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Singapore Firm Claims Patent Breach By Virtually All Websites 481

Posted by timothy
from the oh-that-makes-sense dept.
An anonymous reader writes "A Singapore firm, VueStar has threatened to sue websites that use pictures or graphics to link to another page, claiming it owns the patent for a technology used by millions around the world. The company is also planning to take on giants like Microsoft and Google. It is a battle that could, at least in theory, upend the Internet. The firm has been sending out invoices to Singapore companies since last week asking them to pay up."
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Singapore Firm Claims Patent Breach By Virtually All Websites

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  • Sweet (Score:3, Funny)

    by pembo13 (770295) on Tuesday May 27, 2008 @01:01PM (#23558157) Homepage
    I wonder if US companies will honor this patent.
    • Re:Sweet (Score:5, Insightful)

      by jeiler (1106393) <go.bugger.off@gmail. c o m> on Tuesday May 27, 2008 @01:04PM (#23558201) Journal

      What would be really sweet is if it went to court and the judge finds it technically valid but too onerous. Following the logic, it would be an open door to judicial review of the entire patent system.

      But in all reality, the judge will probably just rule this particular patent invalid (for whatever reason) and refuse to tackle the larger issue.

    • SCO has a patent of judicial extortion that should sink this little problem. Microsoft will unleash them in five minutes.

    • Depends (Score:5, Informative)

      by mpapet (761907) on Tuesday May 27, 2008 @01:37PM (#23558815) Homepage
      Technically? Depends on how much of the intellectual property is recognized by American courts. WIPO is supposed to be the global venue for patents.

      Practically? No chance in hell. Even if they aren't laughed out of court, a little retroactive immunity legislation will fix that.

      FYI, the American banking industry kneecaps patent holders that make it through the courts with retroactive immunity clauses with startling frequency. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/02/13/AR2008021303731_pf.html [washingtonpost.com]

      If only americans took an interest in their government. Most of it is too good/bad to be true.
      • Re:Depends (Score:4, Informative)

        by conlaw (983784) on Tuesday May 27, 2008 @02:54PM (#23560129)

        Depends on how much of the intellectual property is recognized by American courts.
        According to TFA, their patent has also been issued in Australia, New Zealand and the US. If they do have a US patent (and it appears that they may be involved with Patent No. 7,065,520) they wouldn't have to go through WIPO.

        FYI, the American banking industry kneecaps patent holders that make it through the courts with retroactive immunity clauses with startling frequency.
        As of today, the bill discussed in that Washington Post article was inserted as an amendment into a large patent reform bill which has not yet passed either house. http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d110:SN01145:@@@L&summ2=m&#status [loc.gov]
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Zeinfeld (263942)
          The first patent was issued in 2008. That is over a decade after the feature appeared in the Web specifications.

          I can run through a huge amount of prior art on this one. And not just from the Web. If this does start to appear in the US we should put together a defense pack.

    • Re:Sweet (Score:5, Insightful)

      by t33jster (1239616) on Tuesday May 27, 2008 @01:42PM (#23558927)

      I wonder if US companies will honor this patent.
      While it's not clear from the article, it looks like this patent exists in Singapore. US companies with operations in Singapore may come under pressure.

      IMHO, this will probably be struck down, as Singapore is generally friendly to businesses. Also, it is akin to patenting a method to exchange carbon dioxide in blood with oxygen in the air. With a patent like that, you could pretty much sue all animal life.

      Now where's that patent application?
    • Prior Art (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ekimminau (775300)
      I have HTML from 1996 using IMG SRC=" " HTML allowing you to reference external content from an image. I think several thousand other sites have earlier artwork than mine. It is a bogus patent.
  • Patented A href? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Archangel Michael (180766) on Tuesday May 27, 2008 @01:02PM (#23558177) Journal
    How can one patent a markup ?

    If that is the case, I'll patent

    :-D
  • by FireXtol (1262832) on Tuesday May 27, 2008 @01:02PM (#23558181) Journal
    Wow.... This remind me of that comic with the ambiguous superhero... 'I think my common sense is tingling!'. Then below it... Common sense... so rare it's a fucking super power.

