“Being allergic, I am (vaguely) dreaming about someday having a “citizens’ network” of sensors to monitor pollution in real time and high resolution. Such data cannot perform miracles, but being prepared is better than being unprepared. Have I already been blocked from doing this?”
We have decided to make this week a kind of demonstrator for our kind of thinking, showing what a project like this can and cannot do. This is as concrete as it gets.
The special theme we chose is air pollution. More specifically, solutions that would allow asthmatics to get information about the air pollution situation.
To make things as concrete as possible, the whole week revolves around just one patent,
US 8,127,002 (“Hypothesis development based on user and sensing device data”). The narrow focus has a purpose: it concretely shows what kinds of vulnerabilities might enable trolls to be attacked with their own weapons.
I asked the question: could this patent block a person with allergies from getting information about the air pollution levels at a location he is going to?
Answer: possibly. Possibly not.
Even for a software patent, this is incredibly vague. The Figure below speaks a thousand words (actually 58 pages of text). To make things even more “challenging”, there are actually at least 17 interrelated patents in this family.
There is no way to make this analysis interesting. But I will at least try to make it thorough.
Figure 1: The ‘002 patent
There is good reason to expect that the world will see more of this patent family. They are filed in the name of Invention Science Fund I, LLC. The fund is connected to Intellectual Ventures (see IV website, Wikipedia page). Is IV a patent troll? A Google search with the terms “Intellectual Ventures troll” gives over 300,000 hits, so someone certainly thinks so. It should not surprise anyone if this patent family emerges to haunt someone.
Most of the patent family appears to be related to healthcare applications. However, there are some claims in some of the more recent patents that may relate to air pollution. (Note the words “appear” and “may”; as we have pointed out earlier, one cannot “know” anything about a patent unless one goes to court with it).
It is this combination that caught my eye. Being allergic, I am (vaguely) dreaming about someday having a “citizens’ network” of sensors to monitor pollution in real time and high resolution. Such data cannot perform miracles, but being prepared is better than being unprepared. Have I already been blocked from doing this?
To enable comparison to the ‘002 patent, it is necessary to break down “my” application into extremely abstract blocks. The way I see it, four things need to be done:
A) Collect and monitor objective pollution data at the location, and transmit that information to a server
B) Collect subjective estimates of the pollution level from people near the location, and transmit that information to a server.
C) Use the information to make an estimate of the pollution status
D) Inform the user about the pollution status.
For air pollution, it is particularly crucial that both A (objective) and B (subjective) sources of information be combined, since air quality is a strongly subjective issue. Also, pollution sensors are not highly advanced. A typical output D of the application would be “The air is too polluted at X. Perhaps you should not go?”
Concretely, “my” application could be a software program that reads in data from sensors around the city, as well as air quality forecasts, as well as information from a network of volunteers. For example a Twitter feed where people use hashtags to report really bad air pollution conditions, say “#FINPollution #Turku Aninkaistenkatu horrible”. My software (which could be on a central server somewhere, or on my computer or smartphone) acts as an aggregator and collects information that might be relevant to me (I might have, for example, specified certain locations to be followed).
The interesting question now is whether the ‘002 patent is broad enough to block such an application. (Subject of next posting).
The purpose of Project Troglodyte is to hunt for bad patents and to show what went wrong. The project was temporarily continued at http://www.project-troglodyte.org/