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Lawsuit: City Caller ID Application Pulled From Market

You may already be aware of this but just in case you’re not, well.. I’ll tell you – and then let you vote on the issue.  In short, the much loved app City Caller ID by Christopher Chenoweth has been removed to avoid a lawsuit.  If you were to try to update it now, you would see this:

callerid

Would you like the long version? Ok!

So, the other day I went to update my City Caller ID app, as I saw there was one available,  and what did I see? Why, a notice from the author informing folks that he was being sued by Cequint. There was a link to his blog for more details.  In addition – a fair number of comments from upset users showing their support.

Naturally I grabbed some snacks and a drink, and traveled all the way across the internet to get the full scoop over on his website.  There was a article posted – with Android users leaving feedback showing their support – that gave all the juicy details.  Cequint, as far as I could tell, had gone straight for the jugular.  No cease and desist letter was spoke of  just a straight “prepare to go to trial” suit.  Chris went on to explain his situation and had a link up for donations to fight it.   I understand he got a few, too.

It turns out Cequint holds a couple patents on the method and equipment used to retrieve and display caller ID information.  Included in said patents you will find wording such as:

“While the invention has been described in accordance with what is presently considered to be the most practical and preferred embodiment, it is to be understood that the invention is not limited to the disclosed embodiment, but on the contrary, is intended to cover various modificaitons and equivalent arrangements included within the spirit and scope of the appended claims.”

and…

“The receiving device is a CDMA receiver for mobile cellular service and is decoded fro, the cellular data packet by a host microcontroller.”

Now I’m no lawyer – that’s for sure – but I read (eh.. seriously skimmed) the documents and to the best of my understanding it seems to me that the app does in fact infringe.  So I would say Cequint had every right to defend their patent. Nevertheless, I was saddened.

That was Saturday. As of now the article’s contents have since been completely edited out – all comments removed – and replaced with this.

“Hello Everyone,

I don’t have the time or money to license this technology and use it from Cequint.

Cenquint’s technology is called City ID – http://www.cequint.com

Anyone who donated will receive their money back immediately.

Thank you to everyone for your support!

Chris”

It would appear Chris has agreed to remove the application to settle things.

So where does this leave us? Well. Don’t worry Cequint -  I’m not going to suggest the 200k+ Android users that have it backup the app with their favorite backup utilities or tell them *not* to apply the update in the market if they want to keep it.  All I’m going to say is this leaves us without what many considered to be the best of the free Caller ID apps out there – and that if we had a fair amount of users saying they would donate to the author to license it (even if he then had to change to a pay app).. or even fight it.. we’d suggest he set up a chipin we could link to.

This isn’t the first time Cequint has had to flex the ‘ol bicep, either. I did a little searching around and it appears they’ve done battle over this a few times. Including having a Blackberry app pulled in a situation very much like this one.

At any rate – what could this mean for the Android Market and our open source philosophy? Are infringements going to prove to be a big issue as small time developers continue to create apps to meet people’s needs?

“Or what about those ludicrous business-process patents, like Amazon.com’s “one-click” patent or the “name-your-price” auction patent assigned to Priceline.com? Instead of stimulating innovation, such patents seem more about extracting “rents” from innocent bystanders going about their business. One thing has become clear since business-process patents took off in America during the 1990s: the quality of patents has deteriorated markedly. And with sloppier patenting standards, litigation has increased. The result is higher transaction costs all round.”  …Read More

and more

To our readers that have City Caller ID: What are your thoughts?  There were a huge number of comments between the market and his blog of people basically saying “this is bs, fight it!” – but a patent is a patent, right? It seems pretty straight forward to me. Anyone more legal-minded than me able to read those documents and come up with something more supporting to the author?

[ Cequint | Chris Chenoweth | techdirt | The Economist ]




  • Evan M

    Software patents are patents on ideas, they can be way too general. Patents should only be granted to implementations of ideas, ie source code which is already covered by copyright. Patents are meant to spur innovation, but software patents do the exact opposite.

    The worst part of this mess is that only the little guys are going to get sued because they don’t have the means to defend themselves.

    I have a theory that if Big Software Company X were to try to sue Big Software Company Y over software patent infringement, Big Software Company Y would win and the whole software patent system would finally come crashing down. That’s why the Big Software Company X’s of the world aren’t suing other big companies, they just make idle threats, pacts and deals.

  • testhase

    The root of the problem is that you need to abandon patents on software and business-processes. Write to your senator or congress-man.
    But it probably won’t happen. So your last hope is SCOTUS…

  • tristan

    Software patents are like domains, the good ones are already taken.

