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The Model Train Patent Story - Jacobsen v. Katzer et al
Sunday, May 14 2006 @ 11:34 PM EDT

You may have read about the JMRI Project being threatened over a patent allegedly being infringed. It's the case of the model train Open Source developer who got a bill for $203,000 for allegedly infringing KAM Industries' patent. I did an article for LWN summarizing the complaint filed by Robert Jacobsen, the hobbyist model train software developer who is seeking a declaratory judgment that he is not infringing.

I'm republishing the article here, because his attorney is asking the community for prior art and some of you might be able to help.


The JMRI Project and software patents

The Right to Create blog has a letter from the attorney, Victoria K. Hall, who is representing Robert Jacobsen, the man who was sent the bill for $203,000 for allegedly infringing patents with his open source model train software. He has struck first, filing a lawsuit himself, Jacobsen v. Katzer et al, charging that the patent was fraudulently obtained and hence is invalid and unenforceable. The complaint also says the patent is invalid on the grounds of obviousness and for failure to meet the written description requirement of 35 U.S.C. Sec. 112.

So, on one side we find an Open Source developer, and, on the other, a guy wielding questionable software patents. Of course, as in all litigation, it's important to keep in mind that nothing is proven by a complaint. It's just the opening salvo, and we haven't yet heard the defendants' side.

Hall is asking the community to look for prior art. Let me tell you a little bit about the case, from the materials in the complaint Jacobsen has filed. It may help you to more effectively find prior art. It will surely motivate you.

The lawsuit

The case is 5:2006cv01905, filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of California, San Francisco Division, for those of you with Pacer accounts. The plaintiff lives there and works at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory of the University of California and he also teaches physics there. He's also a model train hobbyist who has written, with others, open source code called JMRI, or Java Model Railroad Interface, which allows you to control how model trains run on a track. He's the primary developer of the software through the JMRI Project.

Ms. Hall, although located in Maryland, is admitted to practice in California as well as in Maryland state courts and is a patent attorney admitted to practice before the USPTO. Interestingly, she worked in the chemical engineering and software industries for nine years before she went to law school.

The suit is an action for declaratory judgment that Katzer's patent, US Patent No. 6,530,329, called the '329 patent, is "invalid, unenforceable, void and/or not infringed by Plaintiff Jacobsen". What's a declaratory judgment?

Here's US Code Title 28, Ch 151, § 2201, the Declaratory Judgment Act. And here is a definition from Cornell's Legal Information Institute. If someone is threatening to sue you, but hasn't yet, in certain limited circumstances, you can take the initiative rather than waiting for the axe to fall, go to court and in essence say: "This person or this company is threatening to sue me and I need our respective rights with respect to this dispute settled, so this cloud over my or my company's head doesn't ruin my business."

The court doesn't have to hear a request for a declaratory judgment. It has discretion. It's an enabling statute, and your case has to fit into the confines of the Declaratory Judgment Act, namely you have to have an actual "controversy" in the constitutional sense. That means it isn't a hypothetical problem and it isn't moot, meaning, first, that you really have a realistic and reasonable apprehension of actually being sued, and second, that the court can settle your problem with a declaratory judgment. If the judge accepts the dispute, he can issue a declaratory judgment, in which he "declares" what each party's rights are, the idea being that if, for example, he declares that you aren't infringing your adversary's patent, then you can't be sued.

Mr. Jacobsen's complaint is also a complaint for "violation of federal antitrust laws, the Lanham Act, and California Unfair Competition Act and for libel." The Complaint asks for a decree that the defendants Katzer and his company "have attempted to monopolize the market for multi-train control systems software in the United States" in violation of Section 2 of the Sherman Act.

The defendants

The named defendants are Matthew Katzer, KAMIND Associates, Inc. d/b/a KAM Industries, and Kevin Russell. Katzer is a model train hobbyist who has written software code for controlling model trains and is an expert in the field. He has several patents, and the complaint states that Jacobsen believes there are more pending. KAM is Katzer's business, selling products embodying Katzer's patents.

Here's the surprising twist. The third defendant, Kevin Russell, is their lawyer. He works for a firm in Oregon, Chernoff, Vilhauer, McClung & Stenzel. He's now accused of libel, and the court is asked to find against the defendants, jointly and severally, to the tune of $50,000 plus punitive damages.

Russell filed a a request under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, not only accusing Jacobsen of patent infringement, but claiming that the Lab "had sponsored the allegedly infringing JMRI Project's activities." The DOE turned down the request in December of 2005, but not before Jacobsen was embarrassed and had to explain the whole "harassment story," as he describes it, to his boss and the DOE FOIA liaison. The complaint also says it interfered with his work, resulting in a loss of income. The FOIA request, Jacobsen says, caused him embarrassment, particularly because he's "a scientist whose work involves the creation of intellectual property." The complaint continues, saying that Russell knew that the Lab, which has a contract with the U.S. Department of Energy, has nothing to do with the JMRI Project. The defendants made the allegation, says the complaint, "to effect Defendants' goal to embarrass Plaintiff Jacobsen and force him to shut down the JMRI Project and to pay royalties to Defendant KAM."

