A Patent For Geotagging IP Packets Raises Important Internet Law Questions (Guest Blog Post)

16 01 2018

by guest blogger Marketa Trimble

On September 12, 2017, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issued a patent on a technology that could significantly affect the functioning of the internet and the course of internet-related law and policy, and achieve an ultimate territorialization[FN] of the internet.

[FN: “Territorialization” is the action of territorializing, i.e. “mak[ing] (something) territorial; to organize on a territorial basis; to associate with or restrict to a particular territory or district.” Oxford English Dictionary, 3d ed., 2011.]

Patent US 9,762,683 B2 covers the “use of packet header extension for geolocation/geotargeting.” The patented technology should enable the insertion of geolocation information into an IPv6 packet and the transmission of that geotagged IPv6 packet into a communication network.

Packets are the carriers of data on the internet; they consist of user data (a payload), and also of control information about where the data should go (a header). A packet identifies its sender and addressee by their IP addresses but (currently) does not include any information about the sender’s or addressee’s physical location (geolocation); while IP addresses may indicate, generally, a geographical location, they are not an exact and perfectly reliable determinant of the location – for reasons that include, among other things, the possibility of spoofing IP addresses.

The patented technology makes it possible to tag packets with information about the physical location of the sender’s device; the location could be determined based on various data from the sender’s device, such as “a GPS, cellular or other source.”


[Eric’s note: I have a strong view on that normative question, and I wrote a brief post about it in 2007.]

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