  • Colts Fan

    Software patents are ridiculous. Caller ID on a cellphone is obvious, and therefore should not be patent worthy. He should just team up with a foreign developer and have them launch it in the market/online outside of the USPTO’s jurisdiction.

  • Phil

    So please tell me this patent does not just cover decoding information sent when making a phone call and matching it against a database….. How do you patent using information for its intended purpose? Wouldn’t this mean the idea was already known when the information format was developed? They are really just rubber stamping these software patents.

  • mikey

    fighting might seem honorable, but it doesn’t make much sense in this case.

  • Tom Servo

    Haha, what the fuck?! A patent on matching a goddamn number against a simple key-value list?!

  • geschan

    Seems like a good place to question the whole patent system. There are a lot of trival patents like this (and from a technical point of view, it is), slumbering out there.

  • G

    I am still trying to figure out how to patent my soul!

    The “patent anything” kit online does not have a good how-to.

  • http://phandroid.com Talton "Phases" Pettigrew

    Wow these votes are much closer than I thought they would be!

  • chewtoy

    Software patents should be illegal. Period.

  • http://phandroid.com Talton "Phases" Pettigrew

    Comment posted on another article, in wrong spot:

    “The hardware patent shouldn’t matter because this app is not related at all. The process patent says “city and state” not city and/or state. I would think that means you could display one or the other. You could also have it display the area code or region (southwest, east coast) etc. If the device displayed zip codes instead of city state, you could probably write a secondary app that translates the zip code instead… Most companies just find ways “around” others patents.”

  • Scott

    He should just publish in a foreign market. Leave the US to sink in its own stupidity.

  • http://www.willslife.com William

    Doesnt seem right to charge for a free database unless it is some type of hosted service that has to be maintained.

    If the technlogy can be futhered I think it is great to have a big company backing it, but if Cequint’s intent is to sit on the idea and make money I disagree with their business practices.

  • http://radicallibertarians.blogspot.com Aaron Kinney

    This is another sad example of what happens when Intellectual Property is treated as legitimate in society. The bottom line is that consumers get hurt, upstarts face more barriers, and rich bastards get richer.

    Down with IP!

  • Alex

    The FCC when handing out licenses requires build out beginning within 18 months and you obviously can’t say we are the first to use stone or think of it.

    Which means they already know before you build exactly what you are going to be building and you have 1.5 years to start and that’s how patents should be not these f’n patent vampires who want to to steal away all measure of creation for free publicity.

  • Chad

    Hey, I have an idea! Oh wait… nevermind. It appears someone already has a patent on having ideas.

    innovation–;

  • Joe

    As a patent guy and former examiner, software patents and business method patents are a gray areas… There has been a lot of tussle over whether or not patents should be granted for them (see Bilski)… IMHO, some software stuff should be allowed, some shouldn’t, but that is besides the point. Without doing too much research into the specific patents, the apparatus patents were filed in 1997, that’s a long time ago to try and beat the claims with prior art. The software one claims priority to 2002. I think the software one is the more relevant patent. The pulled program does seem to read on at least some of the claims.

    Like it or not, this is our patent system. Until it is changed through statute, or the Supreme Court changes their mind, software patent applications that follow the (confusing) rules and meet the requirements will be allowed, so will applications for sweet new touchscreen technologies, 3G/4G circuitry, and even the sliding screen hinges that have given us the phones we all love. Just my two cents, but the well developed patent system is one of the big reasons we even have the technologies of today that make our lives that much better, and we are much better off with it than without it.

  • Lilja

    Haha, US in a nutshell! :) People with money is the law. When a big company sues an individual there should be some sort of governmental support for the individual so that he/she could at least try if the big company is right or wrong without the possibility of getting personally bankrupt.

    We don’t have these software patents in Europe! :)

  • ulvhamne

    @Lilja
    Sadly, we DO have them in europe. They are just not valid in europe, but they get granted none the less. And to invalidate them you have to fight them in court, which is not a certain thing at all and at the same time ridiculusly expensive.
    If Im not mistaken, these patents are also breaking patenting rules in the US, but it is still to costly to get then revoked in court.

  • http://www.omgandroid.com Lukehluke

    That sucks.
    I can’t believe that some company’s are so petty to do such a thing to an app dev.

  • chris

    will it still work if we all ready have it installed?

    • http://phandroid.com Talton "Phases" Pettigrew

      @chris, yah.

