Twitter Sued for Patent Infringement in S. District of TX

By Gene Quinn
August 26, 2009

Three weeks ago, TechRadium, Inc., a Texas Corporation with its principal place of business in Sugar Land, Texas, sued Twitter, Inc., a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in San Francisco, California, alleging the infringement of US Patent No. 7,130,389, issued on October 31, 2006, and US Patent No. 7,496,183, issued on February 24, 2009, and US Patent No. 7,519,165, issued on April 14, 2009. Twitter, Inc., owner of the seemingly ubiquitous microblog Twitter.com, which allows individuals to post 140 character messages, is alleged to be using systems that incorporate the proprietary technology of TechRadium, a company that develops, sells, and services mass notification systems that allow a group administrator or message author to originate a single message that will be delivered simultaneously via multiple communication gateways to members of a group of message subscribers. No doubt this sounds a lot like what Twitter does. Incidentally, as fast, free and useful as Google Patents is, this last patent, the ‘165 patent, which issued over 4 months ago, is still not available through Google Patents.

It is too early in the process to tell whether there is merit to the lawsuit, or a patent owner looking to score against a big and growing target. I am sure in the coming months (and maybe years) the strength of the patents will become far more clear. What I will say now, however, is that I am going to give TechRadium the benefit of the doubt. As a Texas Corporation one would expect that TechRadium would have done whatever possible to get into the Eastern District of Texas, widely viewed as a patentee friendly court and the preferred venue for so-called patent trolls. TechRadium, however, filed this lawsuit in the Southern District of Texas. That being the case, this lawsuit already is missing tell-tale signs associated with trolling, so keep your eye on this case as it develops!

Returning to the basic technology in question, the ‘389 patent Summary explains:

The present embodiments relate to an immediate response information or emergency system. The present embodiments relate to the creation and delivery of messages, and to the routing, and to the verification and collection of responses to the messages. The system and methods are universally applicable to, and independent of, the type of messaging system and device selected by the message recipients. The present embodiment relates to the simultaneous transmission of a message in multiple languages to a user device, wherein the recipient of the message selects the language for transmission to the recipient.

The embodied immediate response information systems provide a timely and uniform manner to contact numerous users through numerous user contact devices, such as a cell phone, a television, a LED display, a land phone line, an e-mail address, a fax machine, a pager, a digital display, similar devices, and handheld wireless device, including PDAs and blackberries.

The system is used to contact users in the case of emergency conditions, such as storms or fire; and in the case of informational situations, such as school closings. Additionally, terrorist threat levels can be transmitted using this system. The system can be used to advise office building superintendents and users in the buildings, such as user high rise office buildings, concerning building condition updates, parking garage conditions, car lights on situations, and disabled vehicle conditions. The systems can be used for the sports industry, such as children’s soccer or Major League Baseball games, wherein the systems can be used to update fans on changed game times, weather conditions that affect a game start. The systems can also be used to update status of wins and losses on a “real time” basis to fans and parents user contact devices.

The present embodiments provide a system that has a high speed notification and response system in which information is accessed and stored in a dynamic information database. The systems can be set to contact users automatically when specific conditions arise or to contact user when initiated by an administrator. The systems can be set to contact a large number of users in a systematic manner based upon priority.

In order to fend off the inevitable, and intellectually dishonest, criticism that I always get when I quote the Summary or anything other than claim 1, allow me to preemptively point out that I do know that the claims define the invention. So please save the annoying comments. Nevertheless, for the uninitiated and casually interested, I think these few paragraphs neatly describe the technology involved and what the TechRadium invention is and does. Of course, the question during the litigation will not focus on the technology itself, but whether the claims that have been obtained cover the technology being used by Twitter. It is altogether common and indeed extremely routine for a patentee or inventor to create technology that is far broader than what is actually awarded in a claim, but the claims will determine if there is infringement. There will be plenty of time to detail the claims and prior art and follow the litigation, but it should be clear that the gist of the TechRadium technology does indeed seem to fit within the envelope of what it is that Twitter does.

According to Louis A. Vetrano, Jr., TechRadium’s General Counsel, “TechRadium has spent a lot of time and money developing our technology and we will potentially lose any reward for our efforts if Twitter continues its unlicensed use of our technology.” Vetrano said that a number of companies and municipalities have indicated they will be using Twitter as their emergency notification system during hurricanes and other emergencies. “That’s our patented technology,” Vetrano said. Attorney W. Shawn Staples of the Mostyn Law firm in Houston filed the infringement charges against Twitter and said: “It appears that Twitter’s core functionality is squarely within the technology described by TechRadium’s patents.”

