back to article BT boils over, blows off Steam, accuses Valve of patent infringement

UK telecoms goliath BT is suing games developer and publisher Valve, alleging the Steam service infringes multiple patents. In a complaint [PDF] filed with the Delaware district court, BT accused Valve of ripping off four technologies it has patented related to the operation of cloud services (in this case, Steam). This is the …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A perfect example of why software patents aren't allowed

    As per title.

    1. streaky
      WTF?

      Re: A perfect example of why software patents aren't allowed

      They look utterly trivial for the state of the art at the time they were filed. Forget software patents versus not: they don't even look patentable even by US patent standards. Plus I can't imagine a way in which they're related to Valve anyway.

      Another reason to burn BT to the ground - they're patent trolls.

      Props to Valve for ignoring communications with these guys.

      1. Dan 55 Silver badge
        Meh

        Re: A perfect example of why software patents aren't allowed

        I think someone in BT decided to patent Prestel about 15 years too late.

        There is so much prior art for this it's laughable.

        Has BT done anything since Prestel? Well, BT didn't do Prestel either, they inherited it from the Post Office.

      2. streaky
        Mushroom

        Re: A perfect example of why software patents aren't allowed

        There's always at least one BT employee on the 'reg comments downvoting my posts. I see you :)

        But no seriously I don't see how they have a case. As I said it's not even a case of US v UK patent systems here, they're nonsense even by the US standards on inevntiveness.

        Some of the patents discussed include massively inefficient ways of transmitting data that we were doing better than even at the time of filing; much less the kind of systems valve probably uses now.

        I don't get it and every time I look at the patents I SMH. That said I commonly SMH when I look at software patents and recall how things were just the done thing at the time.

    2. sniperpaddy

      Re: A perfect example of why software patents aren't allowed

      The implementation method should be patentable, but not the concept.

      The current patent system would theoretically allow the Wright brothers would be able to sue NASA.

    3. Steve Evans

      Re: A perfect example of why software patents aren't allowed

      US patents... Says it all really... The UK patent office wouldn't even entertain those trivial ideas.

      There's nothing innovative, nothing ground breaking, they're verging on the "bleedin' obvious".

      The US patent office however, will take the processing fee and grant anything... They leave it up to the lawyers to fight it out later and get stupid patents wiped out... Which is great for the lawyers, but would really screw any small business who happens to accidentally implement one of these "ideas" in a few lines of python one afternoon.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    BT

    You fucking clowns.

    1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: BT

      Such economy with words. I'm going to put you forward for an award from to the Campaign For Plain English

      1. Phil W
        Joke

        Re: BT

        " I'm going to put you forward for an award from to the Campaign For Plain English"

        I'm afraid I must veto that award, since the syntax makes the meaning technically unclear.

        The sentence should read

        "You are fucking clowns"

        However this sentence then leads to confusion as to whether it is intended to mean that BT are clowns, and the fucking is just a pejorative adjective, or that BT are partaking in sexual in sexual intercourse with clowns.

        1. Efros

          Re: BT

          TBH I think either works in this context.

          1. Phil W

            Re: BT

            "I think either works in this context."

            That was what I intended to suggest.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: BT

      I don't think there could be a more appropriate response.

    3. sniperpaddy

      Re: BT

      BT = Bloated Trolls

  3. analyzer
    Trollface

    I think this has been done before

    An appropriate response has already been written.

    Just a quick copy and paste should be sufficient, at least Bloody Terrible will know they're no longer being ignored

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Strange...

    I thought BT would have included "US Patent: 648903111 - method for talking out of your arse to cover the fact you have some dumb ass patents that should never have been issued" in this case.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Trollface

      Re: Strange...

      SCO actually owe that one. Look what good it did them!

      1. nematoad Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: Strange...

        "SCO actually owe that one. Look what good it did them!"

        Are you sure?

        It turns out that SCO didn't own a lot of stuff they claimed as theirs.

  5. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    Client polling a server to see if there's anything new? Really? That must be a really really olf patent which must surely have expired by now.

    I wrote a messaging system 30 years ago (email had already been invented but I'd not seen it at the time) A simple little DOS TSR programme polled a server ever few minutes and flashed an asterisk in the top right of the screen if there was a new message waiting. It was an obvious next step once I'd written the messaging system in the first place. It was nothing special, nothing clever, but it worked and it did polling and was an obvious thing to do.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Of course things like UUCP didn't poll servers over network connections now did they?

    2. Alan Sharkey

      Me too

      I wrote something similar on a VMS system back in the early 80's. If a mail came in, it would poke something onto the screen of a VT220 terminal (no VT100's for us - we were advanced).

      1. BoldMan

        Re: Me too

        Did you patent it? No, then so what! This is merely demonstrating that the US Patents Office hasn't been fit for purpose for many many years!

