JP Morgan Chase just got a patent on basic app communications
A simple Google search would have found oodles of prior art.
Do you have apps on your phone? More than one? Can you imagine if the different apps could actually talk to each other?
Of course you can—because they do, all the time. It’s nothing special. But that didn’t stop the nation’s biggest bank, JP Morgan Chase, from getting a patent that describes exactly that process, titled “System and method for communication among mobile applications.”
The language of the primary claim in US Patent No. 9,747,468 describes a mobile app asking a user for permission to get information from another app; then, having acquired that permission, it goes ahead and gets the information.
Perhaps this dates to the early days of cell phones? Nope. The bank filed for the patent in 2013, and the patent was granted earlier this week.
Chase’s monopoly on inter-app permissions was highlighted yesterday by the Electronic Frontier Foundation in its “Stupid Patent of the Month” series. Not only was the idea behind this patent not novel in 2013, it had been implemented many, many times.
“How was such a broad and obvious idea allowed to be patented?” asks EFF patent attorney Daniel Nazer. “As we have explained many times before, the Patent Office seems to operate in an alternate universe where the only evidence of the state of the art in software is found in patents. Indeed, the examiner considered only patents and patent applications when reviewing JP Morgan’s application. It’s no wonder the office gets it so wrong.”
If the examiners had looked beyond patent databases, they would have seen that developers had been discussing the best methods of inter-app communications for years. In 2013, mobile apps usually asked for permissions all at once, up front, rather than getting more specific permissions from the user at various times.
But, as Nazer notes, changing that structure was more of a management decision than an “invention.” Some iPhone apps had started asking specific permission to access user contacts in early 2012. Another high-profile example? Twitter has insisted on third-party apps getting very specific permissions to access its data since 2011.
Now, if JP Morgan Chase wanted to, it could actually accuse those developers of infringing its new patent. The developers could defend themselves and win, but only at enormous cost.
“Instead of promoting innovation in software, the patent system places landmines for developers who wish to use basic and fundamental tools,” Nazer writes.
A spokesperson for JP Morgan Chase declined to speak about its patent or EFF’s criticisms. We also reached out to the US Patent and Trademark Office to get its view on the matter and will update this post if we hear back.