back to article Mammoth patent troll holder snags smartphone threat

One of the largest US intellectual-property firms has acquired an "obscenely broad" patent that may cause migraines among the legal teams at Apple, Google, Palm, Motorola, NTC, and other smartphone makers. The patent in question is for motion-based smartphone control - the accelerometer-based technology found in nearly every …


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  1. Cody

    Lets hope they win!

    Well, whatever happens, this seems like bad news for Apple, which is great. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, so any enemy of that most deplorable of companies is to be welcomed.

    Regards, Cody

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Down

      Real mature.


    2. Adam T
      Thumb Down


      Yes, let's ban all form of technological progress.

      F'ing hippies.

  2. Jon Axtell


    Mutally Assured Destruction.

    All we can hope is that as more and more big companies get hit by patent law suits they start realising that the current scheme is unmaintainable. Then they might get round to getting rid of some of the more stupid patents, like software and business practise ones for a start.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    kill all trolls

    Maybe Ti, National semiconductor, Analog devices, and other electronics manufacturers who do the actual work, ought to make an industry rule that says "you can not patent connecting any of our chips together"

  4. Disco-Legend-Zeke

    One Man's...

    ..."extremely broad" Is another man's "Basic Patent."

    ISTR some motion input projects long before this century, althiugh they were based on using cameras to pick up hand Gestures (A sign language to voice converter.)

  5. Colin_L

    as memory serves...

    Myrhvold was a child-prodigy of sorts, truly a brilliant young mind at Microsoft. Then he retired early, and now he's a patent troll.

    How very sad.

    1. PirateSlayer


      ...they didn't pay him enough. All very well having your ego boosted by being called wonderful things...but if you don't pay the dude enough, off he goes.

  6. Big-nosed Pengie


    The sillier this gets, the more possible it becomes that the US will wake up.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Who cares?

      If the rest of the world tells them "Your patents and trademarks are no longer recognized" it won't matter one bit how the USAians organize the internal workings of their society - we'll get by. I don't think they have the economic clout any longer to withstand something like that... Of course, then they'll make us all glow in the dark but that's an entirely different situation.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Jobs Horns


    is it bad to take a patent on your original work? - the problem here is with the likes of Apple who ignore prior art & think they invented everything. They should employ someone to do patent searches

    1. Giles Jones Gold badge

      Off the shelf

      The problem is that Apple and others mostly just use off the shelf parts.

      An accelerometer is hardware, this chip isn't an Apple invention. Nintendo and others use them. All these companies are doing is using the hardware.

      If there was a patent case against Intel processors you would file against Intel, not everyone using their chip. The software running on the processor isn't important if the patent is about the hardware.

  8. NX1977

    For the love of Tech

    Someone slap all these people into reality.

    The patents they have are worthless and should never have been granted due to prior art.

    And if that bothered about them, why wait 4 years to exercise their rights? Mobiles have had and used accelerometers for around 5 years now!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      why wait?

      "why wait 4 years to exercise their rights?"

      because if they called attention to it at the beginning the pay off they get will be a lot less than it would be 5 years later...

      five years ago, if they were to get say 50p per smartphone sold that has violated the patent against the same 50p per phone now...well you dothe maths....

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Gridlock Economy - subverted

    Ever come across the book "Gridlock Economy - How Too Much Ownership Wrecks Markets, Stops Innovation, and Costs Lives" (Michael Heller)? Its point is that in lots of areas of life there are so many people with an "interest" it becomes impossible to get things done. One of Heller's main examples is Alzheimers drugs not making it to market because of the string of patent holders in the way, all of whom have to be dealt with separately.

    The "tragedy of the anticommons" is his phrase for it.

    Intellectual Ventures may sound like a monster patent troll but ISTM very plain they're trying to subvert this whole awfulness, by getting enough money from their many big backers in the tech biz to go buy up every patent in sight in every relevant area, and automatically license the lot to all their backers. Sure, they're going to make a lot of money themselves. But it'll be a great benefit to big tech firms trying to launch any new product.

    PS Apple are one of their many investors (pretty much every big tech firm is though).

    Apologies if this comment doesn't match the usual "patents bad, kill all trolls" kneejerk theme.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Stupid patents system

    I am of the firm belief that patents should not be allowed unless oyu can demonstrate a working prototype. Patenting ideas is complete nonsense. I shall now patent the use of farts to power interstellar spaceships and claim first dibs when it happens.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Somebody's Gotta Say It

      Third Dibs, maybe.

      Depends on Prior Fart.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down


    "We don't currently have specific plans to announce regarding any asset(s) in particular, but we are actively talking with customers about licensing our invention portfolio on fair and reasonable terms."

    In other words - Pay us now or we'll sue you later.

