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A tiny Florida company claims Apple is violating its ownership of booting an operating system quickly.  (Source: Cult of Mac)

A flow chart from the patent in question shows a seemingly intuitive process to optimize booting Unix-like or Windows operating system.  (Source: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office)
Lawsuit seems equal measures a sad observation on the U.S. patent system and irony

Apple, Inc. (AAPL) is no stranger to the U.S. patent system.  After all, it's one of the biggest intellectual property holders in the U.S.  Faced with surging sales of Android-based smartphones, it's now resorted to suing the world's top three Android manufacturers [1][2][3][4][5] in a bid to forcibly remove them from the market.

However, Apple is receiving an awfully ironic taste of its own medicine.  A shadowy Floridian company entitled "Operating System Solutions LLC" (OSS LLC) has filed suit against Apple, alleging its OS X Mac computer operating system violates a patent which quite literally covers booting up fast.

According to the plaintiffs, Apple willfully infringed on the intellectual property holders' exclusive right to "boot up" quickly.

The patent, U.S. Patent 6,434,696 -- entitled "Method for quickly booting a computer system" -- describes:

A method for quickly booting a personal computer system using boot configuration information on memory and the attached devices that was created and saved in a hard disk at the preceding boot process. The method for a quick boot process includes the steps of performing a power-on self test POST) operation when a personal computer system is powered on or a reset button is pressed; performing a normal boot process after the POST operation; saving the contents of memory and the status of the attached devices to a hard disk; checking if a reboot is requested; restoring the saved boot configuration information from the hard disk, after POST is completed during the reboot process; checking whether or not an initial device configuration file and/or an automatic batch file were changed; and executing commands in the two files and saving a newly created boot configuration information to the hard disk for future boot. The personal computer system, may reboot quickly because of omission of execution of the initial device configuration filed and the automatic batch file.

OSS LLC writes [Scribd]:

9. Upon information and belief, without license or permission from OSS, Apple has infringed, actively induced others to infringe, and/or contributorily infringed, literally or under the doctrine of equivalents,one or more claims of the OSS Patent. Apple did so by importing, making, using, offering to sell, and/or selling products and devices that embody and./or practice the patented invention.
17. Upon information and belief Apple's actions were and have been willful and in direct disregard of Plaintiff's patent rights.

A quick search of the U.S. Patent database found no patents issued to OSS LLC.  It did show that the patent in question was originally assigned to LG Electronics, Inc. (SEO:066570) in 2002, after a completed filing in 1999.  The patent was transferred first to Microconnect LLC in 2004, then to ANPA Inc., and then finally to Protimus Technologies LLC, being reissued to Protimus in 2008.  It is unknown when the ownership changed hands to OSS LLC.

Of this plethora of companies, none had an apparent website, except for perhaps Microconnect LLC, which may be affiliated with a British IT services provider of the same name.

Some, such as Business Insider are suggesting LG may be somehow behind the attack.  Writes Florian Mueller (also of FOSS Patents):

There are two distinct possibilities. It's conceivable that LG determined that this patent was not central to its business and divested it. Big companies make divestments of this kind all the time. But with the smartphone patent wars going on, companies usually look to buy -- not sell -- patents. The other -- potentially more meaningful -- alternative is that this previously-unheard-of Florida-based plaintiff could be a proxy steered by LG. In that case, this would be either a warning shot or the beginning of a wider conflict between Apple and LG, which the latter may deem inevitable.

However, the multiple patent holders makes this less likely.  Companies like LG are typically less shy about their patent holdings and are less likely to use shell companies to do their litigious bidding.  More likely the patent belongs to a "patent troll" like Intellectual Property Ventures or NTP, Inc.

It's possible that the true parent company may never be known.  These kinds of disputes are often settled out of court, as it's less expensive to settle than to challenge the patent in a protracted court dispute.

The case does raise broader questions -- for example, why does a company that does not produce computer operating systems get to hold a sweeping patent on any operating system that follows an intuitive scheme to boot faster?  

