Big name tech companies are often the number one targets of non practicing entities (NPEs), otherwise known as patent trolls. Apple is no exception. A Texas-based NPE called Remote Locater Services recently filed a lawsuit regarding Apple’s “Find My iPhone” and “Find My Friends” apps.
The group alleges that a particular patent gives them claim over the services that “Find My iPhone” and “Find My Friends” provide. The patent “covers a method for ‘locating personnel and objects in response to telephone inquiries,’ and describes a system for using infrared transmitters to route calls to individuals or objects in large buildings like a hospital.” Remote Locater Services is demanding that Apple and other companies, such as Google and AT&T, be barred from using their services and compensation for infringement.
The case is a little trickier than it seems. Since the patent has passed through the hands of several companies over the years, it is unclear who actually owns the patent. This is a telling characteristic of patent trolling, and here’s why: the patent trolling model involves a team of investors and lawyers who buy up old patents and use them to demand licenses or file lawsuits against target companies. Non practicing entities holding second- and third-hand patents don’t have any assets and, therefore, cannot be counter-sued.
Patent trolling has become increasingly problematic for everyone involved. Frivolous lawsuits result in “extra costs for companies and developers,” both large and small, “which are ultimately passed on to consumers.” The issue is so out of control that some states are passing laws to discourage patent trolls. Hopefully the federal government will soon act to combat the damaging intentions of these patent-holding NPEs. For now, we’ll just have to wait and see how Apple reacts to Remote Locater Service’s claims.