Adi from EFF writes, "Engine Advocacy worked with artist Kirby Ferguson (of Everything is a Remix fame) to create this great primer on patent trolls. It beautifully and succinctly lays out the patent problem, which is one of the hottest topics on the Hill right now. EFF, Public Knowledge, and Engine are pushing for people to call their senators to demand strong patent reform, and we have a handy tool at fixpatents.org for all you to do so!"
Here's a reading (MP3) of a my November, 2013 Locus column, Collective Action, in which I propose an Internet-enabled "Magnificent Seven" business model for foiling corruption, especially copyright- and patent-trolling. In this model, victims of extortionists find each other on the Internet and pledge to divert a year's worth of "license fees" to a collective defense fund that will be used to invalidate a patent or prove that a controversial copyright has lapsed. The name comes from the classic film The Magnificent Seven (based, in turn, on Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai) in which villagers decide one year to take the money they'd normally give to the bandits, and turn it over to mercenaries who kill the bandits.
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Personal Audio is a patent troll that claims to own the process of sending audio around because they bought a patent from a guy who read Scientific American articles onto cassette tapes and sent them through the mail (seriously!). The Electronic Frontier Foundation is seeking to invalidate this patent -- which Personal Audio is using to shake down all kinds of indie podcasters for protection money -- using a new, cheaper, streamlined process.
Personal Audio is fighting dirty. They've filed an expensive lawsuit outside of the patent proceeding, and subpoenaed the names and personal details of everyone who donated to the campaign against their patent, purely to raise the price of adjudicating their patent and to intimidate podcasters who gave to the litigation fund rather than paying off Personal Audio.
EFF is fighting back. At stake is the process that is supposed to fix one tiny corner of the patent quagmire -- if Personal Audio's tactic succeeds, it will kill Congress's patent-fix dead.
The Juelsgaard Intellectual Property and Innovation Clinic at Stanford Law School has offered free counsel to anyone who's worried about the subpoena.
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We happened to swing by the Electronic Frontier Foundation's office the same day the digital rights organization filed a challenge to Personal Audio's podcast patent suits. Thankfully, Julie Samuels (a Senior Staff Attorney and Mark Cuban Chair to Eliminate Stupid Patents for the EFF) and her dog Daley took the time to meet with us.
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Patent trolls are mushrooming all over the world, thriving on the billions that they're able to extract from productive companies with their absurd patents and transparent extortion attempts. One of the only defenses society has against these parasites is the rare, clueful judge. Enter Judge William Alsup, who made history in the Oracle v Google shitshow, when his experience actually writing code let him see through Oracle's bizarre arguments and cut to the heart of the argument.
Now Alsup is back in the saddle, hearing a case involving "Network Protection Sciences," a troll who tried to engineer a hearing in the notorious East Texas courtroom that is the most favorable venue for trolling litigation, by renting out a closet in the area as its "offices" and naming the building's real-estate broker as the company's "director of business development." Alsup saw right through this, and required the trolls to explain, in fine detail, the workings of their "Mr. Sham" operation.
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Patent trolls Lumen View: "Calling us patent trolls is a hate crime, now you owe us even more money"
Doubleclick co-founder Kevin O'Connor's new business is a company called Find the Best, and it's attracted a legal threat from a patent troll called Lumen View, who assert a patent over "multilateral decision making" (it appears they've collected some big paydays from various dating and job-finding sites with this one). Rather than settle, O'Connor's pledged $1M of his own money to fight the patent, and has filed a countersuit alleging that Lumen View violates the RICO organized crime statute.
In response, Lumen has sent a threat to O'Connor, saying that calling them patent trolls is a "hate crime" ("I didn't know patent trolls were a protected class" - O'Connor) and threatening to seek criminal charges if O'Connor doesn't pay them a bunch of money and apologize.
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Trolling Effects is a new clearinghouse for information about patent trolls, inspired by the excellent Chilling Effects, which meticulously tracks bogus takedown and censorship efforts. Trolling Effects will track legal threats and extortionate demands from patent trolls, establishing the first really good look at the scope of the problem. It was created as a joint effort between the Electronic Frontier Foundation and several other organizations; and they want your patent-threat letters to help them build the record; they will keep the important details private, and your contribution will help keep the momentum up to end patent-trolling.
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After a reign of terror lasting nearly two decades, the patent troll Eolas has been brought low. Its bullshit patent on "interactive features" of the Web -- which was filed six years after Tim Berners-Lee actually invented the stuff it laid claim to -- was used to suck millions out of companies from Microsoft to Yahoo and Amazon. A judge has ruled what everyone knew -- the patents were without merit and the lawsuits were just money-spinners for "inventors" whose only product was litigation. Good riddance, Eolas, and see you in Hell.
Under Doyle's conception of his own invention, practically any modern website owed him royalties. Playing a video online or rotating an image on a shopping website were "interactive" features that infringed his patents.
