A Case of Patent Licensing- Is it Possible For a Small CompanytoEnforce or License Its Patents to a Big Company?

By Team YS|22nd May 2012
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Ameranth Technology Systems Inc is a privately held software company founded in 1996 and located in San Diego, California that has software products related to Wireless POS, Table Management, Reservations Management, Mobile Concierge, Electronic Menus, Guest Surveys, Inventory Management, Health Care Services and Enrollment Assistance. According to the company's LinkedIn profile, it has between 11-50 employees. Their 21st Century Restaurant(R) product gives restaurants the ability to use Microsoft(R) Windows(R) powered Pocket PC handheld computers right at the tableside for wireless ordering and payment processing. This increase in efficiency may give restaurants faster table turnovers, better customer service, and decreased need for labor, all of which positively affect the bottom line. Their Payment Processing Module gives food servers the ability to process cash and credit payments right at the customer’s side, and their Wireless Ordering Software provides restaurant staff with remote access to their wireless POS system for improved customer service, faster table turns, and a reduction of labor needs. For more information on the product, see this pdf.

The product was formally launched in September 2001, costing 2000 USD for each device and accompanying software, and costing restaurants 200-250 USD/yr in maintenance charges. It has been successful in US as well as European markets, and it has since then adopted almost as an industry standard in restaurants. Software product licensing being a good source of revenue did not stop the company from looking for alternative sources of revenue through patent licensing. Further, the company has not taken its market position for granted either. To preserve their competitive advantage and to prevent competitors from duplicating their software, they filed several patents.

The patent, titled "Information management and synchronous communications system with menu generation" was filed in September 21, 1999 (well before the product release in 2001) and granted on May 7th, 2002, shortly after their product release. It relates to 'computerized menus and reservations for restaurants and other applications that utilize equipment with nonstandard graphical formats'. The patent quite broadly practically covers an application software that facilitates the generation of a second menu from a first menu by allowing selection of catagories and items from the first menu, addition of menu categories to the second menu, addition of menu items to the second menu and assignment of parameters to items in the second menu using a graphical user interface of an operating system with nonstandard graphical formats, display sizes and/or applications. Of course the application is typically in conjunction with a middleware, but the patent claim language covers implementations even on any general purpose hardware. Thus the patent is what one would call a 'software patent.'

The company has licensed its patents to Skywire Media, Inc., Ameranth has patent license agreements with Radiant, Menusoft, Netwaiter, Brink Software, Savory Mobile, Xpient, Munchaway and Snapfinger. It has active patent infringement lawsuits pending against numerous infringing defendants, including Seamless, GrubHub, Exit41, PAR, QuikOrder, OpenTable, TicketMob/Laughstub, Agilysys Inc. and the three largest pizza chains - Papa John's, Domino's and Pizza Hut. The lawsuits were necessary for the company to protect the company's innovations. Ameranth has received twelve different technology awards (three with "end customer" partners) and has been widely recognized as a hospitality wireless/internet technology leader by almost all major national and hospitality print publications, including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today and many others. Ameranth was personally nominated by Bill Gates, the Founder of Microsoft, for the prestigious Computerworld Honors Award that Ameranth received in 2001 for its breakthrough synchronized reservations/ticketing system with the Improv Comedy Theatres. In his nomination, Mr. Gates described Ameranth as "one of the leading pioneers of information technology for the betterment of mankind."

- Arjun Bala, Patent Agent and Managing Partner of Meta Yage IP Strategy Consulting

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