    3. Stuart Halliday

      Heck, we all did that. Even before DOS was invented.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        "Heck, we all did that. Even before DOS was invented."

        Exactly my point :-) It's obvious and anyone versed in the techniques, even without seeing other examples, can independently invent it as a natural and obvious next step.

        1. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

          Exactly my point :-) It's obvious and anyone versed in the techniques, even without seeing other examples, can independently invent it as a natural and obvious next step."

          To a US patent office "engineer" nothing is obvious.

          So now BT is a common patent troll... WTFG!!!

  6. MrTuK

    And next week they will sue MS, Apple and Google !!!!

    1. phuzz Silver badge

      They already sued Google, Google counter-sued, but cursory searching doesn't show the result, so I assume they both agreed to drop the cases.

  7. GrumpyKiwi

    Just had a read of each of them. They SCREAM prior art - I especially like the one about collecting messages from an internet mail repository as if no-one had been doing that pre-1997.

    They also SCREAM that the USPTO is populated entirely by idiot savants.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      They also SCREAM that the USPTO is populated entirely by idiot savants

      FTFY. You're welcome.

    2. Czrly
      Meh

      The very real danger is that they might win, anyway, and if they do, they basically destroy the web and everything we love goes the way of the one-click checkout.

      Their legal team have decided that the product of the utility of winning (insanely huge) and the chance of winning (at least measurably positive - they'll know better than us) is greater than that of the utility of losing (patents get torn up and discredited, which means pretty much nothing since the patents are so vacuous) and the probability of losing.

      They probably picked Valve because they actually want to end up in court. If they had been trolling smaller companies, that would mean the patents are still worth something as a threat for bullying people without a massive legal team. Of course, they might also have picked Valve because they hope to settle and will demand so little that Valve just swallow the costs.

      1. BoldMan

        They won't win but they might get Valve to settle and get some cash from them, which is the main purpose of this litigation.

    3. Stuart Halliday

      Heck we did that back in the 70s with BB systems!

  8. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Facepalm

    As ahistorical as an American hearing about foreign lands who "suddenly attack"

    "Multi-user display system"

    Filed ... 2003?

    What kind of utter cretin with no knowledge about computing is filing patents over there? Shareholders should sue for such a waste of money, time and whatever remains of brain.

    1. m0rt

      Re: As ahistorical as an American hearing about foreign lands who "suddenly attack"

      This patent: Communications node for providing network based information service - US6578079B1

      Is well worth a read for the humour. https://patents.google.com/patent/US6578079B1/en

      What we seem to have hear is a simple set of logical steps for handling paid for content - but based around technology that was old when it was first written up in 1997.

      So it shouldn't have been granted in 1997, as what they are actually doing is just describing how a set of systems would work together - more like a badly written product requirement, and it should certainly not have been granted in 2003.

      But, and BT should NOT in ANYWAY be trying to apply this to Steam, it makes them a laughing stock. Well more of a laughing stock. I mean I am not surprised Valve hasn't responded to them. If it were me, I would have thought the first time was a funny joke, the second time not so funny, the third I would just bin/delete the correspondence.

      Some choice cuts:

      "In this embodiment the customer uses a personal digital assistant (PDA) having a communications facility to access the information service. Such a device is also known as a personal communicating computer (PCC), and will be referred to hereinafter as a PCC."

      So you are aware of the following:

      "Suppose that the customer selects the information item “The Times” (step 48). The PCC responds by making a call requesting “Information Service”. The call set-up message contains the message components: customer's ID, the identity of requested service, i.e. “Information Service”, and the identity of the selected information item."

      Rockin. Sounds futuristic to me. Give me more:

      "This call is routed through the appropriate cellular network (not shown), and the PSTN (not shown), to the intelligent network 10. When the call arrives at an SSP 12, a lookup table is used to determine the subsequent routing of the call, and the SSP 12 thus routes the call to one of the SNs 22 (step 50). In variants the intelligent network 10 additionally comprises one or more SNs which do not run the Information Application in their Application Environment and, in this case, the lookup table contains appropriate entries so that the SSP 12 routes such calls only to an SN which does run the Information Application."

      So we are talking about data being routed through the copper lines or Cellular network - the main point of entry to the internet in '97. Oh btw, the SSP is s 'Service Switching Point' - and an SN is a 'Service Node'.

      It routes the call, we see - so hang on, this isn't an over the internet thing, this is an actual Data Call to a specific network. Ahhhh....ok, so we are really getting to the nitty gritty here.

      Now let us go to the device itself, the PCC as it were:

      "The PCC has a caching storage and a caching storage manager (not shown separately). The caching storage has three locations (numbered one to three) for storing three pages, and its manager has a twelve location circular memory (numbered one to twelve) for storing respective pointers to the caching storage location where pages are stored, and the respective source addresses of the pages. Locations one and seven of the circular memory permanently contain the identity of the caching storage location one, locations three and nine of the circular memory permanently contain the identity of the caching storage location two, and locations five and eleven of the circular memory permanently contain the identity of the caching storage location three."

