Jan 22

We are constantly bombarded with news of stupid software patents, so it’s nice to see the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) actually reject a stupid patent once in a while.

The USPTO rejected all 20 patent claims for Internet subdomains held by the Hoshiko company.  The USPTO ruled that the idea of subdomains — domains hosted within larger domains, such as mail.google.com — is too obvious to patent.  Hoshiko was using the patents to litigate against large web companies like Google and LiveJournal, which hosts more than 3 million personalized subdomains for its users.

The story started in 1999 when the IdeaFlood company applied for a patent on Internet subdomains.  As usual, the USPTO blindly approved the patents in 2004.  IdeaFlood immediately went to court, filing suit against Google and About.com.  The Google case was dismissed, and About.com settled out of court.  IdeaFlood then transferred the patents to Hoshiko.

Since neither Google nor About.com strongly challenged the patent, the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) took up the fight and requested that the patent be re-examined.  The EFF was able to prove that the idea of virtual subdomains was developed long before the patent was filed in 1999.

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Article published on January 22, 2009

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