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Google and Others Sued For Automating Email 273

Posted by kdawson
from the promoting-the-progress-of-science-and-the-useful-arts dept.
Dotnaught sends us to InformationWeek for news of the latest lawsuit by Polaris IP, which holds a patent on the idea of responding automatically to emails. The company has no products. It brought suit in the Eastern District in Texas, as many patent trolls do — though the article informs us that that venue has been getting less friendly of late to IP interests, and has actually invalidated some patents. The six companies being sued are AOL, Amazon, Borders, Google, IAC, and Yahoo. All previous suits based on this patent have been settled.
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Google and Others Sued For Automating Email

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  • by ebunga (95613) on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @09:15PM (#20392853) Homepage
    Subject says it all. Procmail v1.0 was released in 1991. That's a little earlier than 1997...
    • by larry bagina (561269) on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @09:24PM (#20392943) Journal
      The patent isn't just email filtering, it also covers emailing the sender a canned response (from a repository) based on the content of the message. I'm sure procmail can do that, but unless they procmail included an example of doing just that, it's not prior art. I'm sure prior art does exist, though -- when usenet was king, moderated newsgroups did something similar.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Although my college was already on a T1 line when I went there in 1991, others had talked about the time before when the school only had UUCP connectivity ( which would be around 1988-1989 ). A user could send a message to the remote system ( a bigger university which had a dedicated line ), which would automatically fetch the file with ftp, then send it back to the user on the next UUCP exchange. The driving force for installing the T1 was because students using UUCP to request files from remote systems
        • I can remember about fifteen years ago having a connection that didn't allow ftp. After a little bit of experiment, I learned how to send an email message to a site that would use the body as the instructions for an ftp session and send me back the file uuencoded.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @11:04PM (#20393749)
        >> it also covers emailing the sender a canned response (from a repository) based on the content of the message

        This sounds an *awful* lot like what pretty much *every* mailing list manager has been doing for at least 15 years. This includes Procmail's SmartList, MajorDomo, and the
        venerable BITNET LISTSERV which I was using in the mid-to-late 1980's. Anything
        hooked up to -owner filtered the mail for administrivia and often sent mail
        back in response to an admin request.
      • by SnowZero (92219)
        Googling "unsubscribe in the body of the message" [google.com] gets 533,000 hits. I would guess that even in 1997, it was > 0
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Pieroxy (222434)
          Googling "9/11/2001" [google.fr] gets 790,000 hits. Would you guess that even in 1997, it was > 0 ?
          • by temcat (873475) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @03:50AM (#20395463)
            No guessing needed - it always has been > 0! 9/11/2001 is a constant and equals approximately 4.09e-4.
          • by SnowZero (92219)
            My first point was that it is very widespread now, and my second point is that someone probably thought of it a long time ago. Since it was not based on a news event witnessed by half of the world's population, one could likely assume some sort of normal growth model for that technique. Your example fails on this point. Of course, because it's only "likely", I used the word "guess".
      • Microsoft Exchange had this from the inception -- context based automated response was a feature of public folders since 4.0 -- expose email address of public folder, then use public folder rules to generate auto response and send it.

        Not the earliest perhaps, but Hello Mr. 800lb Gorilla! Troll vs. Borg -- who has the biggest legal budget?

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by SL Baur (19540)

        I'm sure prior art does exist, though -- when usenet was king, moderated newsgroups did something similar.

        No, they didn't. This patent is describing an intelligent SPAM filter.

        I'm sure procmail can do that, but unless they procmail included an example of doing just that, it's not prior art.

        Time to read the patent much closer, they list procmail as prior art.

        They have patented something like SPAM filters with a lot of extensions.

        I can see why google would settle than fight it. :(

        We have been kdawson'ed again. This looks to me like a valid patent with only a sensational but meaningless title.

    • by darnok (650458) on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @09:24PM (#20392945)
      Absolutely - Procmail covers so many bases in terms of "automated stuff that can be done with email" that it's hard to see how it wouldn't be prior art for just about any patent issues in this area.

