In the fight against Covid-19, contact tracing apps have so far largely been disappointments — in the United States, at least. Proposed in the spring as a way to help quickly stifle viral outbreaks by tracking down potential exposures using smartphones, they were stunted by technical glitches, concerns over privacy, and the US’s fragmented, haphazard pandemic response. Now, they may become mired in a fight over patents. From a report: The challenge comes from Blyncsy, a Salt Lake City-based maker of software that helps cities gather and analyze mobility data. In recent weeks, the company has sent claims seeking the equivalent of $1 per resident to states that have released or plan to release contact tracing apps, including Pennsylvania, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Virginia. The company holds three patents related to contact tracing. One of them, granted in February 2019, for “tracking proximity relationships and uses thereof,” describes methods of tracking the spread of “contagion” using technology such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and cellular signals. Apps launched by public health agencies during the Covid-19 pandemic infringe upon it, the company says.
In April, Blyncsy launched a portal for others to request a license for its technology and submit plans for a privacy review. That was shortly after Google and Apple jointly announced an effort to get contact tracing technology in the hands of state and national governments, using Bluetooth features on the companies’ smartphones. Blyncsy did not get any takers. “State governments have taken it upon themselves to roll out a solution in their name in which they’re using our property without compensation,” says Blyncsy CEO Mark Pittman. He describes the current crop of contact tracing apps as “fly-by-night” efforts and says his patent fight is driven by concerns about their privacy and effectiveness, not an attempt to profit.
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