    Seriously, patents are fucking stupid. So is IP(intellectual property). Get rid of these, and world peace would happen over night.

    • Re:what the fuck (Score:4, Informative)

      by Sangui (1128165) on Tuesday May 27, 2008 @01:06PM (#23558269) Journal
      That was a motivator with a picture of Deadpool.
    • Re:what the fuck (Score:5, Insightful)

      by bmajik (96670) <matt@mattevans.org> on Tuesday May 27, 2008 @01:59PM (#23559225) Homepage Journal
      the problem with axing the notion of IP is that in a western style society, ideas are the only entities with real value, that actualy move society forward.

      The difference between today and (today - 4000 years) is not that people are stronger (although they may be), live longer (although many do). It's not even that people, on the whole, are smarter than they used to be (although this is difficult to really measure).

      Rather, the person of today has the benefit of thousands of years of human ingenuity. When the socio-economic conditions are ripe for someone to act upon their own ideas, humanity leaps forward. The real value in the world is not labor and is not stock, but is actually intellect.

      The key then, is how to reward intellect appropriatley. As you no doubt agree, today's patent and copyright system does not appear to reward intellectual output appropriately, as it is more commonly used to stifle development than to promote it. Do not, however, get confused about what the real value in society is -- ideas are valuable over all else, and it is worthwhile to construct the framework such that valuable ideas are lucrative enough that they are pursued, and that the most able in our world are able to sustain themselves based on the value of their intellectual contributions alone (as opposed to the value of their perspiration).
      • Re:what the fuck (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Austerity Empowers (669817) on Tuesday May 27, 2008 @03:30PM (#23560629)
        I'm not sure that's entirely true. Ideas are cheap, and not all are implementable. The star trek style transporter idea, while an awesome idea, is not really all that practical. All the various magic that makes that idea work would be, and the assembly of those ideas into the new system that is the transporter, and the work behind that is what makes it valuable.

        Deeper still each of those bits of magic are comprised both of ideas and some hard work to prove them out and discover their limitations/issues of note.

        That's what the real value is, but you can't wrap a piece of legalese around it all and extract money so easily. Ideas are just the first step and NOT worth legal protection, the hows and whys behind it are closer to what needs some kind of protection.
        • Re:what the fuck (Score:4, Interesting)

          by bmajik (96670) <matt@mattevans.org> on Tuesday May 27, 2008 @03:43PM (#23560871) Homepage Journal
          Sure. I wasn't being specific about what is or is not intellectual property in the theoretical or practical sense, only that it is probably a valid concept for the law to tackle, because the sorts of things we think of as intellectual property (a process for making steel stronger, the design of a jet engine, the process for manufacturing a life-saving drug, etc) need to be described and governed by the rule of law, in a manner not entirely different than physical property (this car belongs to me, my land usage rights are blah, etc etc)

          If ownership implies control (car owners control who can access their car), then a mechanism similar to copyrights or patents make sense for the ownership of intellectual property. And like our real property (land, cars, etc), the government (unfortuneately, in the opinion of many strong property rights advocates) has a say in exactly how extensive that mechanism can be. The government has curtailed what owning a car means in such a way that by virtue of being a car owner, I cannot drive as fast as I like (technically, this is licensure to use publicly owned roads, and not a restriction of car ownership per-se). Having similar caveats about how intellectual property may be used by the owner would not be new ground for any governoring body.

          The summary is that governments define and enforce property rights for physical property. Intellectual property IS an important and valid concept, because what we usually think of as IP is where the majority of the real value in society is and what differentiates us from our mideival ancestors. Banishing intellectual property as a concept is no more feasible than banishing physical property as a concept.

          (As an aside, some people think physical property should also be abolished. Any of them who are serious are necessarily willing to kill you to get you to hand over your property, so you should be wary of them. Consult history if you disagree.)

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by bidule (173941)

        Rather, the person of today has the benefit of thousands of years of human ingenuity. When the socio-economic conditions are ripe for someone to act upon their own ideas, humanity leaps forward. The real value in the world is not labor and is not stock, but is actually intellect.