      On a broader topic, I can see the day when law firms engaged to provide legal defences against software patent claims start to employ older geeks specifically to identify prior art solutions. It's gotta be cheaper to keep a bunch of us around on some sort of "professional retainer" basis than to engage paralegals to trawl through old patent documents (and I'd "Procmail" probably wouldn't come up in a patent document search anyway) - many of us who've been around for a while would've thought "Procmail" before we'd finished reading this summary.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by JordanL (886154)
        Why keep us geeks ona retainer? Just sue Google, and it'll appear on Slashdot, then you'll get all the free prior art guidance you need.
        • Or maybe use "Ask Slashdot" ?
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by darnok (650458)
          > Why keep us geeks ona retainer? Just sue Google, and it'll appear on Slashdot, then you'll get all the
          > free prior art guidance you need.

          Try explaining to one of your non-geek acquaintances what procmail does, and why it's useful. About 4 hours into the explanation, it'll dawn on you that non-geeks won't ever be able to comprehend stuff in Slashdot - we speak/write in a language that isn't recognisable as English to 99% of people out there.

          There's a *huge* impedance mismatch between IT people and l
      • by Belial6 (794905)
        At AmiWest [sacc.org] 2006 [amigaworld.net], Carl Sassenrath [wikipedia.org] said that he regularly gets calls from lawyers for just that reason.
    • by Tribbin (565963)
      Didn't postoffices have this kind of service much earlier?
    • by jqpublic (200129) on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @09:31PM (#20393005) Homepage
      man vacation

      [snip]

      AUTHOR
                    vacation is Copyright (c) 1983 by Eric P. Allman, University of Berkeley, California, and Copyright (c) 1993 by Harald Milz
                    (hm@seneca.ix.de). Tiny patches 1998 by Mark Seuffert (moak@pirate.de).
                    Now maintained by Sean Rima (thecivvie@softhome.net)

      • by HaeMaker (221642)
        EXACTLY! This is the first example I thought of... Although, it doesn't meet all of the criteria.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by QuantumG (50515)

        A method for automatically interpreting an electronic message, including the steps of (a) receiving the electronic message from a source; (b) interpreting the electronic message using a rule base and case base knowledge engine; and (c) classifying the electronic message as at least one of (i) being able to be responded to automatically; and (ii) requiring assistance from a human operator. 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.

        That's abstract the patent. If you think that vacation meets even that then you're an idiot. And we haven't even started looking at the claims yet.

        This is what is wrong with Slashdot.

        • by tsm_sf (545316) on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @10:28PM (#20393447) Journal
          Please respond with "unsubscribe" in the message body to be removed from this news aggregator.
        • by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @11:08PM (#20393775)

          That's abstract the patent. If you think that vacation meets even that then you're an idiot.

          Can you be more specific on exactly where he is an "idiot"?

          A method for automatically interpreting an electronic message...

          So far, so good.

          ...including the steps of (a) receiving the electronic message from a source;...

          Yes.

          ...(b) interpreting the electronic message using a rule base and case base knowledge engine;...

          Yes. If recipient == X then do Y.

          ...and (c) classifying the electronic message as at least one of (i) being able to be responded to automatically;...

          Not only "classifying" but also responding.

          Seems like he was right and you were wrong.
        • by geobeck (924637)

          A method for automatically interpreting...

          I think that says it all. You can't patent an idea (although a lot of current patents seem to be based on that principle); you can patent a method or a device for implementing that idea. If everyone else uses different code to implement the idea, then the well-informed judges that hear patent cases will dismiss the suit.

          Well-informed judges... Oh crap. They're screwed.

    • procmail? Try vacation, which has been present on BSD systems since the early 1980's.

      Schwab

    • by jcr (53032)
      Didn't know procmail went that far back, but I wrote code in 1990 that incorporated automated e-mail handling for booking conference rooms.

      -jcr

  • WOW! (Score:5, Funny)

    by wamerocity (1106155) on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @09:19PM (#20392887) Journal
    "Six major Internet companies have been sued for using computers to process their e-mail."

    As opposed have PEOPLE sort ELECTRONIC data?

    Seriously, I'm glad to see someone hop on this in such a timely manner, because if Polaris IP doesn't nip this in the bud now, automated email response could become widespread in no time!!