The patent

According to Jacobson, the basis for claiming that the patent is not valid is the defendant's history of applying for patents on what others invent without telling the patent office about the prior art. Another charge is that Katzer didn't tell the patent office that some of KAM's products "were in public use, published, offered for sale or sold more than 1 year before Defendant Katzer filed the '461 application," which would disqualify them for patent protection. The patent in question, '329, claims the benefit of earlier patent applications' filing dates, '461 being the earliest filed in the chain that '329 issues from.

The complaint lists prior art dating back to the 1986 that it says Katzer ought to have told the USPTO about, since the complaint alleges he knew about them. For example, in late March of 2002, the story continues, the JMRI Project software's client-server capabilities were described in a posting to a public mailing list, which Katzer is on. Then in April 14, 2002, the first version of JMRI with the new capabilities was released for public download and announced on several mailing lists and on the JMRI website. "Three days later, Defendant Katzer filed a patent application tailored to claim the capabilities of the JMRI Project software." Again, the Complaint says, Katzer didn't tell the patent examiner about the JMRI Project.

Jacobsen says he received a letter from KAM in March of 2005, offering to license for $19 per program installed on a computer, saying that JMRI was infringing claim 1 of the '329 patent. Jacobsen says he wrote a letter back asking exactly how he was infringing, and his answer was a letter in August, saying that he was infringing claim 1 and that they were now investigating to see if any other patents were infringed by JMRI. Oh, and the price to license was now $29. The letter also demanded $203,000 for the 7,000 copies already distributed. In October came a bill with finance charges, so the total had risen to more than $206,000. He's gotten bills roughly every month since.

Jacobsen is about to release a new version of his software, and that's why he's asking the Court to bring resolution to the matter, because he believes the defendants will sue him when he releases the new version. He's also asking for redress.

The request

Aside from the declaratory judgments, the antitrust decree, and the libel damages, the Plaintiff is asking for the following:

  • An injunction ordering Defendant Katzer to identify all patents and patents applications filed in the United States and throughout the world, to produce to their respective patent offices all material references discovered through this litigation, and to request re-examination (or the nearest equivalent proceeding outside the U.S.) of any patents issuing from the patent applications.

  • An award of treble damages for the loss of income and other property on the antitrust claim.
  • A decree that Defendants Katzer and KAM have engaged in unlawful, unfair and/or fraudulent business practices in violation of the California Unfair Competition Act, California Business and Professions Code, and an order enjoining them from any future such conduct.

  • An order finding that Katzer cybersquatted on the trademarked name, in violation of the Lanham Act and requiring him to turn the domain name over to Plaintiff Jacobsen.

  • An order enjoining Defendant Katzer and Defendant KAM, and all persons and entities under their direction or control, from engaging in or carrying out any further anti-competitive or bad faith conduct

  • An order referring the matter to the U.S. Attorney's Office for investigation into antitrust violations, perjury, mail fraud, and cancellation proceedings against any patents involved in this litigation, and any related patents.

  • An order awarding costs and attorney's fees as permitted by law, including 35 U.S.C. Section 285.

What you can do

Ms. Hall in her letter asks that no one harass the defendants "through calls, letters, faxes, emails, etc. It does NOT advance the case in Mr. Jacobsen’s favor." What does help is to find prior art. Groklaw just published a basic tutorial on prior art, Prior Art and Its Uses - a Primer, by a patent attorney, Theodore C. McCullough. It might help you.

Here is what Ms. Hall is asking for:

The key date is prior art existing before June 24, 1998, and more importantly, prior art existing before June 24, 1997. The prior art that we are looking for is:

  • A patent or printed publication that described the invention. Source can be from anywhere in the world.

  • Evidence of public use, offer for sale, or sale in the United States. (If it’s from outside the U.S., please make a note and send it so we can follow up.)

  • Evidence of another person inventing the same thing in the U.S. – the invention must not have been suppressed, concealed or abandoned.

  • If the evidence is not the exact invention, then any information (in addition to the evidence) suggesting that the evidence could be combined with something else to successfully make the invention.

Here's her contact information, if you do find prior art. Snail mail is the best, she says. I can't help but point out that had the Peer to Patent Project mentioned in McCullough's article been in place a few years ago, these patents might well have been blocked before they issued, and all this woe could have been prevented. If nothing else, this incident can help us to understand what patents project like that are designed to address.

