Remote Locator Services LLC, a shell company in Texas, has filed several lawsuits this week against Apple for its “Find my iPhone” and “Find my Friends” services and also against Google for its “Latitude”, claiming that its 1996 patent gives it a monopoly over such services, GigaOM reports. The firm has also sued some major phone carries including Verizon, asking the court to bar Apple, Google and the phone companies from using their location services and to award money damages as well.
The invention itself is US Patent 5548637 that describes a system for using infrared transmitters to route calls to individuals or objects in large buildings like a hospital, as shown in the diagram above. The report notes that the lawsuits could spell trouble not just for the corporate giants but also for the many small players in the industry for location-based smartphone apps. At the same time, the source also highlights that the lawsuits bear all the earmarks of so-called “patent-trolling,” a controversial business model in which investors and lawyers team up to acquire old patents, and then demand licenses or file lawsuits against a broad array of targets.
“Unlike ordinary patent holders, the trolls are not vulnerable to counter-suits because they have no assets. The result is extra costs for companies and developers, which are ultimately passed on to consumers.
In this case, the troll may also be using the litigation against Google, Apple and AT&T to pressure small app developers into paying licensing fees. The patent trolling phenomenon has led to public outrage and some states to pass laws to drive trolls away. Congress and the White House are also planning action but, so far, the trolls continue to thrive.”
Another example of patent-trolling is giant patent holding company Intellectual Ventures, who is reportedly seeking to raise $3 billion from lawsuits while also expanding its lobbying efforts in Washington.