Crowdsourcing Group Targets NTP Mobile E-Mail Patents

Article One Partners offers a reward for researchers who find prior art for three NTP mobile e-mail patents.

A company using crowdsourcing methods to challenge patents has targeted three mobile e-mail patents held by NTP, a Virginia company that has filed more than a dozen infringement lawsuits in the past four years.

Article One Partners has offered rewards to patent researchers who find so-called prior art for three patents held by NTP, a patent holding company best known for winning a US$612.5 million patent settlement in 2006 from Research in Motion (RIM). Since 2006, NTP has filed patent infringement lawsuits, all related to mobile e-mail, against 13 other vendors, including Motorola, Verizon Wireless and AT&T.

NTP filed patent lawsuits against six of those companies, including Google, Apple and Microsoft, in July. NTP has filed lawsuits based on eight mobile e-mail patents.

Article One gives money to researchers who find legitimate prior art for the patents the company targets. In this case, researchers can earn $10,000 or more if they find evidence that the mobile e-mail technologies existed before the original patent holders applied for the patents.

"Prior art is evidence of publicly available information predating a patent's invention, which teaches, or renders obvious, the patent claims," Article One said in a press release. "Prior art knowledge and evidence may come from published content anywhere in the world and in any language. Prior art is often found in documents tucked away in a file cabinet years ago, or in the back corner of a library."

Cheryl Milone, CEO and founder of Article One, declined to name the sponsor of the studies challenging the NTP patents, saying the company kept the sponsor names confidential. Article One has more than 100 corporate clients, she said.

"In many cases, multiple sponsors are involved," she said. "And for studies related to active litigation, clients are often prohibited from making public statements."

In the three patents being challenged, all related to electronic mail systems by radio frequency communications, researchers must find prior art before May 19, 1991.

NTP has no comment on the Article One studies, a lawyer for the company said. RIM also declined to comment.

Since Article One launched two years ago, it has awarded about $780,000 to patent researchers who have found prior art, Milone said.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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