  12. zasta

    The Reg = Schizophrenia

    On one hand, you have articles that are strongly, 100% in support of patents and intellectual "property" (basically, anything written by Orlowski), and on the other you have articles like this that basically tell us "patents are being abused all the time to extort legit businesses and the consumers end up paying the price"

    Methinks something is broken.

    1. dogged

      Reading comprehension is your friend

      Orlowski tends to defend copyright, not patents.

      1. Griffith Engen


        Orlowski defends all intellectual property, he just refers to copyrights more often -- as does everyone else.

    2. kissingthecarpet


      a) Do you really expect all journos at a news outlet to have a unified line? I don't want or expect that to happen

      b) Don't misuse the word "schizophrenia" again. It doesn't mean "split personality", its a horrible, debilitating mental illness, that's about as funny as carcinoma of the brain, i.e not very

    3. BoldMan

      Its called opinion

      Different people (and reporters) have different opinions. Its one of the reasons I like The Reg as they don't have a "house opinion" on things, but let their reporters get on with reporting. If different reporters have differing opinions, thats all to the good as it less US see both sides of an argument.

    4. Probe


      Different people different views - or would you rather have a Reg Party line which all Reg hacks are obliged to adhere to?

      No, not broken.

    5. Graham Dawson Silver badge

      These aren't contradictory positions, though.

      It's entirely possible to say that you support patents and IP *and* point out that the system as it stands is completely broken.

      Besides, different reporters = different views. unless you want the Register to push a rigid editorial line on all its contributors? But who's like would it be?

    6. PirateSlayer

      Because the world is black and white like that.

      I think it's very easy to support patents and intellectual property rights and at the same time report on their abuse (e.g. I can support libel laws in the UK but bemoan their recent abuse and libel tourism). Evidentally you need dogma to support a very narrow and blinkered view on things. As I recall Schizophrenia is a serious mental disorder..rather than having a balanced and critical outlook on things...correct me if I'm wrong.

    7. Ken Hagan Gold badge


      Or simply balanced?

      If you prefer your news to be one-sided, you can follow the "get more from this author" link.

    8. Puck

      Ahem. Tech consumers may *choose* to pay the price.

      Quite frankly, IP law as affects smartphones and, say, cancer treatments in the US, is a completely different kettle of fish. You folks should save your moral arguments for income-inelastic products like chemotherapy drugs, where folk will pay every penny they have in the hope of survival.

      Whilst the law theoretically attracts huge investment to each, the former is a discretionary purchase, mostly, a luxury good. Poor? An old Nokia will do fine. It's a success story for eastern manufacturing countries that prices on these phones are going UP, bucking the previous deflationary trend of ubiquitous tech depressing prices.

      It'll be fascinating to see the proportion of US GDP which goes into health if the Obama health package passes - and the impact on the IP argument. But until then, please stop with the 'give me luxury electronic goods for free' crap, already.

  13. John Tserkezis

    Do not feed the trolls.

    "If anything, I'm anti-troll," he says. "If I’m buying a patent, it's definitely for sale."

    If not a troll, he's certainly feeding them.

    What's the difference?

  14. Tim Roberts 1
    Thumb Up

    no sympathy

    Apple, Microsoft, Nokia etc etc were all for patents on "software" and "ideas" ( or at least did not put much effort into objecting to the notion )

    . Now it has come back to bite them in the arse. I hope the bite festers!

    As for the patent holders - well much as I deplore their methods - mind you someone out there has probably patented that too, I cant help feeling that they have picked a niche market and milked it for all it is worth - much like Apple, Microsoft Nokia etc etc........

    Hey does anyone else see some irony in this?

  15. Richard 12 Silver badge

    Patents are necessary

    But the US appears to let you patent anything, no matter how broad and obvious and no matter how much prior art exists. It also allows patenting of software (which is already protected by copyright and trademark laws) and even business processes!

    The US patent office appear to operate by simply granting everything and leaving it to the courts to sort it out later - this is probably the main problem, because it simply means that the deepest pockets win almost any patent challenge. This obviously damages innovation, as innovative startups risk bankruptcy by legal action - even if they win.

    Note how few patent trolls exist in the European market (I can't think of any, though I'm sure they must exist), where software* and business process patents are not permitted and wrongly-issued patents (with prior art) are rarer.

    *Yes, there are some cases where software can be patented, but only in very narrow purposes as a fundamental part of a machine.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Well, the trolls do need killing your honour, but...

    I don't want to kill all trolls, I merely want to see them wither and die of their own volition. And it's easy to make that happen, in theory. Just remove the current and patently (pun mandatory) dysfunctional USoA patent system.

