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Articles by Robert Schaeffer

Misadventures in Mail Censorship

by K. Robert Schaeffer

How an incarcerated writer is fighting a sad new normal of censorship and mail obstruction in Pennsylvania prisons

This essay originally appeared in Inquest on October 19, 2023. The original can be found at

From August into September 2018, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PADOC) ...

Federal Courts Throw Out Smart Communications’ Mail-Scanning Patent

by K. Robert Schaeffer

On October 7, 2022, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee granted judgment on the pleadings to Rutherford County and VendEngine, Inc., the contractor that digitizes prisoner mail in its jail, in a suit filed by Smart Communications that alleged infringement of its patented rival digitization service, MailGuard. In its decision, the Court found the MailGuard patent “invalid because it is not directed to patent-eligible subject matter.” See: HLFIP Holding, Inc. v. Rutherford Cty., 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 184056 (M.D. Tenn.).

The decision mirrors an earlier ruling by the federal court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, which also decided that MailGuard was “patent ineligible” on April 22, 2022. In that case, Smart Communications sued the York County Prison for engaging rival mail-scanning service TextBehind, claiming its service infringed on the MailGuard patent.

Smart Communications, founded and run by CEO Jon Logan, emerged on the prison industrial landscape in 2009 primarily as a provider of electronic messaging to county jails. Since then it has expanded its communications service offerings to include phone calls, virtual visits, tablets, kiosks, digital media – and scanning incoming mail, ostensibly to prevent the introduction of contraband.

The ...