Boing Boing 

EFF challenges bogus 3D printing patents

Earlier this month, the Electronic Frontier Foundation asked the US Patent and Trademark Office to turn down six broad, bogus patents on 3D printing that could pave the way for even more patent-trolling on the emerging field of 3D printing. They worked with the Cyberlaw Clinic at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society and Ask Patents, as well as with its own supporters to gather evidence on the prior art that invalidates these applications. It's part of a larger project to systematically challenge patents in emerging fields -- next up is mesh networks -- providing a layer of vigilance and common sense atop the reckless and indifferent patent office.

Here are copies of what we submitted to the Patent Office. The good news is that so far, the Patent Office has accepted our submissions (because of that, if you're thinking of making your own preissuance submissions, you might want to use these as a model). Now we wait to see whether our input influences the examiners.

* Fabrication of Non-Homogeneous Articles Via Additive Manufacturing Using Three-Dimensional Voxel-Based Models

* Build Materials and Applications Thereof

* Method for Generating and Building Support Structures With Deposition-Based Digital Manufacturing Systems

* Process for Producing Three-Dimensionally Shaped Object and Device for Producing Same (Ask Patents request for prior art)

* Additive Manufacturing System and Method for Printing Customized Chocolate Confections (Ask Patents request for prior art)

* Ribbon Filament and Assembly for Use in Extrusion-based Digital Manufacturing Systems (Ask Patents request for prior art)

Our work doesn’t stop here. Next we’re going to investigate a number of pending applications that impact mesh networking technology—another area with an extremely active open development community and with tremendous potential. We’ll be asking you to help us again soon. Stay tuned!

Just one more way that EFF is making the future a better one.

EFF and Partners Challenge Six 3D Printing Patent Applications

Paying patent trolls off makes you complicit in the next round of extortion

Joel Spolsky's editorial on patent trolls is fabulous. As he points out, the developers who pay relatively small sums to make patent trolls just go away are part of the problem, and complicit in the next round of extortion. Paying mobsters keeps them viable, and able to attack new victims:

In the face of organized crime, civilized people don’t pay up. When you pay up, you’re funding the criminals, which makes you complicit in their next attacks. I know, you’re just trying to write a little app for the iPhone with in-app purchases, and you didn’t ask for this fight to be yours, but if you pay the trolls, giving them money and comfort to go after the next round of indie developers, you’re not just being “pragmatic,” you have actually gone over to the dark side. Sorry. Life is a bit hard sometimes, and sometimes you have to step up and fight fights that you never signed up for.

Civilized people don’t pay up. They band together, and fight, and eliminate the problem. The EFF is launching a major initiative to reform the patent system. At Stack Exchange, we’re trying to help with Ask Patents, which will hopefully block a few bad patents before they get issued.

The Application Developers Alliance (of which I am currently serving as the chairman of the board) is also getting involved with a series of Developer Patent Summits, a nationwide tour of 15 cities, which will kick off a long term program to band together to fight patent trolls. Come to the summit in your city—I’ll be at the San Francisco event on April 9th—and find out what you can do to help.

The Patent Protection Racket (via Copyfight)

HTML5's overseer says DRM's true purpose is to prevent legal forms of innovation

Ian Hickson, the googler who is overseeing the HTML5 standard at the W3C, has written a surprisingly frank piece on the role of DRM. As he spells out in detail, the point of DRM isn't to stop illegal copying, it's to stop legal forms of innovation from taking place. He shows that companies that deploy DRM do so in order to prevent individuals, groups and companies from innovating in ways that disrupt their profitability:

The purpose of DRM is to give content providers leverage against creators of playback devices.

Content providers have leverage against content distributors, because distributors can't legally distribute copyrighted content without the permission of the content's creators. But if that was the only leverage content producers had, what would happen is that users would obtain their content from those content distributors, and then use third-party content playback systems to read it, letting them do so in whatever manner they wanted.

Here are some examples:

A. Paramount make a movie. A DVD store buys the rights to distribute this movie from Paramount, and sells DVDs. You buy the DVD, and want to play it. Paramount want you to sit through some ads, so they tell the DVD store to put some ads on the DVD labeled as "unskippable".

Without DRM, you take the DVD and stick it into a DVD player that ignores "unskippable" labels, and jump straight to the movie.

