Why would a GPS patent holder sue fast food restaurants like Burger King and Wendy’s? Actually, let’s hold off on that question. In what sense can a company hold a patent on GPS technology?

GPS-based software and devices can certainly hold patents to protect specific intellectual property. Saying that a company owns the basic use of GPS to provide mapping information, well, that’s more than a little ridiculous.

In 1999, during the boom in early GPS consumer products, a company called NovelPoint Tracking LLP filed an obscure and unintelligible patent. They claimed to hold rights to virtually any system using GPS coordinates to provide geolocation data.

The problem is… that’s pretty much just GPS itself. The U.S. government owns the actual satellites, and any company can create software or hardware that uses GPS tracking.

An Endless Stream of Frivolous GPS Lawsuits

Frivolous patent lawsuits create their own cottage industry of fake and questionable patents. File your “invention” without actually creating something, and you can try to sue deep-pocketed corporations. Or at least hold them ransom for some settlement cash.

That’s what many industry onlookers and legal analysts are seeing in recent lawsuits filed by NovelPoint. The company has sued virtually every computer and electronics company you can name, plus other companies ranging from Subway to Golfsmith.

Companies have been taking the easy way out — paying off NovelPoint to avoid courtroom battles and legal fees. Here’s how the company continues to file these lawsuits as part of their ongoing cash-grab:

  • The patent contains meaningless terms such as a “location comparator-indicator module,” yet fails to define the terms. Vague and non-standard wordings leave room for legal interpretation.
  • Businesses use GPS information for basic and common purposes, such as a store locator feature on an app. NovelPoint claims that any such use falls under their patent.

Patents should protect people who have created something unique, while spurring innovation and progress. NovelPoint didn’t invent GPS, nor is any business riding on its shoulders. The only business NovelPoint generates seems to be attorney fees.

As great advances in GPS technology continue, we’d like to see credit given where credit is due — and somebody needs to put a stop to these patently false claims.