In the wake of the uprising in Iran, now several months ago, and how difficult it was for the repressive regime in Tehran to control and shut down Twitter, it does seem that Twitter can be and is in fact an excellent emergency notification system that can withstand even deliberate, oppressive and intention attempts to interrupt the service. The patents in question, which largely appear to share a similar specification, each discuss built in redundancy as a result of multiple transmission gateways, used in order to ensure the message sent is relayed to the users. An example of an industry standard gateway that would be acceptable for use to create the redundancy include a SMTP gateway, a SIP, an H.323, an ISDN gateway, a PSTN gateway, a softswitch, or other similar gateways. The broadest claim in the oldest patent specifically requires the use of at least two gateways to ensure redundancy and transmission of the message.

TechRadium markets its technology under the trade name IRIS™, for Immediate Response Information System. “IRIS is commonly used by many school systems, businesses, governments, and the U.S. military. It’s a well-proven and popular system for which we have numerous patents,” Vetrano said. Staples, the attorney who filed the lawsuit, said TechRadium has aggressively and successfully defended its patents in court “and will continue to do so anytime there are infringements.” Such actions are usually settled by the defendant company agreeing to pay licensing fees to use the patented technology, he said.

Who knows where this case will lead, but my guess is that TechRadium is angling to set up another settlement and licensing situation. Both the General Counsel and the patent litigator hired to represent TechRadium are already talking about licensing, likely sending a not so subtle indication to Twitter that they would rather partner with the firm and accept royalty payments rather than seek an enormous litigation damages verdict. Perhaps this is being realistic, given that Twitter does not seem yet ready to capitalize on its enormous popularity and rake in profits. Using litigation to create negotiating leverage and not initiating patent litigation to declare all-out war is a sophisticated tactic, and not one that you ordinarily see in high profile and immature markets based on new technologies. In these situations dreams of tremendous growth and market dominance overwhelm common sense and business reality. The truth is in a patent litigation the lawyers are the ones who typically get rich, but if you sue to enforce your rights and can negotiate a resolution quickly then everyone wins, save perhaps the patent litigators.

The Author

Gene Quinn

Gene Quinn is a Patent Attorney and Editor and President & CEO ofIPWatchdog, Inc.. Gene founded IPWatchdog.com in 1999. Gene is also a principal lecturer in the PLI Patent Bar Review Course and Of Counsel to the law firm of Berenato & White, LLC. Gene’s specialty is in the area of strategic patent consulting, patent application drafting and patent prosecution. He consults with attorneys facing peculiar procedural issues at the Patent Office, advises investors and executives on patent law changes and pending litigation matters, and works with start-up businesses throughout the United States and around the world, primarily dealing with software and computer related innovations. is admitted to practice law in New Hampshire, is a Registered Patent Attorney and is also admitted to practice before the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. CLICK HERE to send Gene a message.

Warning & Disclaimer: The pages, articles and comments on IPWatchdog.com do not constitute legal advice, nor do they create any attorney-client relationship. The articles published express the personal opinion and views of the author and should not be attributed to the author’s employer, clients or the sponsors of IPWatchdog.com. Read more.

Discuss this

There are currently 5 Comments comments.

  1. john white August 27, 2009 11:57 am

    Gene: You know I hate to be right, but I was right. As soon as I understood what Twitter was, and at the same time had kids in school post 9-11, the mass directed short email systems have been widely adopted and we are the regular recipients of school closings and other emergency info. I believe I said, at one of our regular dinner discussions on all things patent related, that Twitter was simply an extant mass email system for individuals. Oh well, I was right…again. John

  2. Gene Quinn August 27, 2009 1:13 pm

    John-

    True enough. Do you ever get tired of being right?

    The only difference between mass e-mail and Twitter seems to be that the Ayatollah’s were unable to solve the riddle of message transit for at least 10 days.

    -Gene

  3. Adam August 27, 2009 5:45 pm

    It’ll be interesting to see what TechRadium’s strategy really is. Twitter currently has no revenue worth mentioning, but a sizable chunk of cash on hand due to multiple rounds of VC investment. If TechRadium is looking for royalties, then they’re betting that Twitter is going to find a revenue model and grow into a successful competitor. If they want a lump-sum settlement or court-appointed damages, it will likely eat up all of Twitter’s cash and force them to either close down or get another big round of funding, which means TechRadium will have a fight on their hands.

    It’ll also be interesting to see what Twitter’s reaction is. It’s pretty clear to me that Twitter doesn’t infringe on all of the claims of any of the patents, and they might not infringe on any of the claims. However, I suspect they’ll see things from Gene’s perspective and try to end it quickly and not make any lawyers rich.

  4. Thomas Lehrman September 2, 2009 4:35 pm

    Gene:

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    http://www.boliven.com/patents

    Feedback is always welcome.

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    President, Boliven

  5. jk November 18, 2010 3:07 pm

    so what is the outcome fo the lawsuit?