This is the first third of my recent Guardian column, What I wish Tim Berners-Lee understood about DRM, but there's two other important points to make, apropos the W3C:

Read the rest

Android developer fights evil patent troll

Katie sez, "The video profiles software developer Austin Meyer, who is the target of a patent troll lawsuit involving a company called Uniloc, which owns a patent for the "System and Method for Preventing Unauthorized Access to Electronic Data." Meyer's flight simulator app X-Plane, like most paid applications on the Android market, uses the authorization system. Uniloc purchased the patent in question at a bankruptcy proceeding. Despite the enormous risk, and the enormous cost just to defend against a patent suit, Meyer is resolved to do so. The broader point of the video is that something needs to be done to stop patent trolls from simply buying patents in order to intimidate innovators into paying them a settlement. Patent trolls are a huge tax on innovation and add nothing to the marketplace."

How Patent Trolls Kill Innovation (Thanks, Katie!)

The patents that'll make 3D printing suck

Wired's got a roundup of evil patents that are going to make 3D printing expensive and barren of innovation for years to come. There's even a business-model patent in there. Ick. (On the plus side, there are a couple that are close to expiring)

Anatomy of a patent troll who wants $1000 from every scanner user in America: patents are totally, utterly broken

Joe Mullin's Ars Technica piece, "Patent trolls want $1,000—for using scanners," is an excellent, blood-boiling piece detailing the ease with which the US patent system can be used for pure extortion. A company -- its identity is shrouded in mystery and hidden behind several layers of obfuscation -- has a series of junk-patents allegedly covering any time anyone scans a document over a network and attaches the scan to an email. That may not, in fact, be what the patents say, but they're written in such absolutely tortured fashion that it's impossible to say.

The company -- and its many alphnumerical subsidiaries -- send invoices to small and medium business, threatening to sue them if they don't pay a per-employee license fee. Any company that fights risks having to pay triple damages for "willful infringement," though the companies that do fight win -- the patents are garbage, there's tons of invalidating prior art. But they still have to pay thousands in legal fees for the privilege of fending off these creeps.

When patent-troll apologists tell you that the patent system is necessary to protect "invention," ask them why the acceptable cost for this protection is allowing any unscrupulous scumbag to use the court system to extract windfalls from productive companies on the basis of having claimed to invented commonplace, existing, obvious technologies.

Vicinanza was able to get in touch with several other Project Paperless targets, suggesting that Project Paperless lawyers were indeed targeting companies based on the list.

Reactions to the letters varied. “Without question, some people were livid,” said Vicinanza. “Some of the smaller ones were scared out of their wits, in addition to being livid.”

Some were ready to fight back, while others had no intention of doing so. One mid-sized Atlanta business in the process of being acquired by a major Silicon Valley tech company paid the Project Paperless demand, no questions asked. Some companies just ignored the letters; others talked to an attorney. It isn’t clear the companies that did speak to their lawyers about the situation actually fared better.

“The patent attorneys typically have a whole different set of objectives,” said Vicinanza. “Now they’re in settlement mode. If the company does end up getting sued and the lawyer said ‘ignore them,’ a company could find themselves paying treble damages. Even my attorneys told me, settle it, you’re crazy to fight.”

Patent trolls want $1,000—for using scanners [Joe Mullin/Ars Technica]

EFF creates the "Mark Cuban Chair to Eliminate Stupid Patents"

Broadcast.com founder Mark Cuban and Minecraft creator Markus Persson have donated $500,000 to the Electronic Frontier Foundation to endow the "Mark Cuban Chair to Eliminate Stupid Patents," which will be occupied by an attorney tasked with hunting down and destroying crappy patents that have been recklessly granted by the US Patent and Trademark Office to unscrupulous "inventors" who claim to have invented things that were obvious and/or already extant; and to pay for activists to fight for substantive patent reform:

Cuban's $250,000 donation also funds the hire of a new attorney experienced in patent reform and high profile patent litigation: Daniel Nazer, who will join EFF in January as a Staff Attorney. The rest of EFF's seasoned intellectual property team includes Intellectual Property Director Corynne McSherry, Senior Staff Attorney Kurt Opsahl, and Staff Attorney Mitch Stoltz. The team is also assisted by EFF fellows Michael Barclay and Jason Schultz.

Persson's separate donation of $250,000 cements EFF's ability to tackle the systemic problems with software patents. With a blend of lawyers, technologists, and activists, EFF will push for reform in the courts, through activism campaigns, and by educating the public and politicians about what is wrong with software patents and what needs to change.

"Temporary fixes aren't good enough – we need deep and meaningful reform to protect software development and keep it as free and democratic as possible," said Persson, creator of the popular videogame Minecraft. "New games and other technological tools come from improving on old things and making them better – an iterative process that the current patent environment could shut down entirely. This is a dangerous path we're on, and I'm glad to help EFF move us in the right direction."

