Two lawsuits seek to rein in transit data patent troll

By Robbie Webber

After suing dozens of transit agencies and hundreds of private companies, patent troll company ArrivalStar could be hitting the wall. The United States Patent and Trademark Office has drastically narrowed the patent owned by the company after the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a formal request to reexamine the patent’s legitimacy. The American Public Transit Association also filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to halt frivolous patent infringement claims against public transit systems throughout the country and claiming that ArrivalStar’s lawsuits are invalid under the 11th Amendment.

In addition, the Federal Trade Commission has announced it will open an investigation into “patent trolls,” companies that engage in no business activities aside from suing over patents. In support of the investigation, U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski (IL-3), of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, specifically cited the suits filed against transit agencies in a letter to the FTC Chair.

As SSTI has covered previously, ArrivalStar claims they own a patent that covers all real-time notifications for both vehicle location and package tracking.  Typically, a suit is filed against a private company or transit agency, and the companies and agencies settle rather than fight an expensive court case. Transit agencies that have been sued include the New York Metropolitan Transport Authority, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, transit agencies in Chicago, Boston, Seattle, Maryland, and the Cleveland RTA. Despite the number of suits filed, only one has gone as far as the “claim construction” phase. Public records may not even capture the full extent of the payments, because ArrivalStar often sends out threatening letters and demands payment before a formal suit is filed.

APTA has filed their suit on behalf of its member public transit agencies, saving each individual agency from filing a separate suit. They have stated that they were eager to file a lawsuit previously, but were deterred themselves by the possible cost of the case. APTA is being represented by the non-profit Public Patent Foundation.

“Our public transit systems have been improving the customer experience by providing real-time schedule and travel information to riders,” said James LaRusch, APTA Chief Counsel.  “These systems, which are operating under severe financial constraints, are being saddled with these outrageous harassment claims that are a waste of time and money. This must be stopped.”

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office decision can be found here, and the APTA lawsuit against ArrivalStar can be found here.

Robbie Webber is a Senior Associate at SSTI.