  • Jo

    From what I learnt in my Intellectual Property module at uni (in the UK, just for reference), you can’t copyright an idea. As I understood it, there’s no copyright in a mere idea, and so implementing it yourself and differently to the patent holder would be fine – basically, as long as huge chunks of your code aren’t identical, that’s fine.
    But then I got a C for that module, so what do I know. I might go dig up my lecturer’s email address and ask him.

  • http://actplace.net Mouhamad A. Naboulsi

    Patent is a right, just like property is a right. I suggest that the developer should have done work ahead of time to protect his IP. If the patent is weak or obvious, he would have been able to write a specific patent and got around an obvious and clearly not innovative patent.

    His options are:
    1- Sell the development to the company that owns the patent
    2- See a patent attorney that can write a new patent for him to cover an updated version of the solution (one that have not been on sale for over a year)
    3- Call the patent office, ask how you can annul a patent (Not the techniocal term) and do it yourself. It will be intense and busy, but better then loosing all.

    Good luck.

  • I AM SSPARTA

    Why not do an I AM SPARTA! event?

  • XStylus

    Patent was filed in August of 2001, and yep, it matches pretty closely to what the app does.

    Got 11 years to go before it’s public.

    What bullshit.

  • http://www.yes-tele.com Patrick Young – YES Telecom

    Because a patent is approved does not mean it is valid and enforceable. There is common sense obvious use. Then there is prior art. These patents are invalid for both reasons. Prior art is the easier to prove in court.
    Without any doubt what soever, using the caller id number to do a database lookup and then display the callers city, state, address and name has prior art. I developed an 8 line caller id unit in 1993. I still sell this unit today. In 2, 4, and 8 land line models. The NPS/NXX database for area code and exchange and the phone company assigned the exchange has been freely available for as long as I can remember. In 1993 Bell south did not offer Caller ID with Name delivery. I used the NPS/NXX data to pop up the city and State of caller not in the contact table in my caller id oriented Contact Management program. In the late 90′s I talked with InfoUSA when they had an Internet base service to do phone number lookup. I also would use the ProPhone CD (1994), when you could export the entire CD and create your phonebook table. And I’m still doing it today. Nobody has ever sued me. In 2001 if you searched caller id I came up number one on EVERY search engine. They could not have done a proper search. Today I still come up number 5 in the term “caller id database” Number 2 “caller id computer” #3 caller id PC. I am slipping I was number one in all of those when these patents were filed. Let them try and sue me. It will be the last suit they ever file! I know where there is a gator pit that will turn them in to a green pile of what they are.

  • http://www.yes-tele.com Patrick Young – YES Telecom

    I just read the beginning of the patent. It is technically incorrect. They refer to ANI rather than Caller ID. ANI does NOT give any geographical whereabouts of the caller. ANI is the billed phone number not he caller’s. If your phone bill is paid by under another account in another city. Their phone number is given as the ANI.

  • http://www.yes-tele.com Patrick Young – YES Telecom

    I am offering to put City Caller ID back on the market, take all the patent risk and give all the proceeds to its current owner. Cequint could never win an injunction against me, I’ve been doing this longer than they have been around. I will drain their legal resources if they try anything!

  • betty

    put it back up. I love the app and I just had to get another phone and went crazy looking for this great app. I will be more than happy to see it back up. Keep me posted if you can.

  • Chad

    Caller Id is sent to me by the phone company, what i chose to do with it is my business… No one has the right to tell me that i cannot decode it. A class action lawsuit needs to be started against Cenquint. All of the information that they are patenting is public information and is not patentable, Only the Specific programming Code that decodes the information into the city is actually Patentable/Copyrightable. A lawsuit could easily be won against this atrocity!!

  • Bartleby

    So, is there a good alternative app for $ that does caller ID? Anyone tried Super Caller ID or other for pay apps?

  • http://phandroid L. Newman

    I just want the app off my HTC Incredible. It doesn’t die and go away, unless I break warranty and root my Incredible. I’m not going to use this app ever and it is taking up real estate & using resources on my phone (which I own). The forums reflect that I am not alone. Perhaps Chenoweth should release all the cellphones whose owners don’t want his app, then if the statistics support a fight go for it. In the mean time I just want the City ID app gone from my cell.

  • intriago

    This app suddenly appeared on my LG Ally after the latest Froyo update and it is tagged as *pre-installed* software so it cannot be removed unless I void my warranty and root my phone. It is listed as a free trial but asks each time I end a call if I wish to subscribe for $2 a month or continue with the free trial (15 days remaining). This is underhanded since I cannot just end the app and it caused my phone to alert me of low space so I had to delete 2 apps. Verizon is treading in a dangerous place by allowing this.