  • by GuyverDH (232921) on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @09:19PM (#20392891)
    message received.
    sendmail looks up in it's address base and either a) forwards to appropriate mailbox or b) replies with undeliverable.
    further details within the rule base may determine whether additional copies need to be forwarded to other mailboxes, or further responses are necessary.
    integration with things like spamlists, virus scanners all add to the *automated* handling of e-mail based on rules.

    just because they are adding additional automation to the last leg in the e-mail journey doesn't mean that the mail was already processed, scanned, had rules applied and copies made/forwarded by the server before the client ever saw the message.

    Obvious patent - apply server rule processing to email client.... BFD.
    • actually, sendmail rules are better than procmail.

      Only thing is that they say "the electronic message 11 may take on a variety of data formats including digital formats, voice data, dual tone multi-frequency (DTMF) tones, or the like"
    • Obvious patent - apply server rule processing to email client.... BFD.

      I don't see the point in applying server rule processing to an email client. Why not add an email adapter to a business rules engine?... oh wait...

  • Procmail (Score:4, Interesting)

    by just someone (13587) on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @09:20PM (#20392907)
    http://www.procmail.org/procmail.HISTORY.html [procmail.org]

    This file contains a summary of changes made in various versions of procmail up to and including the current release. It is derived from the HISTORY file that is included in source distributions. For information on downloading the current release please see the Procmail homepage.
    Only the last entry is complete, the others might have been condensed.

    1990/12/07: v1.00
    1990/12/12: v1.01
    1991/02/04: v1.02
    1991/02/13: v1.10
    1991/02/21: v1.20
    1991/02/22: v1.21
    1991/03/01: v1.30
    1991/03/15: v1.35
  • by joe_n_bloe (244407) on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @09:26PM (#20392967) Homepage
    ... but I did skim the first half or so of the claims, and this is one of the most-thoroughly-and-obviously-covered-by-prior-art patents I have ever seen.

    I'm sure that *well* before procmail there were products and academic papers covering exactly this subject matter in detail. How a patent like this ever passes the laugh test, I don't know.
  • Others precede it (Score:5, Informative)

    by Rinisari (521266) on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @09:26PM (#20392969) Homepage Journal
    IIRC, Majordomo and GNU Mailman predate this patent by at least six years. In fact, the current mailman-users mailing list's earliest archive is May 1998, so work would probably had to begun far before that. A little research proved that LISTSERV predates all of them, actually. From Wikipedia:

    LISTSERV is the first electronic mailing list software application, originally developed in 1984 by Ira Fuchs, Daniel Oberst, and Ricky Hernandez for the BITNET computer network.
    • by sholden (12227)
      I think they all skip the "requiring assistance from a human operator" classification in the patent. Which is where it matters since there's obvious prior art for a purely automated system - once that interprets the mail and forwards it to a human operator with a prioritised list of potential replies seems less likely to have such obvious prior art. Though it seems likely someone did this earlier, it's an obvious way to use a imperfect classification system after all.
  • Majordomo (Score:5, Informative)

    by Y2K is bogus (7647) on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @09:26PM (#20392971)
    Majordomo did just what the patent says. It parsed a message, determined whether it could be automatically responded to (as in subscribe, unsubscribe, list members, help, list charter, etc) or needed to be forwarded to the list owner. Majordomo did much of the list management entirely automatically, hence it's name. They describe something entirely comprised of Majordomo's functionality. Our company was using Majordomo to manage email lists in 1995, well before this patent was filed.

    Clearly their intent is an "Ask Jeeves" type service that is email based. You send a support query to an email address and the server tries to guess at what canned FAQ is most appropriate and sends it.

    --Perry
    • Clearly their intent is an "Ask Jeeves" type service that is email based. You send a support query to an email address and the server tries to guess at what canned FAQ is most appropriate and sends it.
      OK, now this is not quite the same as a dumb autoresponder, and maybe even not something for a rules based autoresponder like procmail could provide (though obviously, I'm no expert).
  • In 1989 I wrote various shell scripts for automating the retrieval of back issues of an electronic magazine I edited. Ill-formed ones would come to me.
    • by dougmc (70836)
      And you're not the only one who did things like this. Though in your specific case, you'd have to be able to provide some proof for it to be used as prior art (which might be difficult to find in your specific case, but lots of proof for other cases is certainly out there.)


