A company in Chicago, Helferich Patent Licensing, is reaping the benefits of the smartphone-connected world, hand over fist. As it turns out, the man behind the name, Richard Helferich, has a small, but powerful portfolio of patents dating back to mid-90s. One such patent covers the sending of web URLs in SMS messages. Helferich obtained that particular patent in September 1997. He offers infringing companies a one-time settlement for licensing: $750 grand. Companies like Apple, The Walt Disney Company, McDonalds and more than 100 others have already settled.
Looking over the list of patents he holds, it’s no wonder he’s making a killing some 15 years later. “Systems and methods for delivering information to a communication device.” You very well may have violated that when you loaded this web page to read this post. If you store your data in the cloud, this next one could pertain to you: “Systems and methods for enabling a user of a communication device to manage remote information.” I particularly like this next one: “User interface for voice message access.” How much do you think Apple paid HPL to license this patent for the iPhone’s Visual Voicemail feature?
Without delving into each of the patents and reading them in full, as well as studying any accompanying schematics or designs, it’s hard to say exactly when and where an infringement may occur. One thing’s for sure: big companies are settling instead of battling it out in court.
I’m all for people and companies creating innovative products and services, and protecting them through the legal system. Without these brilliant, creative, forward-thinking minds, we wouldn’t have the great technology we do today. But I’m not convinced this type of “licensing” fits with the true nature of innovation.
You see, neither Richard Helferich or his company, HPL, have ever sold a product or service utilizing ANY of these patents. This is a completely different game than, say, the Apple vs. Samsung patent wars, where both companies actually manufacture and sell products that rely on the systems and methods described in their patents. HPL exists for no other reason than to collect licensing fees (royalties) for an idea. Is he well within his legal rights? Sure. Is this also an example of a patent troll taking full advantage of the patent system?
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