    The problem is, as is widely acknowledged, that the US patent granting office no longer serves the original goal of patents. Their total and complete failure to ensure any merit whatsoever in newly granting patents means they are no longer protecting inventions. (Not ``innovation'', which is different and the difference is why business methods are not to be patentable.) Instead they act as a troll feeder, giving rise to an entire bubble business.

    In fact you could probably open a patent exchange and feed the bubble some more by enabling instant electronic trading of massive amounts of patents. And then some wisearse will figure out how to credit-rate them and re-package them and invent derivative ``financial products'' (a misnomer if there ever was one) out of the mess. Maybe throw litigation insurance and mass-litigation deals in the fray too. And then Joe Consumer can join the trade on leveraged credit, too.

    Also liked the ``we're not trolls because we're only buying patents that are for sale!'' line. It's just as bunk as all the ``we're not spammers because what we do is (spamming by any other name)'' reasons spammers like to give, of course. Goes to show what level this business is at. More proof micros~1 is bad for your brain.

  17. Giles Jones Gold badge

    Wrong targets

    Surely the patent troll should be filing against the makers of the accelerometer chips?

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Don't digital cameras predate this?

    Digital cameras have long been able to detect the orientation of the camera and then do something about it. I smell prior art.

  19. gimbal

    I'm hoping it opens up the forum about patents

    If "the big boys" are having their ground threatened by a possibly-valid (?) patent claim, maybe they'll lend some reconsideration about the very nature of patent-driven development.

    Having said that, I realize it's completely naive. I'm sure that the IP-lubbing executives of the boards will all be very adept at putting their fingers into their ears and loudly saying "La-la-la", to ignore the deeper principles of the matter.

  20. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    First filed in 2001

    Motion control probably was fairly new in 2001. So were accelerometers small and cheap enough to be used in a device that cost little more than a mouse. In other words, until that time, even if the idea had been thought of, it would not have been developed or publicised because it was uneconomic or technologically impossible.

    I've long held that such reasoning provides a nearly-objective measure of obviousness. (Lest we forget, the international treaties that set up the world's IP system had novelty and non-obviousness as pre-requisites for society to grant a monopoly to an inventor.) If the device *could* have been built (technologically possible) and *could* have been sold (there was an incentive to pursue the idea) more than a few years prior to the filing date, then the fact that it wasn't demonstrates a degree of non-obviousness, *even* to those skilled in the art.

    Conversely, if the idea is conceived and productised within a short space of it being possible in the first place, it is demonstrably obvious and society has no incentive to grant any additional favours to those who are already making money out of it.

    Whilst still imperfect, this system would prevent the "IP land-grab" that happens whenever the boffins develop an exciting new component and world+wife decides to patent "Using <component> in <X>." for increasingly bacon-sliced values of X.

    I haven't done the experiment, but I suspect that in a hotly competitive field like computing there is very little new under the sun, but constantly evolving component technologies mean that the correct engineering compromises for the systems that you build out of them keeps changing. This provides an illusion of constant innovation.

    We had an example yesterday with Adaptec and Microsoft claiming innovative uses of an SSD. Disc throughput has been researched to death since the 1950s. Only a complete idiot could seriously believe that if SSDs had been around then, they'd have been used in exactly the same "innovative" way. (In fact, if only I were old enough, I could probably point you at a mainframe system that did.) It's all about relative costs and relative device speeds. Given the same components, engineers in the 60s, 90s and 20-teens will come to the same design for a disc sub-system. The whole thing can probably be reduced to equations, and those equations are probably written down in Henessey & Patterson. None of this is "innovative".

  21. Anonymous Coward

    Well, This affects me

    This is posted anonymously, something I normally deplore, because I am just about to start a patent fight.

    We have a new application, developed purely for internal use. It is innovative and unusual, but its not for sale. It will make money for my company by its internal use.

    By chance we found out that a US company has a patent application for this technology we have already developed and deployed internally. We definitely have and can prove prior art. We also know that said other company does not have an actual application - how? Because they cam to talk to me and sell me the "product" but admitted that they had yet to write it ! In hind sight, it seems a lot of their questions were designed to elicit information on what we had done, not find out how they can sell to us. So, trolling in every sense of the word.

    It does seem that, if they get their patent, they can sue us even though we had prior art. They don't actually have to implement their application - only say they intend to. Next stop for me is a patent lawyer - so I am probably going to have to spend 10,000's protecting our own designs which we don't wish to sell. We are taking this very seriously.

    As this is about to "go legal" I don't want any come back, hence AC.

    Mines the one with "Patent law for dummies" in the pocket.

    1. Stef 1

      An informed commentary

      "We have a new application, developed purely for internal use. It is innovative and unusual, but its not for sale. It will make money for my company by its internal use. (...) By chance we found out that a US company has a patent application for this technology we have already developed and deployed internally. We definitely have and can prove prior art."

