Stupid Patent of the Month: Storage Cabinets on a Computer
How do you store your paper files? Perhaps you leave them scattered on your desk or piled on the floor. If you're more organized, you might keep them in a cabinet. This month's stupid patent, US Patent No. 6,690,400 (the '400 patent), claims the idea of using "virtual cabinets" to graphically represent data storage and organization. While this is bad, the worse news is that the patent's owner is suing just about anyone who runs a website.
The '400 patent is owned by Global Equity Management (SA) Pty. Ltd. ("GEMSA") which seems to be a classic patent troll. GEMSA is incorporated in Australia and appears to have no business other than patent litigation. The patent began its life with a company called Flash VOS. This company once offered a product that allowed users to run multiple operating systems on personal computers with x86-compatible processors. The '400 patent describes a graphical user interface for this system. The interface allows users to interact with "graphical depictions of cabinets" that represent memory partitions and different operating systems.
GEMSA says that Flash VOS moved the computer industry a "quantum leap forwarded in the late 90's when it invented Systems Virtualization." But Flash VOS didn't invent partitions, didn't invent virtual machines, and didn't invent running multiple operating systems on a single computer. All of these concepts predate its patent application, some by decades. In any event, the '400 patent claims only a very specific, and in our view, quite mundane user interface.
Importantly, the '400 patent's claims require very specific structures. For example, claim 1 requires "a secondary storage partitions window" and "at least one visible cabinet representing a discrete operating system." A user interface must have all of these features to infringe the claim.
In the past year, GEMSA has sued dozens of companies, ranging from Airbnb to Zillow. In each case, it makes the bare assertion that the defendant's website infringes the '400 patent. For example, it simply states that "AIRBNB maintains, controls and/or operates a website with a graphical user interface ("GUI") at www.airbnb.com that infringes one or more claims of the '400 patent."
GEMSA doesn't explain how Airbnb's website satisfies highly specific claim limitations like "a virtual cabinet representing a discrete operating system." In fact, the accused website bears almost no similarity to GEMSA's supposed invention:
As far as we can tell, GEMSA seems to think that anyone with a website that links to hosted content infringes its patent. Complaints with such sparse, and implausible, infringement allegations should be thrown out immediately for failure to state a claim.
There will be no prizes for guessing where GEMSA has filed its litigation. Every one of its cases was filed in the Eastern District of Texas, where we have long complained that local rules favor patent trolls like GEMSA. Venue reform legislation currently before Congress would stop trolls flocking to the Eastern District of Texas. That might help reduce abusive patent trolling. But we still need broader patent reform to ensure that such weak patents don't lead to abusive troll litigation.