EFF Patent Project Gets Half-Million-Dollar Boost from Mark Cuban and 'Notch'

Canadians: write to Parliament about keeping generic pharma available to poor countries

Dave Ng writes, "Tomorrow, the Government of Canada will go through the second reading of Bill C-398. This is essentially important discussion over the fate of a law that would allow a measured approached for the production of life saving generic medicines within Canada. These generics are life saving in the sense that with this law in place, meds that are needed but currently far too costly in developing world economies (due to patent protection) can reach those who dignity, and frankly their lives, are at stake. I've written about this before, but have updated this piece to reflect the current policy situation. I strongly feel all Canadians should read about this Bill. My post starts:

Dear Canadians:

On Wednesday, a very important piece of policy will be discussed in parliament. It's called Bill C-398 and it deserves our attention. It seems that it has been challenging for some to see its merits, and so, I'd like to take moment to clarify what it's all about. It turns out that it's not just important -- the narrative is compelling as well: it has a rich history of political intrigue; it is a story where viruses factor in prominently; it has a plot that involves armies of angry grandmothers; and above it all, learning about Bill C-398 can literally save lives.

If you agree with the sentiment of the piece, he strongly urges you to sign this quick petition, which in turn is sent to the folks in Parliament who need to hear your voice.

A moment of your time: about Bill C-398 and how Canadians can contribute to global health (Thanks, Dave!)

Fact-checking US patent-boss's defense of his job



This week, David Kappos, head of the US Patent and Trademark Office, gave a speech at the Center for American Progress where he dismissed critics of the patent system, telling them to "give it a rest already." He insisted that his office was doing a great job, and was the center of American innovation, citing various stats to back up his claim.

On Ars Technica, Timothy Lee does a masterful job of fact-checking the patent boss's claims, driving a Mack truck through the logical flaws in his argument:

"Our patent system is the envy of the world," Kappos said. In his view, the key question in the patent debate is "do we demand today's innovation on the cheap via a weaker patent system that excludes subject matter, or do we moderate today's consumption with a strong patent system so our children enjoy greater innovations?"

This argument ducks the central question in the software patent debate: do patents, in fact, provide a net incentive for innovation in the software industry? Many entrepreneurs say that just the opposite is true: that the disincentive to innovation created by the threat of patent litigation dwarfs any positive incentive effects created by the ability for a firm to get patents of its own.

Empirical evidence backs this up. For example, in a 2008 book, the researchers James Bessen and Michael Meurer found that for nonchemical patents, the costs of patent litigation began to exceed the benefits of holding patents in the 1990s. Software and business patents were particularly prone to litigation.

More recent research has estimated that litigation by patent trolls costs the economy at least $29 billion per year, and that figure may be as high as $83 billion.

US patent chief to software patent critics: "Give it a rest already"

Steven Levy on the patent wars


Steven Levy's Wired magazine feature on the cancerous multiplication of patents has all the hallmarks of Levy's work: excellent, eminently readable, human-scale tech reporting that makes important issues comprehensible.

The rise of trolls came as a result of a court system that seemed to favor them every step of the way. The vagueness of the underlying patents, the ridiculous ease with which plaintiffs could file a suit, the high costs defendants faced, and the unthinkable consequences of losing—all created an environment in which trolls were routinely rewarded for filing frivolous suits. But by the late 2000s, courts and the legislature began slowly chipping away at these factors. In 2003 a company called MercExchange successfully sued eBay over the provenance of its Buy It Now button. When eBay appealed, MercExchange took the common step of asking for an injunction against the defendant, which would have barred eBay from using the disputed technology as long as the case remained open. This was intended to prevent firms from profiting unfairly from someone else’s invention. But all too often it further pressured companies to settle quickly so they could go back to business. Courts could be quick to grant such injunctions, but when the issue came before the Supreme Court in 2006, the justices determined that more care should be taken with that drastic step. This precedent made it harder for challengers to threaten a defendant’s entire business.

The Patent Problem

(Image: Brock Davis)

Microsoft patents spying on you with your TV's camera and fining you if there are too many people watching

Kotaku's Luke Plunkett delves into a newly disclosed Microsoft patent that covers spying on people in their homes using cameras attached to their TVs, in order to levy fines against them for allowing too many people to watch movies at once:

Basically, when you buy or rent something like a movie, you’ll only be granted a “license” for a certain number of people to watch it. If Kinect detects more people in the room than you had a licence for, it can stop the movie, and even charge you extra. So if Microsoft has its way, you won’t just be renting movies any more. You’ll have to decide how many people are watching, and no doubt pay more. And if one extra person turns up to your movie night? So help you God, you are going to pay.