So, there you have the information and the tools to get started searching for prior art. Happy hunting.


The Model Train Patent Story - Jacobsen v. Katzer et al | 242 comments | Create New Account
Comments belong to whoever posts them. Please notify us of inappropriate comments.
Corrections here.
Authored by: chaz_paw on Monday, May 15 2006 @ 12:27 AM EDT
Corrections here.

Proud SuSE user since 07/26/04


[ Reply to This | # ]

Off Topic here.
Authored by: chaz_paw on Monday, May 15 2006 @ 12:29 AM EDT
Off topic posts are welcome here.

Proud SuSE user since 07/26/04


[ Reply to This | # ]

The Model Train Patent Story - Jacobsen v. Katzer et al
Authored by: WayneStPaul on Monday, May 15 2006 @ 01:18 AM EDT
I sent an e-mail describing the work of Professor John McCormick. He first taught a university level course in 1983 where the assignment was for a team of four students to develop a computer controlled model train layout (that had to be fault tolerent).

He has written many papers on his work. He has not written so much on the model train assignment per se, but on the differences in solutions that his students encountered betwwen using the 'C' programming language and the Ada programming language.

Here is a URL describing his course s.html

Oh, as a humerous note, he had to make a rule for his students. They were not allowed to accept help from students outside the class when developing their software. The first years he offered the course many students voluntered to help simply because they wanted to learn how the trains worked and it looked like fun!

Oh, as a humerous note, he had to make a rule for his students. They were not allowed to accept help from students outside the class when developing their software. The first years he offered the course many students voluntered to help simply because they wanted to learn how the trains worked and it looked like fun!

[ Reply to This | # ]

Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, May 15 2006 @ 01:35 AM EDT
MIT's Tech Model Railroad Club are famous in hacker history:

They've been automating model railways since the 1940s. This would be a good
place to start looking for prior art.

[ Reply to This | # ]

  • TMRC and RMS - Authored by: iceworm on Monday, May 15 2006 @ 02:38 AM EDT
  • TMRC - Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, May 15 2006 @ 11:23 AM EDT
    • No, not quite - Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, May 15 2006 @ 02:41 PM EDT
  • TMRC - Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, May 15 2006 @ 02:22 PM EDT
  • Museum of Science and Industry - Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, May 16 2006 @ 01:00 PM EDT
The Model Train Patent Story - Jacobsen v. Katzer et al
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, May 15 2006 @ 01:59 AM EDT
If we want to go back to basics...

Final Year project

By David Brown, 1975
Polytechnic of Central London (Now University of Westminster)
115, New Cavendish St

This was a project to design the basic control system for a Hornby '00' Train
system using standard off the shelf components (mostly 74 series logic).
It included things like axle counters which are fundamental parts of modern
"Full Size" train control systems.

I would also point out that a few yeqars later, the magazig ETI (Electronics
Today International) published a series of articles on the electronics side of
Train control Systems and how to interface it to a Sinclair ZX81 Computer
There were also project to connect similar devices up to a BBC Micro Computer
around the same time.

[ Reply to This | # ]

hobby mags
Authored by: tleps on Monday, May 15 2006 @ 02:04 AM EDT
I’d have to go hunting, and I’, missing the last decade or so, but have they
gone through and checked old issues of Model Railroader? If I recall correctly
they had several features on how to automate the control systems (and that was
before I started college, circa 1983…). I’m sure they likely had numerous
instructional articles as the personal computer’s developed. Dealing with
“blocks” (how you keep more then one train running on the same track, doing
different things) was always an area of interest to those of us in this hobby.

[ Reply to This | # ]

  • hobby mags - Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, May 15 2006 @ 11:55 AM EDT
The Model Train Patent Story - Jacobsen v. Katzer et al
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, May 15 2006 @ 02:09 AM EDT
I was wondering if companies such as Westinghouse, Siemens, Hitachi etc are also
involved by implication in that they supply train control systems for 1:1 sized
Railway companies around the world?
Would the same 'methods' apply equally to railways no matter what the

[ Reply to This | # ]

The Model Train Patent Story - Jacobsen v. Katzer et al
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, May 15 2006 @ 02:19 AM EDT
What exactly is the patent about?

The USPTO wont let me search for it (fails with
a message that the search page does not exist ?!?!)

[ Reply to This | # ]

SCO is mentioned in exhibit 12 (n/t)
Authored by: ak on Monday, May 15 2006 @ 02:22 AM EDT

[ Reply to This | # ]

about KAMIND
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, May 15 2006 @ 02:37 AM EDT

KAM Industries is a division of KAMIND Associates Inc., which is a Microsoft Certified Partner, according to their homepage, which can be found here.

I'll resist the urge to highlight the M$ connection, and merely comment that whoever wrote their site text probably never bothered to do proof reading - which somehow speaks volumes about their company...

