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