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posted by chromas on Friday November 01 2019, @10:22PM   Printer-friendly
from the loss-for-smile-detection dept.

In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled that you can't get a patent for implementing an otherwise abstract idea on a computer. The decision, known as CLS Bank v. Alice, has had a big impact over the last five years, invalidating a lot of broad software patents.

But a ruling this week illustrates the limits of that landmark ruling. The confusingly named United Services Automobile Association, which provides insurance and other financial products, sued Wells Fargo for infringing two patents on the concept of cashing checks with a mobile device. Wells Fargo argued that the patents were abstract—and therefore invalid—under the Alice rule.

[...] The patents cover check-cashing mobile apps that automatically snap a photo once a suitable image of the check is in the field of view.

A key claim of one of the USAA patents covers the concept of using a "processor" (aka a smartphone) to take a picture of a check and then send the check over a "communication pathway" (aka a network). USAA's supposed invention is the idea of monitoring "an image of the check in a field of view of a camera of a mobile device with respect to a monitoring criterion using an image monitoring and capture module of the mobile device"—and waiting until the image has met the criteria (is the entire check in the frame? Is there adequate light?) before snapping the picture. In other words, they patented the idea that you should wait until you have a good shot before snapping a picture.

[...] Wells Fargo argued that USAA had simply used a computer to perform the same steps any human being would take when snapping a photo of a check. Obviously if a human being was snapping a picture of a check, they would monitor the image in the viewfinder and only click the button once it showed an acceptable image.

But the court disagreed, noting that human eyes and human brains can't measure objective criteria like brightness as precisely as a computer can. USAA has argued that its approach leads to fewer bad check images being submitted. So in the court's view, the patent doesn't just cover an old-fashioned process being done on a computer—the use of the computer improves the process, yielding a patentable invention.


Original Submission

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Deadly Blow to the Pox of Software Patents in the EU 11 comments

The Fed­er­al Con­sti­tu­tion­al Court of Germany (FCC) has delivered a decisive win for software users and developers around Europe. In a recently-published court decision, 2 BvR 739/17 (in German) from February, it has declared that the Act of Approval to the Agreement on a Unified Patent Court (UPC) is void. The Unified Patent Court has been widely considered to be a shell for bringing software patents into Europe through the side door, in violation of international treaties which prohibit by name patents on programs for computers.

The Act of Approval to the Agreement on a Unified Patent Court ("the Act of Approval") to confer sovereign powers on the Unified Patent Court is void. In its outcome, it amends the Constitution in substantive terms, though it has not been approved by the Bundestag with the required two-thirds majority. This is what the Second Senate of the Federal Constitutional Court decided on a constitutional complaint in an order published today. In its reasoning, the Senate stated that, in order to safeguard their right to influence the process of European integration by democratic means, this, in principle, also entails the right of citizens that sovereign powers be conferred only in the ways provided for by the Basic Law. An act of approval to an international treaty that has been adopted in violation thereof cannot provide democratic legitimation for the exercise of public authority by the EU or any other international institution supplementary to or otherwise closely tied to the EU.

Once more for emphasis, software is protected by copyright law and that governs distribution. Patents govern usage and function, regardless of origin. So had the EPC gone through and forced software patents into Europe, neither clean room nor independent implementations would have protected either end-users, software-using businesses, or developers.

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  • (Score: 4, Insightful) by pipedwho on Friday November 01 2019, @10:35PM (5 children)

    by pipedwho (2032) on Friday November 01 2019, @10:35PM (#914837)

    Are the courts in Texas intentionally trolling the rest of the country?

    The court’s argument is that on average people are shitty photographers, so someone can patent the same techniques as used by half way decent photographers. Which flies in the face of ‘someone skilled in the art’.

    Ah fuck it. On a computer. Pass me the rubber stamp.

    • (Score: 4, Informative) by exaeta on Friday November 01 2019, @11:05PM

      by exaeta (6957) on Friday November 01 2019, @11:05PM (#914849) Homepage Journal
      Texas Courts are dumb. The Suprme Court needs to admondish these judges by name.
      --
      The Government is a Bird
    • (Score: 4, Interesting) by edIII on Friday November 01 2019, @11:09PM (1 child)

      by edIII (791) on Friday November 01 2019, @11:09PM (#914852)

      The whole thing is bullshit and the patent system is broken. This is corporate welfare and protectionism to provide profits to the elites for what is blindingly fucking obvious. It's important too, because it precludes open source projects, and we know damn well that credit unions would cooperate to provide these services.

      One of the core tenants of a patent is obviousness.