Of course, big companies patent all sorts of stupid ideas, many of which never get incorporated into products. But hey, now you know that researchers at Microsoft sit around spitballing ideas like, "Wouldn't it be awesome to spy on our customers in their homes so that we could fine them for having too many people over to watch movies? Wonder if anyone is Hollywood would give us preferential access to movies if we could promise them that they could do nose-counts of people in their own homes?"

This Kinect Patent Is Terrifying, Wants To Charge You For License Violation

End software patent wars by making it always legal to run code on a general-purpose computer - Richard Stallman

Writing in a special Wired series on patent reform, Free Software Foundation founder Richard Stallman proposes to limit the harms that patents do to computers, their users, and free/open development by passing a law that says that running software on a general purpose computer doesn't infringe patents. In Stallman's view, this would cut through a lot of the knottier problems in patent reform, including defining "software patents;" the fact that clever patent lawyers can work around any such definition; the risks from the existing pool of patents that won't expire for decades and so on. Stallman points out that surgeons already have a statutory exemption to patent liability -- performing surgery isn't a patent violation, even if the devices and techniques employed in the operation are found to infringe. Stallman sees this as a precedent that can work to solve the problem. Though it seems to me that it might be easier to define "performing surgery" than "operating a general purpose computer."

This approach doesn’t entirely invalidate existing computational idea patents, because they would continue to apply to implementations using special-purpose hardware. This is an advantage because it eliminates an argument against the legal validity of the plan. The U.S. passed a law some years ago shielding surgeons from patent lawsuits, so that even if surgical procedures are patented, surgeons are safe. That provides a precedent for this solution.

Software developers and software users need protection from patents. This is the only legislative solution that would provide full protection for all.

We could then go back to competing or cooperating … without the fear that some stranger will wipe away our work.

Let’s Limit the Effect of Software Patents, Since We Can’t Eliminate Them

(Image: DSC09309, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from 25734428@N06's photostream)

Patent on a method for exercising a cat

When you pull out a laser pointer and get your cat to chase the dot of light around your house*, you are using a patented method of cat exercise. The rights are owned by Kevin Amiss and Martin Abbott (both of Virginia), who patented it in the early 1990s. In the abstract, they describe this method of cat exercise as:

A method for inducing cats to exercise consists of directing a beam of invisible light produced by a hand-held laser apparatus onto the floor or wall or other opaque surface in the vicinity of the cat, then moving the laser so as to cause the bright pattern of light to move in an irregular way fascinating to cats, and to any other animal with a chase instinct.

In other words, they own the rights on doing this with ferrets, as well.

This might also be a good time to note an NPR story from this week, which documents IBM and Halliburton attempting to patent the process of patent trolling.

Method of exercising a cat: United States Patent 5443036

*Fact: This game becomes more fun if you have a rug. Just run the light up to the edge of the rug and then turn it off. The cat will become convinced that the little red light has gone under said rug and you will get to amuse yourself watching your cat try to lift the corner of something heavy without the use of opposable thumbs.

Thanks, Sam Ley!

Image: Gotcha!, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from drregor's photostream

RIM hit with $147.2 million patent verdict

Days after CEO Thorsten Heins promised that Research In Motion was not "in a death spiral," it lost a patent litigation case filed by Mformation, maker of remote wireless management software. The jury awarded Mformation $147.2m.

The verdict on Friday in a San Francisco federal court comes at a bad time for RIM, whose stock has fallen more than 70 percent in the past year as customers abandon the BlackBerry in favor of Apple's iPhone and a slew of devices using Google Inc's Android software. Amar Thakur, an attorney for Mformation, said the jury directed RIM to pay an $8 royalty for every BlackBerry device connected to RIM's enterprise server software, which brings the total award to $147.2 million. The verdict only covers U.S. sales through trial, Thakur said, and not future or foreign damages.

When people use the term "death spiral", it implies the existence of a useful aerodynamic characteristic influencing the descent. RIM's looks more like a death plunge.

