Paying for a ride to get around town is not new. The first gas-powered taxicabs appeared at the beginning of the 20th century, and were horse-drawn. “hackney coaches” of London dates to the 17th century. In the vehicle-for-hire business, it’s all about execution and execution, not “invention.”
That long history notwithstanding, the US Patent and Trademark Office has granted patents claiming monopoly rights to, in particular, hailing a taxi-on-a-computer.
US Patent No. 5,973,619 is owned by Hailo Technologies LLC, a shell company formed on April 6, which sued (PDF) Uber and Lyft two weeks later.
Electronic Frontier Foundation exclusive Hailo’s ‘619 patent in its monthly series “Stupid patent of the month.” EFF attorney Vera Ranier explained that the patents claim “a computer program” that:
(1) displays a list of shipping options; (2) asking customers for a number of plans; (3) show the places graphically; (4) show approximate income; (5) Picked up taxi calls for rides; and (6) will give an estimated arrival time.
In January, Hailo filed a lawsuit against three smaller companies, Arro, Mobisoft Infotech, and MtData, over a different patent, No. 6,756,913.
Both were published in the late 1990s, a time in which computerized taxi dispatching was not only available, but being used. It took a brief Internet search for Ranieri to find reports from the Department of Transportation dated 1991 and 1992 that explained the state of the art in “computerized transmission” technology, including versions of the ‘619 and ‘913 patents.
“Is there any of the matter?” asked Ranieri. “When the argument for invalidity is based on prior art, this can be an expensive and time-consuming process, often costing hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars.”
Even new and effective procedures like inter partes review can cost up to $350,000 per appeal. Frequently, non-executive patent owners, holding patents deemed valid until proven otherwise, will push for settlements that cost less than that.
On Hailo Technologies’ complaint against Uber, the company’s Pasadena, Calif., address is the same as the law firm representing it, Cotman IP Law Group. Firm founder and CEO Daniel Cotman did not respond to Ars’ questions about the licenses and the EFF post.
Even the name Hailo Technologies is confusing. There is a real taxi-hailing app called “Hailo,” which was created in 2010 but eventually exited the US market, merged with Daimler’s ride-hailing company MyTaxi in 2016.
Partners at Union Square Ventures, one of the VC firms that funded the original Hailo app, told Ars via email that all IP belonging to the Hailo app was taken over to MyTaxi. The company they funded is not connected to Hailo Technologies LLC involved in recent patent litigation.
Hailo Technologies has described itself as an app developer, too, but the evidence for that is thin so far. Your website, www.bring.bike, was created several days before the lawsuits against Uber and Lyft were filed. The site promises a beta test coming soon to the Los Angeles area for its bike-sharing app.