[ Reply to This | # ]

The Model Train Patent Story - Jacobsen v. Katzer et al
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, May 15 2006 @ 04:23 AM EDT
If this is considered prior art, I Didn't look very far

Is this prior art? First released in 1982

[ Reply to This | # ]

Prior art from thirty years ago
Authored by: Chris Lingard on Monday, May 15 2006 @ 05:37 AM EDT

About thirty years ago I worked on a project that used a simulator similar to a model train. They were going to use a genuine model train, but the cost was too high. The train simulator ended up as a model similar to the London tube map, with LEDs indicating carriages, points, stops, and things. The model train enthusiasts were very disappointed. My job was to write the simulator; others worked on the control software; so the prior art and knowledge existed long before cheap home computers were available.

The project was a plant to manufacture motor tyres, and was for export to the then USSR. The system controlled the rail head, and automatically put the various constituents into the correct silo. Also stuff like carbon black had to be recycled, because it will spontaneously combust if left in a silo long enough.

The simulation ran on a computer, and the teams were able to test their software. As a constituent was required an empty carriage was sent to the correct silo, loaded, and sent where required.

[ Reply to This | # ]

What's a "Printed Publication"?
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, May 15 2006 @ 05:58 AM EDT this context. What about Email, websites, newsgroups, blogs etc.? Thank you for any clarification - giafly

Widespread publication doesn't seem needed, for example, "A patent application directed to methods of preparing foods comprising extruded soy cotyledon fiber was rejected because the inventors had presented a printed slide presentation ("Enhancement of Cholesterol-Lowering Activity of Dietary Fibers by Extrusion Processing") at a meeting two years earlier. The poster had printouts of the slides and was displayed for 2 1/2 days at the meeting. A month later, the same poster was presented at an Agriculture Station for less than a day."
Navigat ing the patent maze (blog).

[ Reply to This | # ]

The Model Train Patent Story - Jacobsen v. Katzer et al
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, May 15 2006 @ 06:03 AM EDT
Jacobsen says he wrote a letter back asking exactly how he was infringing, and his answer was a letter in August, saying that he was infringing claim 1...
Has KAM been following the SCO case and their ideas? SCO have refused to be specific over what infringements IBM and Linux have; here KAM wouldn't be specific. It is suspected that due to the lack of specificy, SCO has no case. Can the same be assumed here about KAM?

[ Reply to This | # ]

The Model Train Patent Story - Jacobsen v. Katzer et al
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, May 15 2006 @ 06:08 AM EDT
When I was attending the University of Michigan in the late 70's they had a
model train track to teach control systems principles. I never did take that
course, but it was very popular, always a waiting list, and they did use
software to control stuff. I believe they even had their own programming
language. This is all I know about it.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Magazine titles
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, May 15 2006 @ 06:20 AM EDT
If anyone has access to any back issues of the Railway modelling magazines listed here then you may be in a position to assist with this problem. (The "modelling" section is a bit further down the page)


[ Reply to This | # ]

20 Years Ago?
Authored by: snorpus on Monday, May 15 2006 @ 06:31 AM EDT
When my sons were born in the mid-80s, I of course bought them a model railroad set for them (and myself) to play with.

I remember reading a number of articles by Bruce Chubb, who used a PC to control a large layout, with multiple trains, meets, etc.

73/88 de KQ3T ---
Montani Semper Liberi
Comments Licensed:

[ Reply to This | # ]

The Model Train Patent Story - Jacobsen v. Katzer et al
Authored by: yorkshireman on Monday, May 15 2006 @ 06:52 AM EDT
This 1992 Unenet Thread has lots of useful info including links to articles in various Model Railroader magazine articles from the 80's.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Try this (c)1996!
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, May 15 2006 @ 06:59 AM EDT
The copyright notice at the bottom of this webpage has 1996!

DCC-MB Home Page

Also... I don't have time to check them, however this page has a number of links to home grown solutions. Whether it be actual decoders or systems involving PC's. Other pages on this site also have links to manufacturers, etc. I'm sure they may start to watch with interest.

ADCC's DCC Sources

[ Reply to This | # ]

Jan 25 1990 :rec.railroad:Computer Control & More
Authored by: NZheretic on Monday, May 15 2006 @ 07:02 AM EDT
Jan 25 1990 :rec.railroad:Computer Control & More
SECOND SUBJECT: I have been seriously into computer control of my layout for about two years. Naturally the first attempt, while operable, has pointed up the need for better architecture in the interface. It has been totally successful as far as the areas of sensing, speed control, switch operation, (turnouts), and operating two trains on a single track layout.