        For most of those thousands of years, IP protection did not exists. Only trade secret slowed progress, and only because death took its toll.

        Now, trade secret death occurs every 5 years, as DRM takes its toll on technological advances. Defensive patents are the ultimate MAD device and trolls hide under every technological bridges.

        I am going to argue that progress sped up as communication became global, and that very little of that acceleration is due to IP laws. I will further argue that mere knowledge isn'

      • Re:what the fuck (Score:4, Insightful)

        by ignavus (213578) on Tuesday May 27, 2008 @07:49PM (#23564407)
        Intellect doesn't need a reward. Intellect is its own reward.

        (Meaning: if you really are smart, you will do better than other people anyway. Either that or you will console yourself by sneering at everyone else. Either way, you win.)
  • by chunk08 (1229574) on Tuesday May 27, 2008 @01:03PM (#23558197) Journal
    How do you patent something that is written in the HTML spec, that is a logical combination of two tags? This is why software patents need to be permanently banned. In our world today, it does not make the same economic sense to grant patents (or copyright).
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by peragrin (659227)
      How do you patent something written in C that is a couple of tags and is a logical combination?

      Software shouldn't be eligible for patents ever. In fact business method patents are the only thing worse. As someone has a patent on collating copies by hand.

      Software should be held only on copyrights on the source code. Authors do need their rights.

  • by poeidon1 (767457) on Tuesday May 27, 2008 @01:04PM (#23558203) Homepage
    and microsoft and google (and me) existed before that and *used* their technology.
    • by CastrTroy (595695) on Tuesday May 27, 2008 @01:09PM (#23558329) Homepage
      I was using this technique in 1999. As was just about every other web page. I was in highschool. I remember that a few of my classmates were amazed by my techniques of putting an "img" tag enclosed by the "a" tag. It's such a basic technique used. It's probably been in use as long as both the "a" and "img" tags have existed.
      • by tgd (2822) on Tuesday May 27, 2008 @01:16PM (#23558449)
        It was pretty commonly used back well into the 80's for some of the various graphical front-ends and extensions to BBS packages.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by SQLGuru (980662)
          Didn't Prodigy start the whole graphical thing as far as pre-Internet-era systems went? It's been long enough for that type of patent to expire or for it to count as prior-art. Either way, they can go troll somewhere else.

          Layne
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by zippthorne (748122)
        In 1999, client-side image maps were already quite mature, having briefly supplanted the popularity of server-side image maps. Let alone the "trick" of enclosing an image tag in a link tag.
      • by Bill, Shooter of Bul (629286) on Tuesday May 27, 2008 @01:30PM (#23558701) Journal
        If you read their patent claims on their website they aren't quite making that broad of a claim. They believe they have a patent on submitting a search and showing image (of the respective website) links as a result of that search. I agree that was done long before, and they actually state on the website that it was not in "wide use" for "enterprise websites" prior to 2000. So apparently the think they can patent ideas that have prior art, just as long as they aren't being used by the majority of large companies.

        If you actually subscribe to their insane claims, or are extremely paranoid, you could get around it very easily by not having the image use a href. Their patent claim specifically mentions hrefs.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by UnknowingFool (672806)

          I agree that was done long before, and they actually state on the website that it was not in "wide use" for "enterprise websites" prior to 2000. So apparently the think they can patent ideas that have prior art, just as long as they aren't being used by the majority of large companies.

          Well in the US, they can't . In Egbert v. Lippmann [wikipedia.org], the US Supreme Court ruled that public use of an invention bars the patenting of that invention. I can't think of a more public use of something than on the Internet. Aft

  • by deniable (76198) on Tuesday May 27, 2008 @01:06PM (#23558253)
    1. Porn
    2. Have an idea and get bought out before you lose too much cash.
    3. Porn
    4. Make a nuisance of yourself and get bought out before you lose too much cash.