Big Pharma gives Oxy to kids, gets an extra six months of patent monopoly

Purdue Pharma is testing OxyContin on children six and up. Oxy's gonna go out of patent some day, and shut down Purdue's gravy train. But if they test it on kids -- even it's never approved for use on kids! -- the folks at the FDA will extend their patent by another six months. "Dr. Elliot Krane, director of pain management at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford University" says "They are doing (the pediatric trial) for patent exclusivity, there’s no doubt about it in my mind.... That’s important for their bottom line." (via Techdirt)

Apple loses UK patent battle

In the UK, Taiwan's HTC challenged four Apple patents covering "slide to unlock" and other touchscreen-related features. The High Court agreed today, describing them as either too obvious, or foreshadowed by earlier patents. Analysts expect the outcome to significantly influence the many other patent battles taking place between Apple and its competitors worldwide.

Defend Innovation: EFF's patent reform plan


Hugh sez, "Today, EFF launched a new campaign against software patents. In this campaign, we outline seven proposals that we think will address some of the greatest abuses of the current software patent system, including making sure that folks who independently arrived at an invention can’t be held liable for infringing on a software patent. But our campaign isn't just about our proposals — we also want to hear, and amplify, the views of the technical community. Many engineers, researchers, and entrepreneurs have suggested that reform is not enough and that software should not be patentable, period. We want to record these views, which is why our Defend Innovation campaign is designed to solicit comments from all of the stakeholders. We'll incorporate what we learn into a formal publication that we can take to Congress that reflects the views of innovators, academics, lawyers, CEOs, VCs, and everyone else who is concerned about the software patent system."

Defend Innovation (Thanks, Hugh!)

Defensive Patent License: judo for patent-trolls

Ars Technica's Jon Brodkin has an in-depth look at the "Defensive Patent License," a kind of judo for the patent system created by my former EFF colleague Jason Schultz (who started EFF's Patent Busting Project) and my former USC colleague Jen Urban (who co-created the ChillingEffects clearinghouse). As you'd expect from two such killer legal freedom fighters, the DPL is audacious, exciting, and wicked cool. It's a license pool that companies opt into, and members of the pool pledge not to sue one another for infringement. If you're ever being sued for patent infringement, you can get an automatic license to a conflicting patent just by throwing your patents into the pool. The more patent trolls threaten people, the more incentive there is to join the league of Internet patent freedom fighters.

“The idea is if you want to be part of this network of defensive patent people, you are committing that all of your patents, every single thing you’ve done, will be available royalty-free to anyone who wants to take a license, if they commit to only practice defensive patent licensing,” Schultz said today in Boston at the Usenix conference on cyberlaw issues. “As long as they don’t offensively sue anyone else in that network, everything’s cool.”

The commitment is both daunting in that it requires submitting all of a member company’s patents to the pool, and forgiving in that members can still sue the pants off non-members. Schultz said his team thought long and hard about the exact implementation of the Defensive Patent License.

The “all-in” provision was put in place to prevent companies from joining the network while only providing their lamest patents. The ability of DPL members to sue non-members, meanwhile, preserves the right to monetize inventions. It also keeps members on a level playing field with non-members.

“Defensive Patent License” created to protect innovators from trolls

Google lawyer on Oracle victory: "People are treating patents like lottery tickets"

Google defeated Oracle's claims regarding Java in the Android operating system. But at what cost? Google's general council writes: "The case illustrates the cost when the patent system doesn't work well. It costs millions of dollars to invalidate bad patents. That's money we'd rather spend on great new products for people to use." [Ars Technica]

Judge invalidates Kodak patent

Kodak's Hail Mary business plan isn't working out. [NYT]

Sickening profile of Canada's weapons-grade patent trolls

In Wired, Robert McMillan profiles Rockstar, a world-class patent troll based in Canada, which was capitalized to buy up Nortel's "defensive" patent portfolio for billions of dollars and now does nothing but look for companies that make stuff that people like and use, so it can send them legal threats. Rockstar itself has no products, aside from legal threats. Reading this left me with the taste of sick in my mouth, and a sense that the patent system has to be reformed or taken down altogether, before it turns parasitism and lawsuits into the only viable technology business-models.

But Widdowson is a specialist. He’s one of 10 reverse-engineers working full time for a stealthy company funded by some of the biggest names in technology: Apple, Microsoft, Research In Motion, Sony, and Ericsson. Called the Rockstar Consortium, the 32-person outfit has a single-minded mission: It examines successful products, like routers and smartphones, and it tries to find proof that these products infringe on a portfolio of over 4,000 technology patents once owned by one of the world’s largest telecommunications companies.

