Thursday, June 10, 2010

TCS Text-Messaging (SMS) Patent - who is affected?

It seems strange to me that there is so little public discussion about the rather sweeping SMS patent enforcement campaign by Telecommunication Systems, Inc..

A little over a year ago, Telecommunications Systems (TCS) and their attorneys started sending out letters to SMS service providers and their clients across the country. TCS claimed that they were infringing on the “Smith” patents (US Patent #'s 6,891,811 and 7,355,990) that cover MO (mobile originated) SMS application-to-person (A2P) services.

I was curious so I downloaded both patents and spent a day going through them. The claim is that many SMS service providers are infringing on the patents because their services enable a person to send an SMS message to an application and receive a response. Pretty basic.

In a nutshell, the general scenario is:

  1. A cell phone subscriber sends an MO text message to a short code (its doesn't have to be a short code, but this is where TCS appears to be focusing)

  2. A "gateway" server receives the text message, inserts it into an HTTP request, and sends it to an application server over the internet

  3. The application server replies via HTTP with some piece of information

  4. The gateway server inserts the piece of information into a text message and sends it back to the cell phone

The key elements are that A) the mobile originated (MO) SMS must be inserted into an HTTP request, and B) the HTTP response must in turn be inserted into a mobile terminated (MT) SMS message and sent back to the cell phone, thus establishing a two-way communication.

There is some debate as to whether or not "prior art" exists bringing into question the validity of the patent. The most compelling case seems to be from, the open source SMS gateway provider. Kannel states “This technology has been Open-Source since at least 1999 and there is plenty of documentation to prove it publicly on”

Nevertheless, TCS does have a registered patent with USPTO and they can and will attempt to enforce it. All technology firms using SMS communications should review their services in light of these patents and determine if they are at risk of an infringement claim.

For more information on the patent, industry comments, etc., there is a great article on