      Hopefully google and friends will fight and win.

  • Wow (Score:5, Funny)

    by marcello_dl (667940) on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @09:32PM (#20393021) Homepage Journal
    1. work at the patent office.
    2. award patents with the magic 8 ball procedure (pat. pend.)
    3. nobody fires you for that!
    4. profit!!!
    5. ??? (these are coming from those being sued for infringement)
  • by BronsCon (927697) <social@bronstrup.com> on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @09:33PM (#20393033) Journal

    Firehose:Google and Others Sued For Automating E-mail by Dotnaught (223657)

    Who'da thunk it... Betrayed by one of our own...
  • Does this patent really presume to cover anything beyond "vacation"? Is it merely enough that (1) there's more than one response, and (2) they aren't just random? If so, I propose listserv [wikipedia.org] as prior art. First version: 1984. Not sure when the ability of the software to automatically respond to email content (e.g. "subscribe") was added - but it was a long way back.
  • by Esion Modnar (632431) on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @09:48PM (#20393155)
    I had automatic reply setup on a Vax email system, and I forget the exact situation, but my auto-reply got into a duel with another auto-reply while I was at lunch. Anyhoo, 2 hours later I had some 1200 emails in my inbox, all auto-replies to another auto-reply, which was replying to my auto-reply, etc, etc, ad nauseum. Good times. (Da Da Ding-Ding Ding-Ding Ding-Ding Diiiing.)
    • I remember something worse,
      some guy set up not one but two auto replys on a college mail server, unfortunately he was on a mailing list his auto reply sent two emails to the listserve who faithfully mailed these replys to everyone on the list including him 2 4 8 16 32 .. it didnt take long till 1000's of emails were flying back and forth. combined with it being a weekend there was no official way to stop it. The only method available was to fake an email request to majordomo from this idiot to unsub
    • by 2Bits (167227)
      Hah, that reminds of a project I was working on in the early 1990s in Canada. We sold a telecom switch to a Singapore customer, they hooked it to their network, connecting to another switch by another vendor.

      At one point, the call setup couldn't finish properly. We looked deep into the tracing log, and found that when our switch sent a call setup control packet to the other switch, the packet got sent back right away. Our switch thought, heck, I'll retry, and send the same packet again. The packet is return
    • by mpe (36238)
      I had automatic reply setup on a Vax email system, and I forget the exact situation, but my auto-reply got into a duel with another auto-reply while I was at lunch. Anyhoo, 2 hours later I had some 1200 emails in my inbox, all auto-replies to another auto-reply, which was replying to my auto-reply, etc, etc, ad nauseum.

      The unix "vacation" program had the feature that it wouldn't send more that one email within a certain time period to prevent this sort of thing happening.
  • FTFA:

    Crouch pointed out that the message routing patent at issue has been involved in litigation many times. "There are no published opinions associated with these cases and they have all been settled," he said.

    Who the hell would settle something like this with such a well established history of "prior art"?

    • Re:WHO? (Score:5, Informative)

      by AJWM (19027) on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @10:45PM (#20393587) Homepage
      Who the hell would settle something like this with such a well established history of "prior art"?

      Someone who, when they appeared ready to fight it, was offered a settlement and patent license for a very nominal sum. Easier and cheaper to pay even a few hundred bucks and walk away than pay for lawyers and months of a lawsuit.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Frosty Piss (770223)

        Someone who, when they appeared ready to fight it, was offered a settlement and patent license for a very nominal sum. Easier and cheaper to pay even a few hundred bucks and walk away than pay for lawyers and months of a lawsuit.

        But doesn't that mark you as an easy target?

      • Isn't this exactly the kind of situation where they are so obviously a patent troll that they'd be required to pay the legal fees of the defendant? Can't you bring a ridiculous countersuit of your own, charging them for the "emotional trauma" of bringing you to court on such a BS charge?
        • by AJWM (19027)
          Probably. But if you're a (smallish) business owner, do you want to go that route and spend time and money tied up in court proceedings or just pay the man a few bucks to go bother somebody else?