      [GB/European perspective]

      If you have NOT published this new internal application (and were expecting to rely instead upon trade secrets/confidential information-type law/precedents), it is NOT prior art, it is a prior SECRET use.

      It cannot be used to invalidate the patent/kill the application (so the US company will get their patent), but it COULD be used to excuse/remove your infringement liability (so the US company will not get your pound of flesh). It also means, however, that should you wish to change your mind and sell your new internal application...well, you won't be able to (because you cannot license the subject-matter equivalent to that of the patent), unless you sell the whole business with it (and the onew owners still won't be able to sell it on either, only use it internally)..

      Put simply, that's the risk you take by not telling the world about it (which is the way the patent system works: you don't get the monopoly if you don't tell the world what the invention is)

      Note that if it's a US patent application and you're not in the US and/or using your new internal application in the US (and there are no equivalent patent application in your jurisdiction/that in which your new internal application is used), there is no infringement anyway (US patents can only be enforced in the US)

      [GB/European perspective]

      US patent law and practice differ from GB/European patent law and practice, so the above is to be seen for contrast only, and is mere commentary, not legal advice. Go talk to a patent attorney. And good luck.

    2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Thumb Down


      "We also know that said other company does not have an actual application - how? Because they cam to talk to me and sell me the "product" but admitted that they had yet to write it ! In hind sight, it seems a lot of their questions were designed to elicit information on what we had done, not find out how they can sell to us. "

      The very *worst* kind of troll.

      1) Unbuilt product.

      2) Not even sure *how* to build product (hence presumably their questions)

      3) Patent first, extort actual companies 2nd, build product (maybe) last.

      It's very sad that the system seems so broken people can actually make money doing this and it's sadder still that you're only defense is either patent it yourself or demonstrate *substantial* prior art.

      This may be a tricky argument as if the prior art is *unique* to your company they *can* argue it is not know to anyone outside and therefor their public disclosure (in the patent) is the first anyone *else* would know about it. Given the long history of software real originality is pretty rare, but that never stopped the USPTO issuing patents fro things like the idea of a screen buffer and the Macintosh Look & Feel BS (PARC Alto project predated it by roughly 12 years but no one seemed to want to mention that as that would have prevented *all* patents in that area).

      Even the actual invention of the stored program digital computer (note the first 3 words) had multiple claimants, many on both US and UK government projects of WWII.

      Thumbs down to the USPTO. Again. It still staggers me you can patent human genes as well.

  22. A B 3

    Same as tariffs

    Lock down the market and don't compete with anyone.

    If I had the time to write an operating system I couldn't, I'd spend most of the time trawling through patents.

  23. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    US patent office needs good er review.

    Really. How can they still be issuing this sort of s^$t.

  24. Greg D

    laughing stock

    they should rename the US patent office the comedy store.

    seriously, its a fucking joke.

  25. Steve Evans

    Not long now...

    Given the state of the US patent system there are two possible futures.

    1) The entire US patent system will implode and collapse in on itself shortly after someone manages to file a patent which covers the running of a patent system, and then refuses to issue them a licence to use it.

    2) Innovation in the US will stop. All engineers retrain as lawyers. Sales of BMW go through the roof.

  26. Eponymous Cowherd

    Prehistoric Prior Art

    Waaaay back in the 1980's I built a joystick to plug into my ZX Spectrum based on 4 mercury tilt switches.

    While developing it I experimented with taping the mercury switches to the Spectrum, itself, and tilting the whole thing.

    I think that just about covers the Patent's claims and pre-dates it by about 20 years.

  27. cmaurand

    Just goes to show you

    Just how broken the patent system is. When patents overlap like this, that means that there is no mechanism in place to find earlier patents. Worse, the patent system seems to completely overlook prior art.

  28. Disco-Legend-Zeke

    Samuel Clemens (A/K/A Mark Twain) Said...

    ... "Any country that does not have a patent office can only move in two directions, sideways and backwards."

    From a PBS Ken Burns Documentary.

  29. graeme leggett Silver badge

    Shell companies

    Why would a legitimate business want (or need) "1,100 shell companies" ?

    If these shells were genuine companies with genuine activities, even if unstaffed then that's at least a lot of board meetings and paperwork per year for the directors.

    Seems a lot of effort. So what are these for, some attempt to avoid taxation or similar attempt to game system?

    1. Disco-Legend-Zeke

      It Is About...

      ..covering their backsides.

      Suppose someone injurse their back playing WII. If the accelerometer patents are held by a separate LLC, the other members of the portfolio are prodected.


      You are only allowed to have 35 partners in an LLC. Each patent owner got his own LLC deal, each Cash investor got part of an LLC deal.

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