      Even if the subject matter sought to be patented is not exactly shown by the prior art, and involves one or more differences over the most nearly similar thing already known, a patent may still be refused if the differences would be obvious. The subject matter sought to be patented must be sufficiently different from what has been used or described before that it may be said to be non-obvious to a person having ordinary skill in the area of technology related to the invention. For example, the substitution of one color for another, or changes in size, are ordinarily not patentable

      They're clearly assuming that the average person is a complete fucking moron when it comes to photography and using their smartphones. Instagram would prove otherwise. Substitute smartphone for desktop computer and scanner, or just go back a decade or two to the Check 21 Act which just about states the major details of the fucking patent.

      We're techies here, but the average level of intelligence out there in regards to taking photographs on our smartphones is extremely obvious here to be adequate for imaging documents. There are smartphone apps that do everything the patent covers, just not specifically with checks. They will focus, auto crop, apply filters, sharpen, convert to grayscale, and then upload to Dropbox and many other kinds of connections.

      There is absolutely nothing new or non-obvious about either of their patents and it's intellectually and ethically repulsive to provide either of these major corporations ownership of blindingly obvious knowledge. It's not warranted and abusive to the Public Domain.

      --
      Technically, lunchtime is at any moment. It's just a wave function.
      • (Score: 3, Insightful) by anubi on Friday November 01 2019, @11:28PM

        by anubi (2828) on Friday November 01 2019, @11:28PM (#914857) Journal

        QR code readers do the exact same thing... Get a good image to transfer from the camera frame buffer to the nonvolatile storage file.

        What is so unique about that?

        This is just judge- assisted extortion, pure and simple.

        Now, may I copyright the phrase "Call Now", so I can make money from radio and TV advertisers?

        Stuff like this sure erodes a belief system that law is a public good, to a belief that law is just another strong-arm technique for the endowed to compel their wish-lists onto others.

        --
        "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." [KJV: I Thessalonians 5:21]
    • (Score: 4, Insightful) by captain normal on Saturday November 02 2019, @03:07AM

      by captain normal (2205) on Saturday November 02 2019, @03:07AM (#914928)

      Why do you think all the patent trolls go judge shopping in Eastern Texas? Someone should be looking into money transferred into certain judges' favorite church, school, social club or relatives.

      --
      "If men were angels, government would not be necessary." James Madison
    • (Score: 2) by wisnoskij on Saturday November 02 2019, @01:17PM

      by wisnoskij (5149) <jonathonwisnoskiNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Saturday November 02 2019, @01:17PM (#915026)

      Actually they seem to be talking about specific human eye limitations and the objective measure of brightness, that is a known limitation of every human alive or dead and has nothing do with skill at photography.

  • (Score: 2) by SomeGuy on Friday November 01 2019, @11:06PM (3 children)

    by SomeGuy (5632) on Friday November 01 2019, @11:06PM (#914850)

    Or perhaps we could just strangle all these smart phone lovers with some old fashioned phone cords. Problem solved.

    Really, why even mess with a printed check if you are using your toy cell phone anyway? Don't all loyal iPhone owners use Apple PayPayPay anyway? Or GooglePay, or even good old PayPal? "On a computer"? If sending a photo is so reliable, then why couldn't I put a check in my scanner, scan it, and then e-mail it? Or better, yet, FAX it. Yea... Because buy moar smert phones!

    Also, how does one get cash from a cell phone? (Other than shooting someone, and then flipping their phone for cash to buy drugs) Don't they mean depositing or bill paying?

    • (Score: 2) by Grishnakh on Saturday November 02 2019, @01:39AM (2 children)

      by Grishnakh (2831) on Saturday November 02 2019, @01:39AM (#914898)

      >Really, why even mess with a printed check if you are using your toy cell phone anyway?

      Simple: because there's a bunch of dinosaurs out there who like to send paper checks, even though it's 2019. Governments (especially state and local) do this a lot; I recently got a tax refund check, as did everyone else in my state (VA), and of course it was sent out in the US Mail as a check. Also, lots of companies still like to send paper checks because, unlike many other options, there's no fees involved with checks. If you have a small business and a business account with PayPal, for example, you can certainly receive payments that way, but then you have to pay ~3% fees. But if one of your customers sends you a paper check for $0.50, there's no fee for you to deposit those funds.

      >If sending a photo is so reliable, then why couldn't I put a check in my scanner, scan it, and then e-mail it?

      You theoretically could, but the banking apps don't normally accept this I think. Probably due to ease-of-use and also quality control: the app doesn't just have you take a photo; instead, it actually looks at the camera in real-time as you try to take the photo, and then it snaps the photo for you when the check is correctly aligned within the rectangle. If they just accepted anyone's photo, they'd have all kinds of horrible photos for human workers to deal with. On top of that, it's probably a little bit of a fraud countermeasure.

      >Also, how does one get cash from a cell phone? Don't they mean depositing or bill paying?