      OMG - this is STEAM. How did they get away with it? The CADS, the BOUNDERS!: Is what they said in the BT Patents and Lawsuits office.

      What is more worthy, I suspect, are BT shareholders taking the company to account for an obviously wasteful exercise in time and money and, ahem, dragging the company name through the mud.

      It also shows the boredom within the US patent system. I mean reading that kind of thing day in, day out...easier to pass the thing than work out why it is so wrong.

      Actually I love telling people why they are wrong. HANG ON - DREAM JOB!

      Oh, and if this has whet your appetite for software patents:

      https://patents.google.com/patent/US6807558B1

      Expired, but it is a humdinger. Whilst I used the google 'search for prior art' feature on the above BT patent.

      1. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

        Re: As ahistorical as an American hearing about foreign lands who "suddenly attack"

        You forgot to mention that with regards to the USPTO they get paid when the patent is awarded... Soooooooo it's kinda in their best interests to let this stuff in.

        If they wanted to stop this kind of madness then they need payment per application (I can already hear the howls of complaints from the lawyers as a nice revenue stream dwindles.)

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: As ahistorical as an American hearing about foreign lands who "suddenly attack"

          You forgot to mention that with regards to the USPTO they get paid when the patent is awarded... Soooooooo it's kinda in their best interests to let this stuff in.

          Isn't it time to apply the "you break it, you pay for it" principle? If the USPTO receives money for essentially doing no diligence whatsoever, it stands to reason you should be able to sue them for the consequences. Every time a patent is invalidated (which, from a quick glance, these 4 should be due to (a) prior art and (b) their obviousness), the USPTO should be sued for the costs of the lawsuit(s) so caused.

          Now I know it's US government, so apparently by default exempt from any consequences to its actions, but that is what *should* happen. I'm sure someone in the land of the litigation "free" (stop laughing in the back) will find a way - after all, there's money in it.

      2. Version 1.0 Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: As ahistorical as an American hearing about foreign lands who "suddenly attack"

        Once again - a comment that's longer and more informative than the El Reg story.

        +1 to you sir for effort.

        1. m0rt

          Re: As ahistorical as an American hearing about foreign lands who "suddenly attack"

          "Having said that I do hope BT get severely rodgered with an old style brick phone from before rounded corners were patented. "

          You, Sir, are duly awarded an upvote.

    2. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: What kind of utter cretin with no knowledge about computing

      I still shake my head when people apply for patents on things that are 'bleeding obvious' or common knowledge amongst us old hacks. I was on holiday with some friends last year and one of their friends in the holiday group was setting up a business and taking huge loans and trying to patent something that I'd been doing 30 years ago - there is prior art for it but its in one of those journals that you now have to pay a fortune to access. I tried to explain - but he was so invested in the work he was convinced it was new.

      As software engineers or architects we are pretty much exposed to every method of doing anything with everything over a long career and its easy to mock people coming in thinking they've invented the something that's old hat.

      Having said that I do hope BT get severely rodgered with an old style brick phone from before rounded corners were patented. Perhaps then a large company will bribe a government to do something about the monumental fuck up that is the patent system.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    communications are being ignored

    BT are experts in ignoring communications, so they've little right to complain.

    It rained at the weekend round here. To the extent that all 40 landlines in the apartment building where I am right now are apparently broken (broadband works(ish), but landlines have no dialtone and appear "engaged" to incoming calls). Faults apply regardless of comms provider (e.g. Big BT, BT Sheffield/Plusnet, TalkTalk, etc). The problem is not widespread in the local area (or at least is not acknowledged by public-facing BT sources as widespread in the area) but it is widespread in this building, although BT Retail's own diagnostics suggested that the fault was in BT's own network between exchange and building.

    Who within BT plc might one contact to see WTF is going on, and what the plans are?

    Nobody, it seems. Each of the 40+ residents is expected to contact their own Comms Providers customer service (might be BT, might not). But the CP's customer service will know nothing because BT plc have no means of communicating meaningfully with them.

    This isn't a game, BT. This is affecting the lives of real people who depend on BT plc's services. That dependency exists because BT plc have been allowed to keep a monopoly and operate it in a largely incompetent way. For decades.

    BT plc management and the US PTO management. Separated at birth?

    1. m0rt

      Re: communications are being ignored

      I can second this.

      It took me years, and finally a promise that for every email they sent me regarding a ex-clients phone account that I was no longer acting for, I would charge them £200 plus vat for consultacy fees to let them know that I was not the person they should be contacting.

      I even ended up emailing the head of business. It told me all I ever needed to know about BT. And I remember pre-privitisation.