The automation kick started about three years ago when I needed some means to operate the turnout at the turn around loops at each end of the single track line. An Infra-red LED/sensor into an LM556 provides the interface and drives a relay which throws the turnout. Contacts on the switch machine handle polarity reversal coming out of the loop. Operation has been faultless and led to the next phase.

The interface between the computer and the railroad begins with a standard RS/232 communication path. Virtually every computer has or can have such a serial data port. Hopefully this choice will aid in not re-inventing the wheel! All interchange of data is in two byte chunks, the first byte being an address, the second byte being a command value(s).

Addresses in a certain range are interpreted as "read sensor" commands, with the value indicating which group is to be read from the matrix. The status of a group of 8 sensors is then echoed back to the computer

Train or car sensing is by means of 32 Infra-Red light emitting diodes and corresponding I-R detectors. (Three-Five Semiconductors: TEMT880B emitter; TDET500B detector. Approx. $2.00 per set thru industrial distributors.) These are arranged in a 4 X 8 matrix and scanned like a computer keyboard, eight bits or sensors at a time. The use of I-R sensors allows all cars as well as locomotives to be "seen" by the computer, thus indicating when a complete train is in the clear at a siding.

The I-R pairs are mounted on opposite sides of the track at about coupler height. They are at a diagonal to the track to minimize seeing the spaces between the cars. Small trackside bushes, junk piles and outbuildings hide the sensors from all but the most searching eyes.

Speed control is by means of a simple 4 bit (16 level) D/A resistor ladder network. This replaces the normal pot in a pulse width type transistor throttle. Smoothing capacitors give a smooth transition between levels. Two throttles are controlled by a single byte, 4 bits each.

Operation of switches, (turnouts), and signal lights, etc, are by transistor drivers and/or relays, driven in turn by a number of latches or registers.

For reasons of simplicity, the present control program is written in BASIC. Contrary to some opinions heard in the past, blinding speed is not needed. Basic has more than ample speed for the monitoring and operation of the trains. This choice was to permit the use of older and simpler, less costly computers. I have used both an old CP/M machine with basic on disc as well as a Commodore 64.

There, I've done it! Someone said we should start writing about what we are doing and stop haggling over whether to split the group.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Feb 1992 :rec.models.railroad : Computer Control of Model Trains
Authored by: NZheretic on Monday, May 15 2006 @ 07:10 AM EDT
Another Usenet thread from 1992 Computer Control of Model Trains contains many references to books and magazines on the subject of higher level interfaces for controling train sets.

[ Reply to This | # ]

This is an enforcable patent?
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, May 15 2006 @ 07:27 AM EDT
Reading the patent i would say this is simple command queueing to serialize
access of several clients to a single resource.
Also mentioned are acknowledge answers and addressing a specific device.

Sorry, but these are the very basics of device handling.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Nothing new under the sun?
Authored by: DaveJakeman on Monday, May 15 2006 @ 07:47 AM EDT
If what is being done here were done to all existing patents, I wonder what
proportion of them would turn out to be valid?

This is definitely a job for "many eyes".

Champagne for my real friends, real pain for my sham friends - Francis Bacon
Should one hear an accusation, try it out on the accuser.

[ Reply to This | # ]

This story is one I find very dear
Authored by: dyfet on Monday, May 15 2006 @ 07:53 AM EDT
The question of computer control of model railroad's is actually a topic very near and dear to me.

It was actually back in 1976, when I was in 8th grade, when I purchased my very first computer, a Kim-I micro from Mostek, and at the time actually did so to control my HO scale trainset.

I eventually used 3x8 TTL decoders (74ls183?) to drive low voltage relays from Radio Shack to trip switches and to control power to isolated track segments. I also at the time experimented with speed control through duty cycle modulation using a triac.

Of course addressing trains by track segments was not particularly efficient and on reflection scaled very poorly. It is nice that these days they have chips for smart engines that can be individually addressed and directly controlled.

A few years later, I guess in 78/79, I bought my second computer, an Ohio Scientific machine, and published several articles soon after, I think in both Micro Journal and Aardvark Technical Journal. I recall one involved patching and extending OS-65U, the disk loader ("operating system" being too ambitious a word to describe OS-65U, but I would say much the same of CP/M) used on OSI systems. I also wrote and sold a game and a 6502 assembler at the time. It is quite possible in at least one of those articles I also published something about my use of computer controlled model trains, although it was no longer my major interest by that time.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Missing the point
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, May 15 2006 @ 08:29 AM EDT
Sorry I mistaked posted this as a reply in the wrong place.

Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, May 15 2006 @ 08:26 AM EDT
The point of the patent isn't computer controlled Model Trains it is computer
controlled model trains that uses a distributed network.

I seem to remember during the mid 90's fad of controlling things over the
internet took hold. So I did a search in usenet for

controlling over internet "model trains"

with the dates limited between 1981 and 1997.

