Use A Google Short URL In A QR Code And Get Sued

It’s a story you couldn’t make up. Five months ago I wrote about the relentless decline of Neomedia, the only publicly quoted company in the QR Code space. Since then their stock price has fallen by a further 90% but they have stepped up their activity as a patent troll.

Companies such as Taco Bell, Bed Bath & Beyond, Wendy’s and a few others are all in the process of being sued by Neomedia for Patent Infringement. In essence Neomedia’s case is that these companies “By making and/or using QR Codes that indirectly link to a webserver” are infringing US Patent 6,199,048 “System and method for automatic access of a remote computer over a network” and US Patent 8,131,597 “System and method for using an ordinary article of commerce to access a remote computer”.

Last week Neomedia sued North America’s largest arts and crafts specialty retailer Michaels Stores but the action has a novel twist. Here are paragraphs 22 and 23 of Neomedia’s submission/evidence which has the image (including the bubble) on the left:

22. QR Code advertisements and/or product packaging used by Michaels are examples of machine-readable codes that enable a user device to connect with a content server over the Internet by scanning a machine-readable code encoded with an index that is sent to a server and used to lookup the URL of the content server, which is then returned to the user device to enable it to connect with the content server.

23. As one example, the following QR Code enables a user device to communicate the index to the server “” to obtain the URL “” of the content server.

This is a mistake because the URL in the image actually resolves to but the QR Code is indeed encoded with a Google short URL It is of course the short URL that is being claimed by Neomedia to be the “indirect link”. So it would appear that if you use a Google short URL in a QR Code you are, as far as Neomedia is concerned, infringing their patents. In fact you don’t even need to use your own server, in this case the shortener and the video both reside on Google servers.

Google actively encourages the use of their short URLs in QR Codes by generating one for you each time you use the service. Maybe Michaels Stores should sue Google for not warning them that by using this service they were in potential violation of two patents :)

Joking aside it would be interesting to see Google become a party to this action because they have the resources to defend Neomedia’s claims. In my opinion (but I am not a lawyer) and the opinion of others in the business, Neomedia’s claims are unlikely to be successful when fully tested in a court of law. SpyderLynk was similarly sued by Neomedia last year but a settlement was reached when SpyderLynk agreed to licence the patents. Nicole Skogg, founder and CEO of SpyderLynk was quoted as saying that the her company doesn’t believe it infringed Neomedia’s patents but the cost of defending itself in court would have far exceeded the cost of licensing the technology.

I had a few other thoughts while writing this post. The action was filed last week but the ad produced in evidence was for Valentine’s Day 2011 a full 2 years and 4 months previously, which seems a large gap before deciding to go to court. Also the image with the bubble, produced in evidence, was created by Courtney Engle on Apr 15, 2011 and I wonder if Neomedia asked his permission to reproduce it. Lastly, presumably Neomedia believes that using not only but TinyURL, bitly or any other shortener in a QR Code infringes their patents.

10 thoughts on “Use A Google Short URL In A QR Code And Get Sued”

  1. On your last sentence about all shorteners would then infringe NeoMedia, the claims in the suit would also mean almost all QR codes are infringing Neomedia’s patents.

    In the paragraphs above, Neomedia describes parsing the URL to locate some portion “encoded with an index.” They are doing so by claiming anything after the domain name is “an index.”

    Therefore, the only QR codes that would not infringe have ONLY a domain name encoded.

    Of the QR code in question,, “wnhYS” is being defined by the suit as the index. This ignores that Google is not using “wnhYS” as an index because Google uses the full address for the redirect (and not a search that would need to be done to make a string an index).

  2. Does this suit hold any water? This is all open source tech. It looks to me like their trying to sue based on process instead of tech. Cause it would seem the only company which could make somewhat of a real claim here would be Denso (creators of the QR) The QR was made to be a connection tool from print to digital, using a short code generator in tandem with a QR generator would be Google’s problem not Michael’s. We all know the agency used the Google URL shortner then generated a QR Code. Just because your company is tanking on an exchange doesn’t give you the right to go after someone. My suggestion to Neomedia is to get your creative team going and start thinking outside the box to get more people engaged with your product, invest in advancing the need for QR’s (which by the way has plenty of room to grow, NFC isn’t practical yet for all businesses or products and SMS can get expensive!). Take your mousetrap and re-engineer it. Neomedia this isn’t the way to get market share back, it’s a good way for your Lawyer’s to get rich though, They’ll have to sue pretty much everyone in the Mobile Marketing Provider Space to make this one stick.

  3. Agreed.
    Any idea about how these trials will end? I wonder whether or not the patent currently holds direct encoding (from what I see)

  4. URLs are redirected IP addresses, connections to computer networks. Seems to me this patent is invalid because prior art already existed.

  5. Not only are URL’s redirected IP addresses, but put a phone number in a QR Code, and you can have your mobile make a call based on scanning the code. Connecting one phone to another phone in a network. The phones themselves are smart enough to be called computer.
    I thought that Denso Wave when they made this code was using tags in the code as well… :-)

  6. I agree, the patent seems kind of illegitimate.
    Still, it survived 2 re-exams in the US. An IP expert told me that using short-URLs into QR Codes would be seen as a violation by a US court.
    That’s pretty extreme, and I’d rather be proactive on the topic than having to defend myself overseas :). That’s why I encourage anyone concerned about the patent to contact me (I can be found at

  7. It constantly amazes me with patent wars, what will they come up with next, Patents do have a part to play same as copyright but they can also become silly holding back advances in tech development. It seems there is only one winner and thats the Lawyers who undertake the cases.

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