Why Is a Patent Troll in Luxembourg Suing U.S. Public Transit Agencies?

April 23, 2012

The Atlantic Cities reports how patent trolls like Arrival Star can stand in the way of progress - in this case the openness and distribution of transit apps to help people make more efficient transit choices. Below is an excerpt from the article, which can be read in its entirety here.

The Georgetown Climate Center has worked on this issue in conjunction with transportation agencies around the country.

The Georgetown Climate Center backed into all of this unintentionally. It facilitates the Transportation and Climate Initiative, which brings together officials from 11 Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states, as well as the District of Columbia, to collaborate on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, creating green jobs and improving transit. These lawsuits caught the center’s attention in a roundabout way: Transit apps can help increase or maintain ridership, which helps reduce automobile traffic, which is a major source of emissions.

Several of the partnering agencies, though, brought up fears in developing such apps due to the legal threats from ArrivalStar.

“What they would do is pick off some transit agencies, sue, get a recovery,” says Vicki Arroyo, the executive director of the Climate Center. “They might sue for six figures, settle for five figures, and go on to the next one. As a result, nobody was really stepping back and seeing how big the picture was.”

As Arroyo sees it, this is ArrivalStar’s whole business plan. All of its revenue derives from suing private companies and public agencies to license an idea they were surely capable of coming up with on their own. About 65 percent of the national transit fleet now contains “automatic vehicle location” technology, most of it paid for by the federal government. These systems now enable transit agencies to track in real time most of their buses and trains. And as a logical next step, over the past few years they have begun turning over this tracking data to developers to create free user applications.