    That may be it. Then again, if they piss people off SCO style, they could be in for a rough time.
  • Really? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by suck_burners_rice (1258684) on Tuesday May 27, 2008 @01:06PM (#23558257)

    Really, they own that patent? Well then why in the last 15 years didn't they bother to enforce it? I'm sorry but lack of enforcement of a patent is grounds to dismiss that patent. There's a zillion examples of prior art everywhere in the world and this does NOT belong to that Singapore company.

    They own the rights to hyperlinks about as much as SCO owns the right to Linux. And if that's true, I am going to sue everyone because I own a patent (that I just filed five minutes ago) for a "method and apparatus to control the flow of an algorithm based on the logical outcome of a predefined logical test," a.k.a., the "if" statement used in all computer programming. From now on, no program that uses the "if" statement can exist without paying me ten trillion Zimbabwe dollars (that's about five cents) per instance. And the first thing I'm going to do is sue SCO because that program they claim to own contains a bazillion of those "if" statements.

  • Alright... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Oxy the moron (770724) on Tuesday May 27, 2008 @01:06PM (#23558263)

    ... I've waited long enough. Now, after years of silence, it's time to reveal that I own the patent:

    "Use something to do something"

    I think a trivial $.01/use is an acceptable royalty. Start paying up. :)

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Bobb Sledd (307434)
      I'll happily pay twice and give my $.02: Fuck off!

      (Only meant in harmless, friendly fun.)
  • outsourcing (Score:5, Funny)

    by nack107 (704482) on Tuesday May 27, 2008 @01:07PM (#23558275)
    I'm glad to see that we've even managed to outsource patent trolls.
  • Shirts! (Score:5, Funny)

    by IronMagnus (777535) on Tuesday May 27, 2008 @01:07PM (#23558295)
    Quick... someone start making shirts that say:

    <a href="link"><img src="picture"></a>

    ... its about time those DeCSS shirts got replaced.
  • Mail fraud (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pseudorand (603231) on Tuesday May 27, 2008 @01:07PM (#23558297)
    I don't know about the law in Singapore, but this seems so obviously silly that if I were a lawyer for one of the companies receiving the invoice, I'd ask the attorney general to prosecute for mail fraud (a federal offense which includes knowingly sending someone a bill for goods or services not rendered in hopes of receiving erroneous payment).
  • Slightly Misleading (Score:5, Informative)

    by eldavojohn (898314) * <[moc.liamg] [ta] [nhojovadle]> on Tuesday May 27, 2008 @01:09PM (#23558317) Journal
    I tracked down what I think is the patent in question [uspto.gov] and indeed it was originally accepted by the Australian Patent Office.

    Here's the abstract:

    The present invention provides a web-page (or web-site) search results list which includes images from the actual web-pages or web-sites identified in a user's search, or images associated with the actual organization operating a web-site. This assists a user to locate web-pages of interest or relevance to the user by providing images to assess the relevance of web-pages identified in a search, prior to the user having to hyperlink to the actual web-page itself. The invention also provides a method of assisting a user to be placed in contact with an organization, including the steps of: the user submitting a search request from a terminal, via a computer network, to a database server, the database server containing a database and a server-side application used as database searching software; the database searching software searching the database in accordance with the search request; identified database entries being transmitted to the terminal as a search results list, each entry of the search results list containing contact information for the organization; at least one entry of the search results list additionally containing visual content and/or audio content which relates to the organization.
    After reading the claims, this patent seems to be more targeting sites that use search engines to return images that relate to a user's query. Although this is a prime example of how the international patent system is broken, it's unlikely they could target "virtually all" web sites with this patent.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Splab (574204)
      Well its a software patent so it doesn't apply in this neck of the woods (EU).
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Only if you constantly keep on top of the money grubbing politicians and bureaucrats who accept money under that table via 'loans', 'scholarships' for their kids, fact finding trips to Hawaii, etc. from the corporations who will profit from software and business patents being approved. Keep on top of and shoot down their efforts to enact bullshit patent laws suggested by same said corporations. And from what I have read in the past, the EU seems to have a number of ways that bureaucrats can skirt the will
    • by Jason Levine (196982) on Tuesday May 27, 2008 @01:24PM (#23558577)

      After reading the claims, this patent seems to be more targeting sites that use search engines to return images that relate to a user's query.


