Remote Locator Systems, LLC, a generic company incorporated in East Texas, filed a lawsuit against seven defendants recently for allegedly violating one of its patents. That patent can be found here. They've also filed against Google, Apple, T-Mobile, Verizon, and AT&T.

The gist is this - some company in the late 90's thought up the idea of equipping an entire hospital with IR receivers and then putting IR blasters on every employee and important piece of equipment. The blasters would send out a unique identifier to the receivers, and the receivers would correspond with locations in the building, and a computer would then record the location of that person or piece of equipment in a database. If you wanted to find that person or piece of equipment, you'd pick up a phone on the local telephone system and dial a code for that person or piece of equipment. The phone nearest to that person or piece of equipment would then ring, and someone would answer it (either the person, or someone who could see the piece of equipment).

In the 90's, this was a pretty cool idea. Many hospitals still rely on pagers to this day, and a way to quickly and effectively locate staff and portable equipment obviously makes this a pretty useful invention. GPS doesn't work in large buildings and, at the time, cell phones still had low-ish market penetration. A pretty neat concept, to be sure. I don't think it ever panned out commercially, but whatever.

So some company bought this patent and is now suing seven developers for infringing it. They are:

Notice any similarities? I hope so - because every single one of these developers makes an app that is able to track the location of a phone in near-real time, either through a web interface or the app itself. Their purposes vary from location sharing to theft recovery, but they all make use of a similar feature - finding a phone (or a person, using their phone as a beacon) on a map.

Remote Locator Systems doesn't specify which claims of its patent are violated in the complaint, but here's the likely tl;dr - they're probably hinging on claim 4, and the notion that transmitting data over a mobile network constitutes "a telephone inquiry by a caller over a telephone system." It's almost guaranteed to be 100% pure corn-fed bullshit. Why not sue Apple, Google, or Sony? They all operate phone finder services. Oh wait, that's because they might actually fight back! Wouldn't want that.

Edit: Turns out RLS has sued Google, Apple, T-Mobile, Verizon, and even AT&T on this same patent. Lovely.

Hopefully the developers of these apps, or at least one of them, can get the cash together for a legal defense, because the likelihood of this 17-year-old patent legitimately being infringed by any of them seems to be remote at best. We've requested statements from a number of the involved developers, and we'll update this piece if we hear back.

Complaint, Patent #5548637 A

David Ruddock
David's phone is whatever is currently sitting on his desk. He is an avid writer, and enjoys playing devil's advocate in editorials, and reviewing the latest phones and gadgets. He also doesn't usually write such boring sentences.

  • Justin W

    Could they not pool their cash together to fight it as one, or do they have separate "court appearances"? Obviously there's no way this troll is going to win if they fight it together.

    • Weeble Beeble

      I'd go to google and ask for their help on fighting this nonsense.

  • Matthew Fry

    patent trolls are the scum of the earth

    • j¤n Gårrëtt [5,000+]

      apple is the biggest one.

      • Cherokee4Life

        you know now that you say that it has been a while since I heard Apple Patent Trolling... maybe they have given up their evil ways of the past?

        • Steve Williamson

          maybe... or maybe they in the middle of enough lawsuits to have their legal department very busy right now

        • New_Guy

          Actually, they just got done begging President Obama to help them reverse a case that they lost against, none other than, Samsung.

          I'm sure they'll be back on the prowl once their heart rate slows back down ;).

        • GraveUypo

          you're just not looking at the right places.

  • jeffhesser

    Technically Google offers this service directly so it would be nice to see someone get out in front of this junk. I am less annoyed when patent trolls attack the big dogs who can afford to fight these things instead of picking on the little guys.

  • Qliphah

    They could just move their business to New Zeland;

    OR we could shut down all the courts in Texas that are allowing these phony companies to even exist. I imagine a judge somewhere around Houston now drives a brand new Audi thanks to these trolls.

  • fonix232

    Well, unlike the previous patent trolls, they at least have a (really minimal) base that can actually mean something in the fight, on a logical level. But the whole patent is too broad to be applied nowadays, especially with the various wireless technologies that use phone networks. So all that they can get is a revisit of the patent, and probably dismissing all the cases.

    This is another great example that patents should become invalid when their definitions become too broad thanks to the technological advances.

  • Steve Freeman

    Fucking patent trolls...

    • Mike Harris

      Forum trolls are just annoying and can be ignored. Patent trolls ruin lives and stifle innovation.

