawyers ready for action. It's common knowledge in the industry.

  90. Dawid Kuroczko

    Patents' purpose

    I think it is a good idea to look back and see what patents actually were intended for.

    When the patents weren't there, the inventor carefully guarded its knowledge and this knowledge was lost to the public. The patent was a method of encouraging the inventor to share the knowledge with community. "Describe us your invention, and for this we will grant you a few years of monopoly on it; after that the invention becomes public domain". This benefits both the inventor (who has monopoly then) and the community (who will eventually have details enabling to easily recreate the invention).

    What is wrong is that in the US (and Japan) patent system changed into something completely different. Fortunately the rest of the world is mostly true to the original spirit of patents though.

    Oh, and outside US patents must be non-obvious, patent must describe the invention in detail (so it can be recreated easily), and ideas, mathematical forumlas, algorithms and business models are of course not patentable.

    To sum up: patent is for making sure that invention (something non-obvious, ingenious) will end up in the public domain (and not something to fight high unemployment of lawers and judges).

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