Wednesday, October 15, 2008

14-year-old newspaper column becomes prior art in patent litigation

GraniteGeek of the Nashua Telegraph illustrates how a newspaper article can become prior art in a patent litigation. It also illustrates (as does the Ciba-Geigy v. Alza case) that enablement standards for prior art can be looser than for patent applications.

From GraniteGeek [Dave Brooks]:

In the 17 years this column has run in The Telegraph, it has been a lot of things, but until recently, it has never been evidence in a patent lawsuit against a national publisher involving the early days of the Web.

The lawsuit pits a British company called Ablaise [patentee-plaintiff] against Dow Jones Reuters, which put out the Wall Street Journal and various online news services. It revolves around patent No. 6,961,737, dated November 2005, which "relates to serving signals to browsing clients . . . for generating structured pages of human-viewable data."


Judging from citations in Dow Jones' request to dismiss the lawsuit, filed last week in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., my most important paragraph appears to be this:

"The key point of FishWrap is that students can create their own individualized paper. They tell the program what their interests are, and it hunts through (various news services) . . . (and presents stories) in whatever order is requested. It also 'learns' from experience, changing the order of things depending on how frequently you've read them in the past."

FishWrap isn't the only service from the Web's Paleolithic era cited by Dow Jones. There's Thunderstone Bridge, which did on-the-fly text formatting; the "Bobo patent," which dealt with viewing fax pages online; and HTGrep, a Swiss program that did online searching.

Whether all this is enough to invalidate the Ablaise patent claim is beyond me. Software patents are notoriously squishy, and I can't say anything definite about this court fight.


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