      Like Google Image search? The date on the patent seems to be June 20, 2006. If I understand the rules of Prior Art correctly, then we would need to find an instance of a search engine returning images relating to a user's search on or before June 20, 2005. I didn't have any data about when Google Images launched, but I was sure it was prior to 2005. A bit of searching and I found this blog post [wilsonet.com] discussing Google Images in May of 2004.

      After a bit more searching, I found references [google.com] to Google Images as far back as July 8th, 2001. That was a full 3 months prior to this patent's original filing date. In short, Google's Image search could be both a target of this lawsuit and the solution to it.
  • ...wha? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Smidge204 (605297) on Tuesday May 27, 2008 @01:09PM (#23558323) Journal
    Anyone know if this technique/ability was in the Mosaic browser? I know it was the first to show images inline with text and hyperlinks.

    If this patent was filed at the same time Mosaic came out - and I wasn't able to confirm when the patent WAS issued - then there might be a slight chance. Anything older and the patent would be expired in the US by now, anything newer and there would be prior art to invalidate it.
    =Smidge=
  • by hitchhikerjim (152744) on Tuesday May 27, 2008 @01:09PM (#23558325)
    Being that the email record of the development of these features is pretty widely distributed, they'd have a tough time defending that patent if anyone makes them try. Here's the original proposal by Marc Andressen:

    http://1997.webhistory.org/www.lists/www-talk.1993q1/0182.html [webhistory.org]

    In proposing the IMG tag, he explicitly says that it can be embedded in an anchor, and he describes its action. I have my doubts that these guys have prior art on web pages dating back to before 1993.
    • by canuck57 (662392) on Tuesday May 27, 2008 @01:31PM (#23558717)

      Being that the email record of the development of these features is pretty widely distributed, they'd have a tough time defending that patent if anyone makes them try. Here's the original proposal by Marc Andressen:

      http://1997.webhistory.org/www.lists/www-talk.1993q1/0182.html [webhistory.org]

      In proposing the IMG tag, he explicitly says that it can be embedded in an anchor, and he describes its action. I have my doubts that these guys have prior art on web pages dating back to before 1993.

      Yep, everyone in the business knows this as prior art.

      But that does not mean they can't sue. And then convincing a computer illiterate judge to expeditiously toss it out of court with costs is another mater. This is about patent extortion. Using the inept judicial system that really still hasn't finished with SCO after 6 years. With the legal costs so high, it is cheaper for many just to pay them $5M and call it a day. Some companies might.

      But not being a US based company the odds are against them. RIM for example, not getting favorable treatment decided the damages to business growth was worth hundreds of millions in extortion. So they paid up. RIM not being a US company had the odds stacked against them.

      The legal system needs to toss this kind of claim out quickly. And no one is holding their breath. Lawyers make too much money from cases like these.

  • Not news (Score:4, Funny)

    by Duncan Blackthorne (1095849) on Tuesday May 27, 2008 @01:09PM (#23558333)
    Old and busted: Company XYZ sues for patent infringement of commonly used technolgy.
    New hotness: It's an Asian company this time, not some asshats here in California.
    Slashdot: They're competing for Al Gore's crown as "inventor of der interwebs".

    *facepalm*

  • Easy to Prove (Score:5, Informative)

    by Phantombrain (964010) on Tuesday May 27, 2008 @01:18PM (#23558493) Journal
    Filing date: Oct 3, 2001
    Issue date: Jun 20, 2006

    Wayback machine: http://www.archive.org/ [archive.org]

    http://web.archive.org/web/19961017235908/http://www2.yahoo.com/ [archive.org]

