For more than a decade, Shipping and Transit LLC (AKA Arrivalstar) has been aggressively pursuing dubious patent claims against public transit companies, shippers, and other businesses whose practices overlapped with Arrivalstar's absurd, obvious patents on using GPSes to figure out where stuff was.
Now, Shipping and Transit is bankrupt, and it has valued its portfolio of 34 patents at $1. It's the most honest moment in the company's shameful history.
Shipping and Transit is the poster-child for sloppiness at the US Patent and Trademark Office. The company owns a suite of patents for using GPS exactly as it was designed to work: to figure out where stuff is, and then to log and/or transmit that location. The people who filed these patents didn't invent GPS: they just took someone else's widely used invention and patented the most obvious way to use it. The US Patent and Trademark Office granted the patent, Shipping and Transit bought it, and then used it to harass and soak people who were making products and providing services (including city bus services!), while Shipping and Transit made nothing (except lawsuits).
Thankfully, there have been some changes in patent rules that have made it easier to get junk patents thrown out. After a couple of significant court losses in which Shipping and Transit was ordered to pay their victims' legal fees, and facing mounting debts, the company filed for bankruptcy.
Though the company made millions in settlements and "licenses" for its patent portfolio, it valued the portfolio at $1 in the bankruptcy. Its creditors include victims whom it owes court fees to, as well as some pretty sketchy-sounding offshore entities like the "West African Investment Trust," based in Geneva, Switzerland.
UPSTO Director Andrei Iancu recently gave a speech where he suggested that those who complain about patent trolls are spreading "scary monster stories." It may finally be dead, but Shipping & Transit was a patent troll, and it was very, very real. We estimate that its lawsuits caused tens of millions of dollars of economic harm (in litigation costs and undeserved settlements) and distracted hundreds of productive companies from their missions. Research shows that companies sued for patent infringement later invest less in R&D.
A patent system truly focused on innovation should not be issuing the kind of worthless patents that fueled Shipping & Transit's years of trolling. Courts should also do more to prevent litigation abuse. It shouldn't take an entire decade before an abusive patent troll faces consequences and has to shut down.
While it lived, Shipping & Transit/Arrivalstar sued over 500 companies and threatened many hundreds more. That might be a "monster story," but it is true.
Stupid Patent of the Month: How 34 Patents Worth $1 Led to Hundreds of Lawsuits
Notorious patent enforcement entity values its entire portfolio at $2, folds [Cyrus Farivar/Ars Technica]
(Image: Matti Mattila, CC-BY)