Found this dated April 17th 1993.



which is a teleoperated model layout of a lunar colony. Teleoperated over the

I hope this helps

[ Reply to This | # ]

Model railway simulator
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, May 15 2006 @ 08:38 AM EDT
For many years I had on my office PC a programme which is one of the very few
reasons I regret I no longer have Windows on any PC I own. (This one belongs to
my employer and isn't my choice before anyone inspects headers and accuses me of
lying!). It was sold by Hornby who are the leading model train makers in the UK
and provided a simulation of a Hornby model railway. I can't see how there can
be any intellectual difference between a computer programme that controls a
simulation of a model railway and one that controls an implementation of that
You can find the programme still on sale at Amazon, although its a newer

[ Reply to This | # ]

Claim 1
Authored by: Kevin on Monday, May 15 2006 @ 08:41 AM EDT

Plaintiff is not claiming all methods of operating a model railroad by computer - although he's coming close. From the patent:

1. A method of operating a digitally controlled model railroad comprising the steps of: (a) transmitting a first command from a first program to an interface wherein said first program resides on a first device and said interface resides on a second device; (b) transmitting a second command from a second program to said interface, wherein said second program resides on a third device; and (c) sending third and fourth commands from said interface representative of said first and second commands, respectively, to a digital command station, wherein said digital command station is a fourth device.

In other words, allowing two devices to command an interface box that then commands a digital command station. I'm sure that "device", "digital command station" and "interface" are all terms of art and do not have the same meaning that they have in ordinary English. It could be that the claim is actually broad enough to cover a single-computer interface because you could physically list the interface out of one computer, install it in a second one and send the second command.

I can't post a working link to the patent, because the patent office's search URL's expire after a few minutes. The best I can give you is to go to the search page at and enter the patent number 6,827,023.

73 de ke9tv/2, Kevin (P.S. My surname is not McBride!)

[ Reply to This | # ]

What about the Docklands Light Railway
Authored by: Jonathan Bryce on Monday, May 15 2006 @ 09:32 AM EDT
Based in the Docklands area of London. It is an entirely computer controlled
railway. A real one rather than a model railway, but the principls are much the
same. Presumably they tested it out on a toy railway first.

The details were published for public consultation in 1982, the bill was
presented to parliament in 1983, work started in 1984 and the first line was
opened in 1987. All well before the date of this patent.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Client-Server architecture is the key
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, May 15 2006 @ 10:13 AM EDT
This topic has received a fair amount of discussion, on and off, on the Yahoo
group loconet-hackers - this basically covers use and abuse of Digitrax' Digital
Command Control interfacing network for computer control of model trains. As far
as I can recall this patent story first raised its head about two years ago...

As someone has posted here, the problem is not that computer control as such has
been patentented, rather the use of a client-server architecture for the
software controlling the the model railway. IIRC the consensus on the list was
that the patent was a joke and would not hold up to scrutiny... after all every
control system having a client-server architecture ought to be eligible as prior

So in our prior-art search the trick will be to find client-server architected
control systems, preferably hobby-oriented. Although really the client-server
techniques covered by the patent ought to be blindingly obvious to any back-end

Mark H (whose GL habit is stealing time from the model trains).

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Petition to abolish software patents
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, May 15 2006 @ 10:46 AM EDT

Here is an online petition asking the U.S. government to abolish software patents. I recommend that you read the petition and consider signing it if you are an American.

Petition Against Software Patents

Steve Stites

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The test for obviousness
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, May 15 2006 @ 11:41 AM EDT
Something about "any craftsman sufficiently skilled in the art"?

People have been controlling things over the internet since the internet began.
Since everything else is controlled over the internet, it seems obvious that
someone would want to control a model train over the internet. It also seems to
me that no particularly vexing technical problems had to be solved.

The first computer controlled model train that I am aware of was done as a final
year project by Tom Hall (using a PDP-8 iirc) at Conestoga College in Kitchener,
Ontario in 1973-74. It wasn't published but if there are enough such examples,
doesn't that prove obviousness.

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University of Waterloo Realtime Lab
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, May 15 2006 @ 11:42 AM EDT
Back when I was in university (1989-1994), UW had a lab for the real-time
programming course that was basically a model train and a gazillion motorized
switches and sensors.

I didn't take that course, but I would presume there were many assignments,
tests, etc that were published that may be useable as prior art. Perhaps
tracking down the professors that taught the course would be valuable?

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The Model Train Patent Story - Jacobsen v. Katzer et al
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, May 15 2006 @ 02:34 PM EDT
For example, in late March of 2002, the story continues, the JMRI Project software's client-server capabilities were described in a posting to a public mailing list, which Katzer is on. Then in April 14, 2002, the first version of JMRI with the new capabilities was released for public download and announced on several mailing lists and on the JMRI website. "Three days later, Defendant Katzer filed a patent application tailored to claim the capabilities of the JMRI Project software."