For Apple, though, that spells irony, as the company has been the recipient of many questionably generic patent awards, such as the patent on multitouch. But in Apple's defense, at least it actually builds the things it patents, even if the patents themselves may be questionable.

The new case was filed last Friday in Florida Middle District Court and is presided by Judge James S. Moody, Jr.

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By foolsgambit11 on 8/9/2011 4:06:45 AM , Rating: 2
Sounds great, but it's pretty impracticable as a law. It's the same reason that "too big to fail" is such a problem - who decides where to draw the line? Another analogy would be the Supreme Court ruling that everybody knows pornography when they see it. It relies too much on the judgment of minor officials to enforce these regulations. In the world of patent law, where do the giants end and the little guys begin? The system risks becoming too arbitrary, with conflicting rulings being handed down by different patent clerks. It's much easier and more just to have a system that treats all applicants equally. Incidentally, this is probably why the patent office frequently grants 'obvious' patents - it's tough for patent officers to rule on these qualitative constraints. Government, or at least the U.S. Government, is inherently bad at qualitative evaluations.

That's why a better solution would be to change the quantitative aspects of patents - the easiest fix would be patent term restrictions. A patent issued on a software innovation shouldn't still be valid 12 years after it was issued. That only stifles development, and the purpose of the American patent system is "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts". 5 years seems reasonable to me (although, of course, how long a patent should last is a qualitative judgment, but it would be made by our elected representatives in Congress, and would then be easily enforceable by minor officials without the need for qualitative judgments on their part).

By Jaybus on 8/9/2011 7:56:39 AM , Rating: 2
Of course they are bad at qualitative evaluations. Anyone capable of adequately evaluating the quality of a patent would not be working at the PTO for peanuts when they can earn far more at Apple, or just about anywhere else. The patent system thus degrades to one of litigation.

The patent is being used as only the tool to get placement on the court's docket. It is not worth the paper it is written on until it is tested in court. A judge is not necessarily, of course, any better at evaluating the technical merit of a patent, but presumably both parties will bring in expert witnesses who are. While this may indeed work, however inefficiently, to settle disputes between large corporations, it is hardly fair to the individual or small company who cannot afford the necessary legal representation. Patent trolls exist because the patent system treats individuals and small companies as second class citizens.

By lyeoh on 8/9/2011 9:49:02 AM , Rating: 2
To me what we should do is to award Prizes for Innovation instead, much like Nobel Prizes. Most people's hindsight is better than their foresight.

To qualify for the prize, inventors have to register their inventions and pay a registration fee that goes to the prize pool.

You could have one category of prize being awarded by "Experts in the Field", and another category awarded by members of the public (somewhat similar to the Hugo and Nebula prizes, except maybe we could allow a wider participation for members of the public?). Multiple prizes per category would be awarded. Prizes could be awarded every year.

Inventors could win a prize for something they did years or even decades ago.

So even if you are 30 years ahead of everyone and/or your stuff only gets declassified decades later, you can still win a prize.

In contrast patents don't reward the inventors who are really far ahead of their time. They instead reward people who somehow manage to sneak "Method of making omelettes by using contents of eggs while excluding shells and detritus" and "one-click" past overworked patent examiners deluged by similar garbage.

Also, punitive actions could be taken against people who falsely claim they were the first to invent something - at least based on the patent registration database.

What the "Patent Office people" would then do is: try to reduce dupes (you can't prevent dupes 100% but at least reduce them), organize and manage the data so that it is not too hard for people to find candidates for nomination - for instance you don't want to have people keep nominating an invention that has already won! That said an invention that has already won, could qualify for a "top winners amongst winners category".

The patent office workers could also help authoritatively link registered inventions with actual products out in the market.

"People Don't Respect Confidentiality in This Industry" -- Sony Computer Entertainment of America President and CEO Jack Tretton

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