      Yes. It is really annoying that they call this "check-cashing", when obviously, it isn't, it's about depositing checks into your bank account without having to waste your time and fuel traveling to a bank branch.

      • (Score: 3, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 02 2019, @03:04AM

        by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 02 2019, @03:04AM (#914926)

        Permit me to provide a dinosaur's point of view.

        Years ago when banks first started providing the capability to pay bills electronically from your checking account, my sister set up such an automatic payment for her monthly car payment. For the first few months everything went fine. Then the auto loan company contacted her wondering why she'd stopped paying. She contacted her bank, which said they'd still been making the payments. The bank pointed at the auto loan, which pointed at the bank. This went on for six months, during which time the rest of the family had to pitch in to cover the two months missing payments to keep her car from being repo'd. Finally after much bitching and legal stuff, the bank actually bothered to investigate and determined they were the ones at fault. My sister got her money back, but the hit on her credit report for missed payments never got fixed. Funny how that happens.

        Compare and contrast with this. A few years ago I was in the hospital for some various things, and received the bill afterwards. This was not a small sum of money, but I did have enough to cover it. I wrote one of those paper checks and popped it into an envelope, and sent it certified mail with return receipt, off to the hospital's billing handler across the country. After a couple of weeks I noticed it hadn't cleared the bank, and I contacted the bill handler; they hadn't gotten it. The post office could not explain where the, certified mind you, envelope had gone, but it was most certainly gone. So I just cancelled the lost check at my bank (cost $30, and was even able to do it online) and sent the bill handler another check for the amount (overnight via FedEx this time). They got it, they cashed it, done and done. Yes, it cost me $30, but I was in control of what was going on. I didn't have to beg some uncaring clerk to pretty please look in the computer and try with their limited understanding to figure out what happened. Strange that the check with the largest amount I've ever written was the only one that I've ever had lost in the mail, but at least I could fix things myself.

        So yeah, I mostly write physical checks. I'm going to keep doing it, too.

      • (Score: 2) by SomeGuy on Saturday November 02 2019, @04:11PM

        by SomeGuy (5632) on Saturday November 02 2019, @04:11PM (#915052)

        Simple: because there's a bunch of dinosaurs out there who like to send paper checks, even though it's 2019.

        Paper=flexibility

        There are a lot of poor/kids/illegals/whatever that may not even have a bank account. Employers paying for brief temp work or others making one time payments (like tax returns) won't want to waste the time setting up any kind of direct deposit anyway.

        Probably due to ease-of-use and also quality control:

        More likely to with the amount of lock-down on "smart" phones, to keep users from messing with things the big companies don't like. That, coupled with agreements to sell more cell phones, of course.

        So anyway, boo hoo, some rich folks and their fancy "smart" phones will have to drive by the bank to deposit their check. It's just so awful and horrible! :P

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 02 2019, @02:12AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 02 2019, @02:12AM (#914910)

    I'm not surprised, after all, Texas is where the men are men, and the livestock are scared.

    BTW: Ted Cruz is probably an illegal space alien that The Men in Black have not had time to round up yet. ;-)

  • (Score: 2) by EJ on Saturday November 02 2019, @02:22AM

    by EJ (2452) on Saturday November 02 2019, @02:22AM (#914915)

    Google, Tesla, Waymo, etc. need to step in to help with this because they basically just made a direct attack on all sorts of machine vision technology.

  • (Score: 4, Informative) by Runaway1956 on Saturday November 02 2019, @03:54AM (5 children)

    by Runaway1956 (2926) Subscriber Badge on Saturday November 02 2019, @03:54AM (#914942) Journal

    The discussion above, so far, points at Texas as being wrong, bad, stupid, etc.

    May I remind you that the court house in Marshall, Texas, has often been in the news, in years gone by, for similar rulings?

    The ruling in the USAA case came from the notoriously patent-friendly Eastern District of Texas, so it's not that surprising that the ruling favored the patent holder. But the case is far from over.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_District_Court_for_the_Eastern_District_of_Texas#Patent_litigation [wikipedia.org]

    The district has been perceived to be a favorable jurisdiction for plaintiffs in patent infringement lawsuits, which win 88% of the time compared to a nationwide average of 68% in 2006,[6] even, according to some claims, in dubious cases (i.e. patent trolls).[7]

    Yes, there is something very seriously wrong in Marshall, Texas - but that isn't all of Texas. It isn't even all of the Texas judicial system. It's just a small handful of corrupt old assholes, ruling against the interests of the greater public at every opportunity. Someone needs to follow the money, and toss all those sons of bitches into prison.

    --
    We've finally beat Medicare! - Houseplant in Chief
    • (Score: 4, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 02 2019, @07:41AM (2 children)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 02 2019, @07:41AM (#915003)

      Yes, there is something very seriously wrong in Marshall, Texas - but that isn't all of Texas. It isn't even all of the Texas judicial system. It's just a small handful of corrupt old assholes, ruling against the interests of the greater public at every opportunity. Someone needs to follow the money, and toss all those sons of bitches into prison.