And unlike many "patent trolls" who simply settle for settlements just under the cost of litigation, Doyle's company had the chops, the lawyers, and the early filing date needed to extract tens of millions of dollars from the accused companies.
Eolas had kept filing lawsuits even after its trial loss, with cases against Disney, ESPN, ABC, Facebook, and Wal-Mart on hold awaiting the outcome of this appeal; those are all but doomed. Those lawsuits had asserted the two invalidated patents as well as two new ones, but the two newer patents both incorporate Eolas' first patent.
The Web’s longest nightmare ends: Eolas patents are dead on appeal [Joe Mullin/Ars Technica]
Writing in The New Yorker, Tim Wu calls for "total war on patent trolls" and lays out a roadmap for attacking the extortionists who are costing the US economy a reported $30B/year by extorting license fees for patents that never should have been issued and don't cover what the patent trolls say they cover.
There are good laws in place that could fight trolls, but they sit largely unused. First are the consumer-protection laws, which bar “unfair or deceptive acts and practices.” Some patent trolls, to better coerce settlement, purposely misrepresent matters such as the strength of their patents, the extent of other settlements, and their actual willingness to litigate. Second, there are plenty of remedies available under the unfair-competition laws. Some trolls work by aggregating an enormous number of patents, and then present the threat that one of their thousands of patents might actually be valid. The creation of these portfolios for trolling may be “agreements in restraint of trade” under Section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act, or they may “substantially lessen competition” under the Clayton Antitrust Act. More generally, the methods of the trolls are hardly what you would call ordinary methods of competition; they should be considered, rather, what the Federal Trade Commission calls “unfair methods of competition” under Section 5 of the F.T.C. Act. The Commission has the power to define and punish methods of business that are inherently harmful with few or no redeeming benefits, and that’s what trolling is. Finally, it is possible that the criminal laws barring larceny and schemes to defraud may cover the conduct of some trolls.
This week, This American Life revisits the question of patents (a subject they did a very good job with in 2011), a move sparked by the attempt to shake down podcasters for patent royalties for a ridiculously overbroad patent from a company that went bust recording magazine articles to cassette and putting them in the mail. The new episode revisits the main stories raised in the earlier broadcast (don't worry, it stands alone), and does a remarkable job of making the case for substantive patent reform -- and pierces the veil on Intellectual Ventures, Nathan Myrvold's notorious patent-troll-that-insists-it-isn't-a-troll.
NPR reporter Laura Sydell and This American Life producer/Planet Money co-host Alex Blumberg tell the story of Intellectual Ventures, which is accused of being the largest of the patent trolls. Executives at Intellectual Ventures insist they are not trolls, but rather, promoters of innovation. They buy patents from struggling inventors, which encourages those inventors to go out and invent more stuff. Intellectual Ventures offers an example of such an inventor, a man named Chris Crawford. But when Laura and Alex try and talk to Chris Crawford, it leads them on a long search, culminating in a small town in Texas, where they find a hallway full of seemingly empty offices with no employees.
A couple of months ago we wrote that podcasting was under threat from a patent troll. At that time, a patent troll named Personal Audio LLC had sued three podcasters and sent demand letters to a number of others. Since then, Personal Audio has filed two new lawsuits—this time against CBS and NBC. It has also sent additional demand letters to small podcasting operations. We’ve written often in the past about how patent trolls are a drain on innovation, and this latest troll is no exception. Since many podcasters barely make a profit, or simply do it for love, a shakedown from a patent troll threatens to shut down their program.
As with so many patent troll cases, the troll is asking for money despite having contributed nothing to the industry. By its own admission, Personal Audio tried and failed at its attempt to make an audio player. Having failed at actually making something, it became a shell company that does nothing but sue on its patents. And now it wants a handout from those who worked hard to create popular podcasts.
Vermont has passed a state-level law that allows companies to sue patent trolls who make deceptive claims in legal threats against them, and has used it to sue the notorious trolls at MPHJ, who say that anyone who scans a document over a network owes them $1000. However, it's not clear that the law will stand, as this is arguably federal jurisdiction.
The new law, believed to be the first in the nation, allows courts to consider if a claim is deceptive, specifies factors that can be considered as evidence, and provides for damages or relief to Vermont companies wrongly pressured into paying licensing fees or a settlement. The Vermont attorney general also can conduct civil investigations and bring civil action against violators.
"This bill will help to protect our good Vermont businesses from unscrupulous patent trolls who take advantage of them through bad faith claims of patent infringement. It will help us grow jobs," the governor said...
...Coinciding with the new law, the state filed a lawsuit Wednesday accusing a Delaware company of patent trolling. The attorney general's office sued Wilmington-based MPHJ Technology Investments and its 40 subsidiary companies operating in Vermont.
The office alleged that MPHJ claimed to have a patent on the process of scanning documents and attaching them to emails via a network and that MPHJ sent letters making deceptive statements to small businesses in Vermont, demanded money, and threatened litigation over licensing fees
Vt Gov Signs Novel Law Against False Patent Claims [Lisa Rathke/Associated Press]