Tech patent trolls target transit agencies

Cash-strapped cities and transit agencies now face a new threat — so-called “patent trolling.”  This year patent-holder ArrivalStar, acting on behalf of Martin Jones, filed suit against transit systems in Portland (OR), Cleveland (OH), and Monterey (CA). Last year suits were filed against King County Metro Transit (WA), Illinois Commuter Rail, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, the Maryland Transit Administration, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. According to Ars Technica, most of the systems have paid up in order to avoid an expensive lawsuit. Joe Mullin writes:

Suing over patents on which one is not actually building a product—commonly called “patent trolling”—has been a growing business for a decade now, but the strategy of going after the public sector is a new wrinkle. ArrivalStar and Jones are making a direct play for taxpayer money, something that most patent trolls have avoided until now. Cash-strapped US municipalities are in no position to defend a patent suit through trial, which can cost millions. Instead, they’re likely to settle ArrivalStar’s claims.

According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, ArrivalStar’s patent claim is quite broad and could potentially apply to “any system or technology that tracks a vehicle along a predetermined route and then notifies a potential passenger or package recipient of the vehicle’s status.” EFF plans to challenge the patent and is looking for examples of tracking systems created before January 18, 1999.

Photo source: SDOT Blog

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