      Actually, it's not the Texas judicial system *at all*. It's the *Federal Court* system. The Federal court for the Eastern District of Texas [uscourts.gov], in fact.

      I've been there. Not just to the courthouse, but to the three story building (a block away from the courthouse, which could possibly hold a couple hundred humans, yet it's always empty) where nearly a *thousand* companies maintain "offices" (no one is *ever* there) so they can file IP suits in the notoriously patent friendly district court there.

      I was there managing the setup of networking/IT resource for a large law firm in a temporary office for a trial (IP related, of course) in that court.

      The people of Marshall were friendly, courteous and downright nice people. The town itself is small and quite nice as well.

      All that said, this ruling (which, IIUC merely allows the lawsuit to proceed to trial rather than dismissing it), isn't the end of this case, and it's pretty obvious that any such patent claim is absurd on its face.

      As such, I expect that this patent (either in the district court or on appeal) will be invalidated. Good riddance to bad garbage.

      • (Score: 2) by Runaway1956 on Saturday November 02 2019, @08:10AM

        by Runaway1956 (2926) Subscriber Badge on Saturday November 02 2019, @08:10AM (#915011) Journal

        Modded up - I didn't make my point especially clear in my own post. Thank you AC.

        --
        We've finally beat Medicare! - Houseplant in Chief
      • (Score: 1, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 04 2019, @04:15PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 04 2019, @04:15PM (#915755)

        All that said, this ruling (which, IIUC merely allows the lawsuit to proceed to trial rather than dismissing it), isn't the end of this case, and it's pretty obvious that any such patent claim is absurd on its face.

        Indeed. Even in this patent-friendly district, this is a motion for summary judgement and it is too early to be reporting that the court is "upholding the patent" because the court has actually done nothing of the sort. This trial is still very much in progress.

        A motion for summary judgement by the defendant means that the plaintiff is asked to provide any evidence, which, if assumed to be true would entitle the plaintiff to damages by law. The defendant is saying "you have no proof!" If the plaintiff failed to provide any evidence, then the court would rule in favour of the defendant as the plaintiff obviously has no case whatsoever.

        The details of what this motion means are right in the court document on page 4 (emphasis added):

        Summary judgement should be granted "if the [defendant] shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the [defendant] is entitled to judgement as a matter of law." ... Any evidence must ve viewed in the light most favorable to the [plaintiff]... Summary judgement is proper when there is no genuine dispute of material fact.

    • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 02 2019, @07:36PM (1 child)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 02 2019, @07:36PM (#915100)

      Why doesn't anyone discuss the issue with the USPTO granting such a patent to begin with. People keep complaining about the court but if the patent was never granted to begin with then there would be no court to complain about.

      • (Score: 2) by Runaway1956 on Saturday November 02 2019, @07:56PM

        by Runaway1956 (2926) Subscriber Badge on Saturday November 02 2019, @07:56PM (#915104) Journal

        It has been discussed, but not in the right places. The USPTO says it doesn't have the resources to make serious investigations into patents that are filed. Or, even cursory investigations, apparently. That is an issue for congress to address - more funds, more personnel, and a mandate to screen patent applications. You are perfectly right - more than 90% of these patent troll suits should have been shut down when the patents were filed. The phrase "on a computer" should be sufficient to kill a patent application.

        --
        We've finally beat Medicare! - Houseplant in Chief
  • (Score: 2) by maxwell demon on Saturday November 02 2019, @09:42AM (1 child)

    by maxwell demon (1608) on Saturday November 02 2019, @09:42AM (#915016) Journal

    Easy solution: Just stop using this outdated method of payment known as check.

    --
    The Tao of math: The numbers you can count are not the real numbers.
    • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 02 2019, @12:13PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 02 2019, @12:13PM (#915021)

      > Easy solution: ...

      Let me guess, you also support electronic voting with no paper trail?

  • (Score: 2) by jasassin on Saturday November 02 2019, @10:06PM (1 child)

    by jasassin (3566) <jasassin@gmail.com> on Saturday November 02 2019, @10:06PM (#915127) Homepage Journal

    This is a stupid ruling and a stupid patent.

    That said, FUCK Wells Fargo.

    --
    jasassin@gmail.com GPG Key ID: 0xE6462C68A9A3DB5A
    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 04 2019, @04:21PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 04 2019, @04:21PM (#915757)

      The ruling is likely proper as a matter of law. The only thing it really says is that the court has determined that there is a geniune dispute of fact between the plaintiff and defendant, and the trial will proceed in order to arbitrate that dispute.

      If there was no dispute, then there would be no point in a trial.

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