This is an incredible threat to free software. If you have open discussions about a free software project while it is being developed and someone rushes to patent the concepts immediately after hearing about them, you'll need to show prior art from a year before you invented the idea that has been stolen.

Is there no way of protecting yourself from this sort of patent-trolling? Patenting the concepts preemptively doesn't seem like a workable response because of the expense and the impossibility of patenting every unique concept that goes into a piece of software.

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The Model Train Patent Story - Jacobsen v. Katzer et al
Authored by: ThrPilgrim on Monday, May 15 2006 @ 02:53 PM EDT
I'v been trying to remember the name of the manufacture of the controle system
I had as a child on my modle rail way.

IIRC it was the firs comurtial system that allowed you to run 2 trains on the
same segment of track in diffrent directions.

It also allowed you to assign a waight to the train that affected its
acceleration time.

The system allowed you to connect multiple controlers to the central system and
each controler could control any aspect of the system.

I had the modle railway from between being 8 and 16 and as I'm now fast closing
in on 40 it may be relevent.

For some reasion I think it was german.

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The Model Train Patent Story - Jacobsen v. Katzer et al
Authored by: zip1 on Monday, May 15 2006 @ 03:25 PM EDT
he predecessor to this device was know as the CTC-16,
As described in Model Railroader December 1980. The article I have is Written by
Richard C. Kamm and Keith Gutierrez.

It was a 5 part series that started in April of 1980 and this was the last of
the 5 parts. It was built as an all analog system. It Pretty much is described
as it is in the patent but analog vs digital.

Many of the concepts and methods were developed in the CTC-161 system that are
used in the CAM. The difference is analog and ttl circuits vs digital and
programmed at this point.

The system was modified to use a ttl clock circuit to generate clocking pulses
to identify seprate locaomotives. (digital)

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Quick web search...
Authored by: BitOBear on Monday, May 15 2006 @ 03:43 PM EDT
A copmany called CTI electronics
offers downloads of their MS DOS 3.0 version of their train control software.

For that matter here is a
list of all sorts of model railroad clubs and such... but if you scroll about
half-way down the page, there is a whole screen of (old?) products in this same
"invention" space. Many of the links are now dead, but there you go.

I'd put my bets on that cti-electronics place. I mean dos 3.0? That's 1994 at

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Sounds a little familiar!
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, May 15 2006 @ 04:36 PM EDT
I have no idea who's in the right here but *if* it's Jacobsen then it looks like
Katzer picked on the wrong guy.

And he probably doesn't read Groklaw - otherwise he'd know what happens when you
make that mistake.

Ms Hall on the other hand appears to be an afficionado of the Nazgul's preferred
mode of attack, sorry defense, against nuisance lawsuits.


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The Model Train Patent Story - Jacobsen v. Katzer et al
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, May 15 2006 @ 04:43 PM EDT
Back in the late 80's early 90's when the Tandy Color Computer series was
popular under the OS-9 operating system there were several attempts and systems
designed for the control of model train systems. My own COCO UG at the time even
discussed the possibility of building such a system to demonstrate the the real
time multi-tasking of a COCO 3 using OS-9 Level II.

Though we never did it as the PC revolution came into full play at that point
with the advancement of the 486 and Pentium series chips, and Tandy stopped
making the COCO series we did do some research into the project. We did find
many systems and we would have had to build the interfaces ourselves but the
material to do so was plentiful including the schematics and diagrams to build
the electronics. The software was also available as freeware. I no longer have
that information but I will do some digging to see if its still available.


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The BART control system
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, May 15 2006 @ 04:43 PM EDT
BART, the Bay Area Rapid Transit system, is a real railroad that is entirely
computer-controlled. The control system was mainly developed in the 1980s (and
the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory had a hand in it, so he should know about this
prior art - but may not).

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The Model Train Patent Story - Jacobsen v. Katzer et al
Authored by: zip1 on Monday, May 15 2006 @ 05:05 PM EDT
Since we are dealing with these meathods and concepts as applied to Model
Railroading. It can be possible to narrow the scope of this just to that arena.
If that is the case then the orginal standards listed on this page should be

<a href="">Link to
NMRA DDC standards</a> Scroll down to the RP's secion 9.X these are
recommended practices.

Many of these orginal standards date back to the mid 90's or eailier since the
copy write is 1995-2005 National Model Railroad Association

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Authored by: rsteinmetz70112 on Monday, May 15 2006 @ 05:25 PM EDT
What is all about?

Was the plaintiff planing on competing with the defendants hardware business?

Rsteinmetz - IANAL therefore my opinions are illegal.