      1. Real Ale is Best
        Go

        Re: communications are being ignored

        It took me years, and finally a promise that for every email they sent me regarding a ex-clients phone account that I was no longer acting for, I would charge them £200 plus vat for consultacy fees to let them know that I was not the person they should be contacting.

        I bet you are still collecting on that little money spinner!

  10. astrax

    A message for BT:

    Don't worry about going after Valve over obscene patents that will (hopefully) never be held up in court; divert some of those resources to sorting out your freakin' subsideries and customer service.

  11. deconstructionist

    fly on the wall

    BT head Office's

    director one : shit we wasted tons of cash again on shit that no one wants .

    director two : yeah ..but I was speaking to legal they've got a plan

    director one : oh ...really

    director two : we'll sue

    director one : brilliant .....eh who will we sue.

    director two : this fat guy with glasses, should be easy he makes valves..

    director one : what are we suing him for ! he stole our ideas that didn't work and where not ours in the first place.

    Lawyer : open and shut case

    director one : why's there sticker on your case that say's Vegas or bust ..

    director two : he told you it is open and shut case we will be minted

    lawyer : on phone " hello is that the Bugatti dealership "

  12. imanidiot Silver badge
    Facepalm

    --->

    I Knew BT was incompetent, I never realised they were THIS incompetent.

    1. nijam Silver badge

      > I never realised they were THIS incompetent

      Really? How could you not have noticed?

      1. BoldMan

        I disagree, BT are not incompetent, they persuaded the US Patent Office to give them some stupid patents so they may be abel to sue some poor areshole and maybe get some cash from them.

        This isn't BT being idiots, this shows the USPO is fucked up and has been for decades.

  13. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

    Oh FFS!

  14. Kevin Johnston

    Simple response

    Valve should just tell the court they thought the contact from BT was phishing/spam. Certainly has the look with joke Patents and the demanding money with menaces bit. Just like those lawyers that demand money or they will tell everyone you were watching Pr0n...

  15. MJI Silver badge

    Interesting

    I am not on anyones side here, I use both companies products. I like Steam, I am on BT FTTC.

    However those patents are all a bit flimsy, and sound like obvious ways of doing things, they are not the sort of patents you should expect from a large telecommunications company.

    Now what work has BT done in providing these ideas? Have they done any, does not look like they have spent that long, not like a lot of their real intellectual property with regards to infrastructure.

    BT are trying to pull a fast one, and I think a court case may be a good idea, if only to get these patents invalidated. That said if they had used them against patent trolls good luck to them, but of course Valve are not.

    But my findings are as follows.

    BT win, but total damages and costs restricted to a free copy of Half Life 3, on Steam. That is my technique, let them win but not recover costs, and damages restricted to something sensible (like a copy of HL3).

    I remember when BT lost a patent case against a troll, when the technology was originally developed by BT or GPO in the first place, but patented in the US, that one was definately a wrong decision.

    And I have maintained that for years that they should have patented the programmable computer!

    1. Adrian Tawse

      Re: Interesting

      Sorry, Prior Art. Babbage invented the Programmable Computer, and Ada Lovelace invented Programming. Indeed Colossus was in many ways less sophisticated than Babbage's Analytical Engine, just that it existed.

  16. Snar

    Bastard Telecom....

    I hate this company with an absolute passion. Since they started to peddle powerline junk I have vowed to never again pay for their services.

    1. hplasm
      Thumb Up

      Re: Bastard Telecom....

      +1 Internet, plus another for spelling and using 'peddle' correctly!

  17. Banksy

    Half Life 3

    I hope this doesn't delay work on Half Life 3. BT have probably patented something to do with that too.

    1. Snar

      Re: Half Life 3

      US2345723B - The use of copper to carry electricity.

    2. MJI Silver badge

      Re: Half Life 3

      I have already decided the outcome, Valve pay BT the full amount of damages & costs I would award in a copy of HL3 on Steam.

      Then they will have to get off their **** to make it and we all get to find out what happens to Gordon

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    *Slow clap*

    Bravo Gentlemen, Bravo.

  19. Stuart Halliday

    Cute, you're still using the Half-life name.

    Yes, we all miss it. But let's bury it under a tree and move on?

  20. Robert Baker
    IT Angle

    I have these wonderful ideas

    I have just thought of "Method of sending text messages over the Internet", "Method for allowing debate to take place online" and "Proposal to construct an online book of faces".

    I wonder if BT would be willing to buy them off me and patent them, so as to make millions?

  21. deconstructionist

    lootboxes too

    valve ignoring them Hell i do the same when someone send me a mail in shiteneese , maybe they can sue for chest/lootboxes since their advertised BB speeds are basically lootboxes as in "might be ..could be, possibly" .... then as always a mystery until you pug it in ..then it is just a disappointment .

    Well at least that's CONtinuity for you

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