Bad PTO: Activerse, ActiveBuddy, and Prior Art

by Jeff Bone

As mentioned in the Slashdot talkback comments on this issue, Activerse developed and released an IM bot development toolkit called DingBot SDK in 1997-1998, over two years before ActiveBuddy's initial filing. I was the CTO of Activerse during most of this period, and there's something particularly and personally galling about the egregious lack of due diligence exercised by the PTO in granting ActiveBuddy's patent.

Up front: though this is perhaps an increasingly unpopular position for me to take, I *believe* in software patents; I just filed 6 of them at the end of last month on behalf of my current company. The problem with patents like the ActiveBuddy patent is that, when granted, they undermine the legitimacy of the entire patent system. They turn the patent system into an incredible waste of time, money, and effort on the part of anyone who seeks to obtain protection on true inventions; since patents are granted without apparently any substantial due diligence, no inventor who receives a patent on something is in any way assured that his invention is protected.

The patent system needs to be reformed, not overturned. Patents often serve a useful purpose: commercial interests often would not be incented to invest in research / development without some assurance of monopoly protection for a limited duration in order to recoup their investment. In the long term, with limited duration and when valid, patents are also a boon to society: upon expiry they help grow our "commons". But when they are granted frivolously, with inadequate due diligence on the part of the inventors and the examiners, patents are a problem. The PTO MUST begin to exercise appropriate due diligence particularly in prior art discovery, and the law should better safeguard the right of the public to an invention by ensuring that the duration of patent protection is effectively limited.

The ActiveBuddy patent is a good example of a bad patent; apparently the patent examiner did not so much as bother to query Google and read the first few hits in the course of their search for prior art. While I (obviously) don't have any continuing commercial interest in the Activerse area and IP, it seems to me that --- as someone seeking patent protection on new, novel inventions --- I do indeed have a vested interest in seeing the quality and defensibility of granted patents improved. To this end, it is in my interest to see the ActiveBuddy patent struck down.

It's impractical for me to expend the financial resources and personal bandwidth necessary to pursue a reexamination request through its conclusion just on principle, but I'd be happy to help anyone else seeking to strike down this patent. I can assist in the preparation of affidavits and can help put you in contact with other developers from Activerse who also might have an interest in lending a hand.

If anybody is going to take this ball and run with it, feel free to contact me.

If you or someone you know is going to run with this, let me know...


2002-08-15 16:54:09
Prior Art...
I would like to second Jeff's objections. I was the lead architect and developer of the DingBot SDK, which was first publically released in the spring of 1998 and which passed into the hands of CMGI when they acquired Activerse in 1999. ActiveBuddy's assertion that they "invented interactive agents" is ludicrous and I will likewise be glad to assist anybody who has an interest in challenging this patent.