      • j¤n Gårrëtt [5,000+]

        forum trolls generate page views., page views are good analytics which translates into advertisement dollars.

        last person I'm kicking off my website is the troll who keeps people posting on an article weeks after I wrote it.

        • RTWright

          Not me, I'd kick that ass right off of my forums in a blink of an eye. Trolls are nothing but idiots running their mouths through text output and starting forum fights just because they can because morons let them do it.

  • briankariu

    Dont all this apps just use the location api available on android? If so, arent they suing the wrong person?

  • yodatom10

    lookout is a big enough company to defend themselves hopefully they wont leave the others to fend for themselves

  • Mike Harris

    a generic company incorporated in East Texas

    As if you needed any more reason to hate these patent trolls, it's worth noting that they all deliberately file their lawsuits in that area because they have a very good success rate. Those Texas courts (it might just be one specific court; I can't remember) are keeping these assholes in business. And the only business they're in is that of buying up various patents and then suing companies they claim are infringing on those patents. The sad thing is that most defendants end up paying them off with a settlement because not only is it expensive to fight these scumbags, but it's so very easy to lose in East Texas that they know it's probably not worth it.

    Besides the fact that the US patent system needs a major overhaul, there ought to be a law that stops these trolls from gaming the system so badly. It stifles innovation and we all suffer because of it.

    • RaptorOO7

      Also known as the Rocket Docket for their expedited processing of court cases. Texas where else can such BS exist.

    • Ryan

      I like my state, but there is some truth to this. I don't know which court off hand, but yeah, there is indeed one circuit court here in Texas that does tend to be favorable to these patent trolls. That is why a lot of these companies file here instead of anywhere else since they would have a higher chance of getting money out of this. But since they seem to also be targeting Google, various carriers, etc... They may have disturbed the bees nest on that one and I'm certain they will fight back.

    • Cerberus_tm

      Exactly. I think patents do a lot of damage (currently patent trolls cost the American economy about 30 billion a year, if I remember correctly), while no positive effect has ever been truly proven. If anything, industries will few or no patents, like restaurants, fashion, older software programming, do very well. So I think perhaps it is time we experimented with scrapping *all* patents categorically, see how that works. I bet the economy and most industries will be fine, except lawyers.

  • RaptorOO7

    Actually Hospital's today rely on RFID tagging to accomplish this, no so much IR blasters. Still this is an outdated patent that has nothing to do with today's location tagging technology.

  • http://riteshtripathy.wordpress.com/ Ritesh

    App developers might start moving to NZ..

    • Lars Jones

      We'll sue them here, enjoin them, and take our judgment to New Zealand, and enforce it. Such painful idiocy.

  • j¤n Gårrëtt [5,000+]

    the developer of footprints is a d!ck so I hope he's run out of business.

  • Havoc70
  • Cherokee4Life

    Dear Google, Apple, T-Mobile, Verizon & AT&T,

    Can you please do every smartphone user a favor and take these S.O.B's to court and kick their ass? And in the mean time taking a stand for the people that have kept your ecosystems alive.. the developers.

    Please and Thank you.

  • Rb

    on an slightly off topic note: gotta love that post picture !

    ps. no one mentioned it, it deserves the praise

  • New_Guy

    That picture from Jurassic Park just made my day.

    Hell, I think I'll go ahead and pop in the Bluray :).

  • Simon Belmont

    Ha. I like the Jurassic Park reference in the article's picture.

    "That is one big pile of shit." Classic Jeff Goldblum.

  • Freak4Dell

    I like how they didn't sue Sprint. I guess even the patent trolls know you can't transmit data over Sprint's network.

  • Andy_in_Indy

    From the patent Claim 2: "The method of claim 1, wherein said step of tracking is accomplished using an optical sensor network."

    Since none of these systems used are based on an optical sensor network, there can be no infringement under this claim (it must violate all claims to be infringing). Are you guys sure you referenced the right patent?

    • Lars Jones

      There is so much ignorance here -- in nearly every comment -- that it is astonishing. But to be clear: No, it need not violate all claims. It must only infringe one claim. God.

  • Glich

    I have said it before and I will say it again.. When it comes to these trolls some day someone is going to consider a hit man a better investment then a lawyer.

    • Lars Jones

      No doubt someone will "consider" that. But they might consider that it wouldn't solve the problem. Both the patent, the troll, and the lawsuit would survive the death of the principle. Also, they'd likely get caught.

  • Justin W

    I vote they take the New Zealand approach - no patents on Software. Fix the problem immediately.