Patents still pending on paper, words, breathing

This is the strange but, by this stage, depressingly familiar story of small businesses being shaken down by patent trolls. In this case, the trolls are called "Project Paperless" - except perhaps not any more, as they've now apparently exploded into a constellation of hard-to-track nonsense-named shell companies.

Whoever they are, they as usual claim to hold patents on common things that a blind and severely developmentally delayed toddler could see were in common use long before the patents were awarded.

One of their targets who stood up to them is quoted, in that Ars Technica story, as saying the four patents held by Project Paperless are "...a lot of what I'd call gobbledygook ... Just jargon and terms strung together - it's really literally nonsensical."

Well, that sounded like fun, so I checked out the four linked patents. All of them were originally assigned to one "Laurence C. Klein", who at some point presumably transferred ownership of the patents to whoever Project Paperless are, if he and they are not the same person.

In this one, Mr Klein is in 2001 granted a patent on programs that can view images of documents.

In this one, Mr Klein is in 2004 granted a patent on the basic functions of document scanners, to which he gives the name "Virtual Copier".

In this one, Mr Klein is in 2009 granted a patent on sending documents from one computer to another.

And in this one, Mr Klein is in 2011 granted another patent on the same stuff he patented in 2004, but this time without calling it "Virtual Copier".

I have not ploughed through the legalese in great detail, lest I slide into severely refractory depression. But I do not think I am exaggerating this. These software patents really are this stupid.

Not only are these patents all almost completely obvious, but they are all for processes that were invented not long after, and in some cases significantly before, the invention of the cathode-ray-tube monitor. Documents were being scanned and stored in computer memory, for instance, in nineteen fifty-seven.

The only thing that really surprises me about patent trolls is that, in yet another testament to the essential decency of the human race, not one of them has yet been found strung up with their own guts.

18 Responses to “Patents still pending on paper, words, breathing”

  1. MikeLip Says:

    This is idiotic. Anyone who knows anything about tech knows how ancient a lot of these ideas are. Some examiner with little to no knowledge and a huge pile of work probably scanned it and allowed it without understanding what it meant.

    Possible cure: Have someone competent and independent examine the patent for actual patentability, with special attention to pre-existing patents. Have the plaintiff pay all fees and estimated court costs up front. Trolls will not get that money back, plus they will face stiff fines, which will be used to pay for good examiners, and/or charcoal to fill the fire-pits used to barbeque trolls (yum!). It should be made very clear in advance that unfounded claims will not be well-received, and will be damned expensive for the plaintiff.

    • MikeLip Says:

      Oh yeah - scanning and transmitting documents? You mean, like a FAX - invented in 1843 by Alexander Bain.

      • dan Says:

        I thought about mentioning that, but these patents all involve using a general-purpose computer for these purposes, so you can't go THAT far back unless you can draw an obviousness line between telegraph-line faxing and modern systems.

        I don't think that's a valid argument, but it IS valid to argue that a network of general-purpose computers DOES obviously lead to things like e-mail, document transmission, multiplayer games and so on. A particular novel way of IMPLEMENTING those ideas may be legitimately patentable - I still don't like the idea very much, but it's not cuckoo-bananas crazy. Patenting the whole straightforward concept of moving commonplace data between commonplace computers over commonplace network links none of which you invented, though, is about as legitimate as patenting "a vehicle propelled by some manner of mechanical contrivance".

        • MikeLip Says:

          That's true, but scanning or image capture is part of the system patented, no? So seems to me that alone would invalidate the patent. The whole thing is ludicrous anyway. Any patent inspector with a squidge of intelligence and knowledge should have taken one look at the applications and tossed them in the trash.

  2. Fallingwater Says:

    I think the fact that none of them have yet been properly murderized has more to do with their enemies being far too obvious rather than any sort of decency. Now if I were a murder inspector I'd help the killers of patent trolls get rid of the bodies, but I'm told this is not a widespread position; apparently there's a theory - a self-evidently nonsensical one, yet surprisingly widespread - that all life is sacred, or some such nonsense.

    • MikeLip Says:

      I think that line of argument (life is sacred) actually leans more toward SENTIENT life. Which obviously gives you your out with patent trolls. Plus you can be carbon-neutral by recycling them, so it's a win no matter how you look at it.

  3. Max Says:

    This is all clearly NASA's fault. We have to find a smart guy in a key position and get him to understand that as long as we have no interstellar spaceships, we obviously can't get rid of our hairdressers, phone sanitizers, and yes - patent trolls. How can they not see this?!?

    • Max Says:

      ...and we just blew a perfectly good chance to scare them onto that ship with this Mayan thing. Who knows when we get another one as good as this...? ;)

      • methuseus Says:

        And I was wondering how you were posting from the future. Then realized I haven't drank my coffee yet at 9:45 AM and had forgotten about time zones.

  4. comfychair Says:

    So who holds the patent on patent trolling?

    • Popup Says:


      Seriously! They took out a patent on "patent acquisition and assertion by a (non-inventor) first party against a second party."
      Full text available at the USPTO

      Another old favourite of mine is this one: "A method for inducing cats to exercise consists of directing a beam of invisible light produced by a hand-held laser apparatus ".

      But that one is about to expire.

  5. jpm1680 Says:

    Reading through the first link now... He sure goes into a lot of detail about an "exemplary" computer system setup.

    Then there's this gem:

    Think of it as the "condom layer." While providing the most direct access feasible to the underlying engine and all its capabilities, level 1 of the C++ class 112 also protects the user from the engine.

  6. Stoneshop Says:

    I once had a pair of Jehovas try to visit me, which was not at all welcome since I had just found my bed two hours earlier after a pretty good party.

    Threatening to hang them by their own intestines was most effective, as I've never, ever, been bothered by their ilk again.

    I should have patented it, I see.

  7. James Says:

    This sort of thing fills me with a quiet, broiling kind of fury that is most assuredly not good for my physical or mental health.

  8. cr Says:

    "The only thing that really surprises me about patent trolls is that, in yet another testament to the essential decency of the human race, not one of them has yet been found strung up with their own guts."

    Au contraire, if the human race had any essential decency, or the rudimentary collective intelligence of a termite nest, every patent troll would be found dangling from a tree by his intestines, right alongside the spammers.

    • cr Says:

      As an aside, which program assigns icons (or is it avatars?) to people? The one it's assigned to me looks like a patent troll undergoing intestinal suspension.

      • dan Says:

        If you don't set an avatar in your user setup, you get one of Shamus Young's Wavatars, which are generated based on your e-mail address. It's quite good at creating distinct faces to make comment-thread following easier.

        Yours does indeed appear to be experiencing some kind of dramatic event.

  9. cr Says:

    Hi Dan

    Yours is much better-looking than mine!

    I'm trying to figure out what there is about my email addy that would generate an avatar that looks like a deformed psychotic pink piranha. I do hope there's no truth in the idea that avatars reveal ones inner nature... be afraid, be very afraid ;)

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