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Google and Others Sued For Automating Email 273

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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  • 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 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.
  • Bounces (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @09:30PM (#20392995)
    Aren't bounce messages automated email responses? I might be stumbling in the dark but I think bounce messages are required by the RFCs covering email.
  • by trawg ( 308495 ) on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @10:50PM (#20393623) Homepage
    Assuming this goes to court and they lose - what is the penalty? Surely they at least have to pay the court costs of Google and the others?
  • by darnok ( 650458 ) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @12:40AM (#20394405)
    > 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 legal people - that's why Groklaw is so popular, because it goes a long way to removing that mismatch. Oh, and feel free to try explaining the term "impedance mismatch" (and why we use the term) to your non-geek buds as well!
  • Re:Others precede it (Score:2, Interesting)

    by thogard ( 43403 ) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @12:45AM (#20394437) Homepage
    When expert systems were all the rage in the late 80's no one thought of hooking an expert system to an email router? I'm guessing 20 minutes in the masters thesis section of UCB or MIT would provide more than enough prior art to kill this dead.

    And fax machines predate the telephone.
  • by emj ( 15659 ) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @01:42AM (#20394785) 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 Pieroxy ( 222434 ) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @02:57AM (#20395211) Homepage
    Googling "9/11/2001" [google.fr] gets 790,000 hits. Would you guess that even in 1997, it was > 0 ?
  • Re:WHO? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jschrod ( 172610 ) <.jschrod. .at. .acm.org.> on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @03:56AM (#20395489) Homepage
    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.

"Say yur prayers, yuh flea-pickin' varmint!" -- Yosemite Sam