Crowd Sourced Traffic Lawsuit Goes from Point A to Point B
Now that the maps debacle of the iPhone 5 has died down, you may feel the need to update your destination for GPS-based schadenfreude. Simply trace the route of Apple partner TomTom, and you'll soon spot (driving at an inconsistent speed on a frontage road alongside the Patent Troll Expressway) a little company called Crowd Sourced Traffic.
Crowd Sourced Traffic has been pursuing identical but separate lawsuits against TomTom and Waze since November of 2011, both of whom provide (in CST's words) "a traffic information computer system that obtains data from users." The complaint was filed in the Eastern District of Texas, of course... but even this familiar patent arena has been more than a bit skeptical about CST's case, and (in Waze's case at least), seems likely to grant a change of venue.
The patents in question, 7440842 and continuation 7613564, are fairly typical software system patents -- in other words, they're vague constructs by a non-manufacturing entity, intended to be just sufficiently worded to extract licensing or settlements from companies which possess either too much or too little money to keep the case going long enough for a serious examination of patentable worth.
Waze itself had been fairly circumspect when it comes to litigation. During the lead-up to the latest version of iOS, Apple made it clear that crowdsourced traffic info would be integrated into Apple Maps, and the Waze crew took the news in stride. After the Maps debacle of the iPhone 5 release, Tim Cook himself gave the company a nod as one of the top three alternatives -- although Waze CEO Noam Bardin had some pointedly critical things to say about Apple's decision to rely on TomTom. But at no time did Waze even hint at the idea of filing suit against any of the players over the concept of crowdsourced mapping info.
Although not extensive, TomTom's litigation record is well-known. The larger battle between Microsoft's FAT patents and Linux implementation was a major concern throughout the turn of the century and the decade after. Ultimately, it was largely the TomTom case that settled the matter, with a nominal win for Linux and its General Public License AND a practical licensing win for Microsoft. Although sidestepping what many feel was the more important issue, TomTom wasn't afraid to counter-sue over Microsoft's use of its own navigation patents, which indicates that the company is less likely to be easily intimidated (or unskilled in the legal defense of IP).
To be fair, the language of the CST patents does seem to suggest crowdsourcing. "Data storage for storing a mapping database for obtaining data from users and for holding said data for generating roadmaps and a traffic database storing average speed data for road segments." It's a rough description of the crowdsourcing map databases provided by Waze, as well as TomTom's Map Share and IQ Routes... and, for that matter, also covers several other companies and developers who Crowd Sourced Traffic has not (yet) targeted. One must pause to consider the significance of the plaintiff-friendly Eastern District of Texas referring to CST's complaint as "a vague allegation".
You may protest that "Crowd Sourced Traffic" is the name of the company, after all... but it's a name that was established immediately before the lawsuit was filed, and over eight years after the original patent was filed. That's plenty of time to see which way the wind is blowing; TomTom has been around since 1991, although admittedly the pertinent mobile applications date only to 2007. Waze was founded in 2008 (and previously known as Linqmap for an undisclosed period of time).
For more evidence of the company's significance, visit Crowd Sourced Traffic's "website". Not only is the company a non-manufacturing entity, it's apparently a non-marketing, non-designing, non-interested-in-visibility entity. And more importantly to the Eastern District of Texas, it's also a New Jersey entity.
"Contrary to its material misrepresentations," reads the court's opinion, "Crowd Sourced Traffic was formed as a New Jersey Corporation, just months before the filing of this lawsuit. Corporate registration papers confirm that Crowd Sourced Traffic’s actual principal place of business is in New Jersey. The Marshall, Texas 'address' it listed in the Complaint is a well known mail drop. As such, it does not maintain an employee or even a telephone answering service... [which] demonstrates a reckless disregard for the truth and a failure to conduct a basic investigation.
How does a company not know its correct state of organization and principal place of business?"
This has given Waze the opportunity to ask for the venue to be moved to the Northern District of California, where Waze would not only have a home court advantage but also a District Court that is arguably more objectively savvy about software patent issues. Not that Northern California is at all anti-process; as we saw in Nazomi v Samsung, the court is more than willing to uphold a software method -- but only if it is shown to be a detailed description of how the patent can be specifically and usefully applied. This may be a tall order for Crowd Sourced Traffic, whose own coordinates have been difficult to get a lock on.