          And in response to another poster, than only marks you as an easy touch if the details get out. The patent troll sure isn't motivated to let others know what you settled for, and both of you would have an interest in plastering the settlement with NDAs.

          Its one reason that patent (etc) trolls usually go after small
          • Probably. But if you're a (smallish) business owner, do you want to go that route and spend time and money tied up in court proceedings or just pay the man a few bucks to go bother somebody else?

            If I'm any kind of a business owner, yes. Because it makes me money.

            Because they get to pay all my legal fees for their lawsuit, plus any lost profits while I was away from my business, plus random amounts more that I'd sue them for, constituting "emotional trauma", assuming I can get away with it. Thus, the only

      • by clickety6 (141178)
        Wouldn't it be better if somebody tries to blackmail you with an obvious patent with ample prior art if you could send that company the prior art. Then,. if they refused to accept it and took you to court and lost because the court accepted it was prior art, then they should pay all your fees plus a penalty for wasting your time. IF you have a good patent then you would defend. If it was obviously a dodgy [patent then you would take a risk to use it for blackmailing other companies.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by jschrod (172610)
        Yes, and that's the effect of a court system where a 100% winner doesn't get payed his legal expenses by the looser. And where the legal expenses are ridiculously high.

        And that's not only in patent cases. As the CEO of a small (6-person) German company, all my contracts are strictly with German subsidiaries of US companies, never with the mother company itself. The financial risk is simply too high, no project is worth that.

      • by Xtifr (1323)
        It is always a temptation to a rich and lazy nation,
        To puff and look important and to say:--
        "Though we know we should defeat you, we have not the time to meet you.
        We will therefore pay you cash to go away."

        And that is called paying the Dane-geld;
        But we've proved it again and again,
        That if once you have paid him the Dane-geld
        You never get rid of the Dane.
  • by 3seas (184403) on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @10:01PM (#20393265) Journal
    The whole point of using and programming computers is to automate....

    Software Patents are acts of fraud against the consumer and users.

    http://threeseas.net/abstraction_physics.html [threeseas.net]

  • by MosesJones (55544) on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @10:01PM (#20393271) Homepage
    Extending it to patent trolls would, I feel, certainly act as a deterrent.

    And this is Texas after all....
  • .. there really should be a law against someone getting a patent and not using it, especially in software. The whole purpose of a patent is to give someone the opportunity to make money from selling their patent before it become public domain. The idea of getting a patent and then just using it to sue other people who implement that technology without them knowing of your patent, seems to me that it would invalidate your patent, but showing that it is 'obvious to one of ordinary skill, in the art...'. Th
    • by wikinerd (809585)
      I one day somewhere read something about a law that prohibits people from using the legal system to launch fraudulent lawsuits or wasting the court's time. I don't remember the country where this law applied, or whether it's common or not. I wonder whether such a law could be used against a patent troll (IANAL).
  • by timmarhy (659436) on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @10:30PM (#20393459)
    God damn it. Don't they see what happening? everytime you settle with a patent troll, you give birth to a new one. These guys will go away with the big boys would just make mince meat out of a few of them.
  • Uh, majordomo. Anyone? Anyone?
  • It brought suit in the Eastern District in Texas, as many patent trolls do

    IANAL but I'm a nerd who've occasionally picked up a law book to read for fun. In the one about patent laws, I remember reading about the court system being restructured and the creation for a Federal circuit for all patent suits precisely to prevent this "forum shopping" that patent trolls do.

  • I even use procmail scripts commercially. I guess I'm double screwed.
  • Most old mail servers already did the following:

    "A method for automatically interpreting an electronic message, including the steps of (a) receiving the electronic message from a source; (b) interpreting the electronic message using a rule base and case base knowledge engine; and (c) classifying the electronic message as at least one of (i) being able to be responded to automatically; and (ii) requiring assistance from a human operator. The method for automatically interpreting an electronic message may als
  • This ain't rocket science. Get a statistician, show that the juries in EDoT have a demonstrable bias and move the case.
    • by jcr (53032)
      Good luck. The pharmaceutical companies would love to be able to opt out of lawsuits in Mississippi, but to get a change of venue you have to show that the jury pool in the jurisdiction has something against one of the parties in particular. A general fuck-the-big-company attitude won't cut it.

