SMI Back With U.S.-Approved Patent

When the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 2006 rejected Software Management Inc.'s attempt to patent widely deployed meetings technologies and processes, many in the industry breathed a sigh of relief. However, the collective gasp returned last month after the U.S. approved a meetings technology and process patent that the Pittsburgh-based firm claims others in the industry infringe.

SMI president Jennifer Reichenbach in an e-mail exchange this month with MeetingNews said, "We do believe that some technology in the industry infringes on our patent. SMI intends to carefully evaluate a variety of strategic options but also plans to continue to enhance our products in the marketplace using our proprietary technology."

Though it's not clear what actions SMI intends to take or which specific technologies may run afoul of the company's patent, the fallout could be significant. "There are 200 or 300 attendee management solutions or online registration solutions out there, and probably 98 percent of them were started after the patent was filed," said Corbin Ball, president of meetings consultancy Corbin Ball Associates.

Echoing criticisms shouted for years by others in the industry that the company's innovation lies primarily in legal maneuvering, not in new technology, Ball said, "The thing that bugs me about it is they didn't create anything. They just saw a good idea and said, 'OK, we're going to patent it.' I've philosophically been opposed, and I don't think it's a good thing for the industry for them to have that."

Since then-CEO Paul Franke in 2001 filed the patent that covered online communication between meeting organizers and attendees—including event registration, group hotel booking, marketing and virtual trade shows— SMI's claim has concerned many in the meetings industry, as the company staked rights to common technological processes for online meetings management.

With the patent—entitled "A Method and System for Conducting a Plurality of Cyber- Based Conventions," issued on Sept. 15—now in hand, the company could force industry groups or third-party providers to pay licensing fees or face the consequences of patent infringement.

Though SMI said most of the concepts covered in the patent already have been deployed in SMI offerings, the firm said it "now holds exclusive patent rights to their highly effective software application which is essential for online conventions in the destination management industry."

Originally published Oct. 19, 2009