"I could be wrong now, but I don't think so."
Randy Newman - The Title Theme from Monk

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Model trains at Virgina Tech
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, May 15 2006 @ 06:28 PM EDT

When I was touring Virgina Tech in 1995 as a prospective CS student, I saw a project involving computer-controlled model trains. I think it was really an AI/logistics project of some sort (computer was learning to schedule the switching on its own IIRC) to which the trains were merely a cool accessory, so it may be totally irrelevent. I'm at work so I don't have time to look deeper into this, so I thought I'd throw this tidbit out in case it jogs someones memory...

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A starting point for searches
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, May 15 2006 @ 06:37 PM EDT
If you are doing reserch on digital MRR systems, search on Märklin (or Marklin or Maerklin) and 6050. This was one of the first systems with a dedicated computer interface with a true API. The first system was released in the late 1980's. The 6050 was a separate hardware component that connected to the main internal data bus and collected RS232 input from a PC. If the Patent is broad enough, this might be seen as prior art.

From my MRR group, there is this link. (German would be a help when reading this.) Dr. Koenig Note the copyright dates.

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CS Dept - Melbourne Uni
Authored by: gfim on Monday, May 15 2006 @ 07:49 PM EDT
There was a model train control project in the Department of Computer Science at
the University of Melbourne in the late 1970s/early 1980s. Unfortunately, I
don't remember much about it.


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Has anyone heard from the users of KAM Industries software?
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, May 15 2006 @ 08:08 PM EDT
I read through the postings twice and did not see any postings from the 7,000
claimed users of this particular software.

It would be interesting to hear from them to see if they have any insight on

I also find it strange that damages are not for lost future sales but an 'adder'
to previous sales. Only in America can one come up with novel ways to get rich.

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The Model Train Patent Story - Jacobsen v. Katzer et al
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, May 15 2006 @ 08:14 PM EDT
Back in the *very* early days of 8 bit computers, some of the most common
proposed applications were:

1. Collect recipes

2. Control lighting/electricals in your home


I suggest looking for prior art in the mid to late 70s


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Request URL
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, May 15 2006 @ 08:16 PM EDT
Anybody got the URL of the complaint itself?


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The 2nd Great Train Robbery?
Authored by: mrcreosote on Tuesday, May 16 2006 @ 12:52 AM EDT
Ronnie Biggs would be proud.


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Control Systems
Authored by: davcefai on Tuesday, May 16 2006 @ 01:41 AM EDT
Isn't this a subset of Automatic Control in general.

Computer control of machinery is a general practice. The Control System runs
software which performs "sequencing", ie a set of predefined actions,
modified by the current conditions and state of the plant.

For example "Run Pump 2, modifying the settings of valve 7 to maintain a
temperature of -3 degrees C. If the temperature rises to greater than -2 degrees
C then start Pump 2 and print a message that loop temperature is outside

How can you patent an application of a trivial subset of this?

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  • SCADA - Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, May 16 2006 @ 08:24 AM EDT
    • SCADA link - Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, May 16 2006 @ 08:29 AM EDT
    • SCADA - Authored by: davcefai on Wednesday, May 17 2006 @ 01:41 AM EDT
Big trains vs Model Trains
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, May 16 2006 @ 03:17 AM EDT
Is it only in the area of model trains that this patent applies. If a similar
system is being used on full size trains then is it not obvious that it be
applied to models. Obviousness being one of the things that can defeat a
Just a thought.

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The Model Train Patent Story - Jacobsen v. Katzer et al
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, May 16 2006 @ 11:06 AM EDT
It's generally considered rude (for the most part universally) to speak
derogatorily about people in the third person when they are part of the
conversation. Assume you (and the country you represent) are not intrinsically
rude it should be sufficient to point out the obvious fact that there are
Americans participating in these discussions.

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Seattle's Airport Train
Authored by: SwedishChef on Tuesday, May 16 2006 @ 12:31 PM EDT
The airport for Seattle/Tacoma had two automated trams for moving passengers
from the main terminal to the north and south terminals. These were initiated at
some time in the late 1970s and had no operators or attendents whatsoever. I
don't know if they are still in operation, but they should provide prior art for
automating railways. They operated on a circular track just exactly like a model

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The Model Train Patent Story - Jacobsen v. Katzer et al
Authored by: datakid on Tuesday, May 16 2006 @ 08:58 PM EDT
I am not even close to a lawyer - I know little about Australian law, let alone US law, but surely Stephen Levy's HACKERS : HEROES OF THE COMPUTER REVOLUTION would show prior art?

The reference is even in the first chapter, circa 1959. The Project Gutenburg text of Hackers by Stephen Levy here shows it early - search for "TMRC" - the Tech Model Railway Club. Damn book blew my 12 year old mind back in '88.

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