      -jcr

  • by Skapare (16644) on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @11:40PM (#20393987) Homepage

    I can't recall the exact year, but it was around 1984 (scary, eh?). The DECsystem-2060 system running TOPS-20 at The Ohio State University Computer Science Department was connected via a network I believe was CSNET. While using that system I learned of a facility to obtain RFC documents that described things like the format of email headers ... by sending email to a specific email address. It would them email the document back. I received over 20 some RFCs that way. They came back within a couple minutes, so I doubt they had someone just sitting there answering it. I suspect this was an early IETF or ARPA facility. Maybe they have some documentation that still remains about this. Maybe it's in an RFC itself. I'll have to Google for more of this.

  • by TuballoyThunder (534063) on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @11:40PM (#20393989)
    let us not forget the email-to-ftp gateways that BITNET [wikipedia.org] used to have. Another example is the AutoDRM [seismo.ethz.ch] protocol used for seismic data, which dates to 1991.
  • ...aren't they going after Microsoft, the postfix folks, etc? They make software that can be used to send automated emails, too. For that matter, I'm sure Novel has a product that does as well. That doesn't even speak to all the "shareware" mail software that can do the same.

    Why just pick AOL, Amazon, Borders, Google, IAC, and Yahoo?
    • Precisely. Why dont they go after IBM's Notes which has an auto-response feature???
      If they can sue a kid, they can sue a gorilla.

      Oh wait... that gorilla can bleed them to death through attrition, slowly and surely.

      Maybe they are setting precedents and then plan to sue IBM later.
      If that is the case a pre-emptive strike by IBM is necessary.

      IBM ! are u listening???
  • by tiny69 (34486)
    Automatic responses to email, SMTP specifically, is discussed in RFC 822. This RFC was published on August 13, 1982 and is listed as an industry standard.

    4.4.4. AUTOMATIC USE OF FROM / SENDER / REPLY-TO

    For systems which automatically generate address lists for
    replies to messages, the following recommendations are made:

    o The "Sender" field mailbox
  • by emj (15659) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @01:42AM (#20394785) Homepage Journal
    On the Debian bugs system page [debian.org] it says the first version was realeased in 94. I'm not sure how much was implemented, but in it's current form it's really very much alike the patent (what is said in the abstract anyways.

    Listserv [lsoft.com] might also apply, if they had advanced mailinglist management in the beginning.
    • by emj (15659)

      a classifier for classifying the electronic message into at least one of (i) being able to be responded to automatically; and (ii) requiring assistance from a human operator.

      This is the most important part, I think but this here is the most comical, so if I use utf-8?:

      15. The method of claim 1, wherein the electronic message is received over an electronic data communications channel.

      16. The method of claim 15, wherein the electronic data communications channel is the Internet.

      17. The method of claim 15, whe

  • Two words to Polaris: procmail, formail.

  • Back in the 1980s I remember using at least two services that provided software in response to email, which would seem to be prior art. One was run by Bell Labs, the other by one of the national labs (Sandia? Los Alamos?). Bell Labs distributed some of their Unix utilities this way. Whatever lab it was distributed mathematical software - stuff for linear algebra, differential equations, statistics and so forth. In both cases, you sent a message along the lines of "get package foo" and you get back email co

  • Sjeez - how far back do you need to go? What about email reject messages - that would be prior art. Vacation messages? List control messages? I've seen this years ago on Bulletin Boards (i.e. pre-Internet) so there's a mountain of prior art.
  • Back in late 1994 I wrote a small application which generated Star Charts served via email.

    Based on a simple set of commands describing where in the sky to centre the chart, the field of view, limiting magnitude, objects to include etc, and it would generate a Postscript file of the generated chart based on those commands.

    It was built up using both bash and perl, and the commands fed to it directly from sendmail, so when you sent an email to it's own email address, you received a response with the required

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