    What's that? An image? Linked?!?! That is what one might call prior art.
  • by joocemann (1273720) on Tuesday May 27, 2008 @01:22PM (#23558551)
    Back in the late 90s I recall Singapore being the wild-west of the internet. It was well known that because Singapore did not care to enforce software piracy protections, that warez were openly available on singapore FTP/WWW servers. I was even told that you could buy CDs loaded with pirated software out of vending machines for a few dollars. ------ And now a firm from Singapore wants their patents and properties protected. How ironic.
    • by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) * on Tuesday May 27, 2008 @01:31PM (#23558725) Homepage Journal
      It's the usual course of events. Remember, the reason the movie industry is in California instead of New York is that early moviemakers went out West to get away from Edison's attempts at patent enforcement (in the days when geographical distance actually had an effect on such matters.) Then the industry built itself into an establishment and ... well, you know the rest.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by initialE (758110)
      We learned it from the americans, when they used the threat of economic isolation and physical violence to enforce their rule of law on our territory via the means of free trade agreements. So we (meaning our elected government) sold out our sovereignty for a few more years of peace and prosperity. And the chance to bite back in the same way, using silly american laws against everyone else.
      Sorry if this post seems a bit vitriolic, but sometimes I do wonder whose interests are being protected here. We even
  • Feh (Score:4, Insightful)

    by hlt32 (1177391) on Tuesday May 27, 2008 @01:26PM (#23558629)
    Patent trolling and frivolous lawsuits should be a crime.
  • by EricWright (16803) on Tuesday May 27, 2008 @01:34PM (#23558755) Journal
    From TFA:

    Established in August 2004, Like.com also said it owns almost 12 patents in the areas of visual recognition and search.

    Almost 12? What the hell kind of journalism is this? Is 11 too many to count? Does zdnetasia use base 12 (in which case, I could ALMOST see this being appropriate)?

    This sort of "mis-turning of a phrase" is rapidly becoming one of my top pet peeves!
  • by sillivalley (411349) <sillivalley@@@comcast...net> on Tuesday May 27, 2008 @01:36PM (#23558795)
    U.S. Patent 7,065,520 (issued in June 2006) would seem to be the US equivalent.

    When you look at the claims, all the independent claims contain some key limitations:

    receiving a search request from a user,

    searching a database,

    (other stuff, ending with)

    "wherein the visual content comprises a plurality of mini-images in the form of a conveyor belt slide show."

    A conveyor belt slide show? WTF? Gee, that seems fairly narrow to me!

    Read the claims -- they define what the patent seeks to protect.
  • by bobdotorg (598873) on Tuesday May 27, 2008 @01:43PM (#23558951)
    This quote from the cease and desist tipped me off:

    All your sites are belong to us.
  • by dnwq (910646) on Tuesday May 27, 2008 @01:57PM (#23559187)
    This is probably why this is going on (WARNING: speculation!):

    The SG govt. is extremely business-friendly, to the point of screwing over its own citizens if there's a risk of scaring off investors. As such, they've become singularly enthusiastic about "Intellectual Property" in general - witness them pulling out four riot trucks [textfiend.net] to suppress a protest by seven people against an anime distributor.

    Some smartass has realised this, and decided to play off the govt's policy against itself - the government would hesitate to suppress patent trolls, for fear of scaring off foreign investors. In the meanwhile it rips off thousands of dollars from scared Singaporean small businesses.

    A pretty effective scam, I'd say.
  • by Osurak (1013927) on Tuesday May 27, 2008 @02:06PM (#23559367)
    Old, but good: http://www.theonion.com/content/node/29130 [theonion.com]
  • by akahige (622549) on Tuesday May 27, 2008 @03:00PM (#23560217)
    Here's a link [uspto.gov] to US patent #7065520.

    It was filed October 3, 2001, by an Australian guy who also holds patents in Oz and NZ.

    More info re. their legal claims [vuestar.biz].

    Here's a couple of choice quotes from their FAQ page [slashdot.org]:
    Q: My site is worldwide, will I need licences for other territories?
    A: Yes. Vuestar licences territory by territory â" VUESTAR System â.

    Q: What happens if I donâ(TM)t pay?
    A: You will not be granted the VUESTAR User Licence and will be unable lawfully to use visual images to access the worldwide web. Our collection agencies will recover unpaid fees.



    So this is what happened to all those SCO execs...

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