Update: Group challenges alleged patent-trolling that targets transit systems

By Eric Sundquist

In April, SSTI reported that a firm called ArrivalStar was asserting patent rights to a bus-arrival announcement system it claims to have invented, demanding that transit agencies and delivery companies pay for the right to use bus- and train-arrival apps and other tracking systems.

While the company’s claims were seen as questionable, ArrivalStar still succeeded in getting some agencies to pay, rather than face a costly and uncertain lawsuit. King County, Washington, for example, settled for $80,000.

Relief may be on the way. This month the San Francisco-based Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) challenged ArrivalStar’s patent in a request to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. EFF says it has evidence that bus-tracking systems predate ArrivalStar’s claims.

“ArrivalStar apparently believes that the broad language of their patents could potentially cover any system that tracks a vehicle or a package and notifies a customer of the status. Even if you could patent something that broad and vague – and we think you can’t – you certainly can’t patent something that was invented by other people years before,” EFF Staff Attorney Julie Samuels said in a printed statement.

“Yet because of this particularly baseless patent, municipalities across the country are being forced to choose whether they will fight an expensive lawsuit, pay ArrivalStar’s settlement demands, or abandon a public service. This is not how the patent system is supposed to work.”

The challenge to ArrivalStar’s patent is part of EFF’s larger campaign to reform the patent system.

Eric Sundquist is Managing Director at SSTI.