Software Patent of the Moment: Autoresponders

by on August 29, 2007 · 4 comments

Ars reports on an especially egregious case of patent trolling:

The patent, titled “Automatic message interpretation and routing system,” is unsurprisingly general. It was filed in 1998 and awarded to a company called Brightware, Inc. in 2002, and it basically describes an autoresponder. “The method for automatically interpreting an electronic message may also include the step of retrieving one or more predetermined responses corresponding to the interpretation of the electronic message from a repository for automatic delivery to the source,” reads the patent.

Polaris accuses Google of “actively inducing infringement” on the patent and contributing to the infringement of others by implementing its own automatic e-mail responder within the company. Amazon, Borders, AOL, and all of the other named defendants are accused of the same. “As a result of these Defendants’ infringement of the ’947 Patent, Polaris has suffered monetary damages in an amount not yet determined, and will continue to suffer damages in the future unless Defendants’ infringing activities are enjoined by this Court,” reads the complaint seen by Ars Technica.

This is ridiculous. Auto-responders have been a common feature of email systems for decades. Here is a Usenet message from 1985 that mentions Sendmail’s “vacation” feature, which provided that functionality. Here is anther guy in 1985 who didn’t have access to sendmail so he wrote his own auto-responder. Both of those programs perform the “step” of “retrieving one or more predetermined responses corresponding to the interpretation of the electronic message from a repository for automatic delivery to the source.”

Those took me 5 minutes to find. It looks like prior art to me (presumably you could find documentation from the relevant version of sendmail detailing its features if the descriptions in these postings are sufficient). So why isn’t there a quick and easy way for Google to get this patent invalidated (or at least the lawsuit dismissed) before thousands of dollars are wasted on lawyering?

  • Brian Moore

    Replace “wasted” with “used to get me a new yacht” and seems clear to me! :)

    But yeah, we do need a simple way to do this. Would it be relatively easy to set up some “Open Source Lawyering” group that did quick rundowns on these outrageous patents? I’m not sure — you’d think any Google lawyer with an ounce of tech knowledge could shoot it down. Why aren’t these things being laughed out of court when they provide obvious prior art?

  • Brian Moore

    Replace “wasted” with “used to get me a new yacht” and seems clear to me! :)

    But yeah, we do need a simple way to do this. Would it be relatively easy to set up some “Open Source Lawyering” group that did quick rundowns on these outrageous patents? I’m not sure — you’d think any Google lawyer with an ounce of tech knowledge could shoot it down. Why aren’t these things being laughed out of court when they provide obvious prior art?

  • Mike Sullivan

    Filtering and use of rules for selective autoresponse (including the use of separate prepared response files) has been one of the core functions of procmail since the Iron Age of computers.

  • http://www.wbklaw.com Mike Sullivan

    Filtering and use of rules for selective autoresponse (including the use of separate prepared response files) has been one of the core functions of procmail since the Iron Age of computers.

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