When a Rockstar engineer uncovers evidence of infringement, the company documents it, contacts the manufacturer, and demands licensing fees for the patents in question. The demand is backed by the implicit threat of a patent lawsuit in federal court. Eight of the company’s staff are lawyers. In the last two months, Rockstar has started negotiations with as many as 100 potential licensees. And with control of a patent portfolio covering core wireless communications technologies such as LTE (Long Term Evolution) and 3G, there is literally no end in sight.

“Pretty much anybody out there is infringing,” says John Veschi, Rockstar’s CEO. “It would be hard for me to envision that there are high-tech companies out there that don’t use some of the patents in our portfolio.”

How Apple and Microsoft Armed 4,000 Patent Warheads

MS to buy AOL patents for $1.1bn

"AOL has not said exactly what the patents cover," writes Dominic Rushe in The Guardian. "Under the terms of the transaction it will retain a licence for them."

Patent troll that claimed ownership over the Web loses its case


Eolas, a notorious patent troll who partnered with the University of California in a shakedown scheme that claimed royalties for all "interactive web sites" that featured rotating images, streaming video, and other practices that had been widely established before their patent was filed, has lost a key lawsuit. A jury in Tyler, Texas (the sleepy town where the shell-companies used by patent trolls have their nominal offices) found that the Eolas patent was invalid, after hearing testimony from Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee and other luminaries of the open web.

If the jury had upheld the patents, there would have been a potentially brutal damages phase in which Google, YouTube, Yahoo, Amazon, Adobe, JC Penney, CDW Corp. and Staples would have been sued for infringement and been asked for more than $600 million in damages, with the majority of that coming from Google and Yahoo.

The Eolas patents were denounced for years before this week’s landmark trial, but managed to survive repeated re-exams at the United States Patent and Trade Office.

However, Thursday’s verdict is likely a setback Eolas can’t overcome. It may well be appealed, but that will be a long process, and in the meantime Eolas won’t be able to go after new targets.

Texas Jury Strikes Down Patent Troll’s Claim to Own the Interactive Web

How USPTO's recklessness destroys business, innovation, and competition


Luma Labs is a small company that sells a camera sling with a sliding clip. When a competitor of theirs filed for a patent on the idea, they weren't concerned. After all, Luma knew of prior art for their mechanism stretching all the way back to 1885. So they were surprised when the USPTO recklessly granted the patent to their competitor. And they were aghast when their lawyers explained that getting the patent overturned in the course of a lawsuit would bankrupt their company.

So they're giving up.

In short, the idea of a sliding camera sling isn’t an amazing new invention. It’s just a really good idea that’s been around for a while and which has been iteratively developed. Neither we nor our lawyers believed that the USPTO would grant a patent for the claims related to this concept. It was a surprise, then, when our competitor was granted a patent covering the concept on November 1st, 2011. To say that we’re disappointed that the USPTO couldn’t find the prior art around the idea is an understatement.

Our disappointment doesn’t matter much in the scheme of things, however. Our competitor now has a legal tool and we’re pretty sure that they desire to use it. This is, as they say, a problem. We and our counsel are more than confident that we can defend ourselves, and will do so vigorously if necessary. On the other hand, we’re a very small company that sells our products in limited volumes and mounting such a defense would consume the majority of our resources. After all, it took three years to rescind a patent about a method of using a swing. In other words, we have a Hobson’s choice on our hands. We could very well lose everything even if we won.

Therefore, we’re acting unilaterally and conceding the market by immediately discontinuing the Loop and LoopIt. Full stop. We apologize for the sudden nature of this decision and our implementation of it, but we feel like our options on this matter are limited.

They've got another camera strap idea that they're hoping to bring to market. But of course, they'll only be able to sell it until the USPTO recklessly grants another ridiculous patent against it.

An open letter to our customers, past and future (via O'Reilly Radar)

US Supreme Court to rule on whether practicing medicine is patentable

The Supreme Court are poised to rule in Mayo v Prometheus, a case that concerns whether medical procedures for adjusting the dosage of an out-of-patent drug can be patented. If the Supremes rule in favor of the patentability of adjusting drug doses and other common medical procedures, it will make doctors liable as patent infringers merely for practicing medicine. What's worse, judging from the hearings, the justices are ready and willing to make this loony idea into the new standard for patentability.

The American Medical Association’s brief on the matter argues that ”If claims to exclusive rights over the body’s natural responses to illness and medical treatment are permitted to stand, the result will be a vast thicket of exclusive rights over the use of critical scientific data that must remain widely available if physicians are to provide sound medical care.”

“Conscientious physicians will be unwilling and unable to avoid considering all relevant scientific information when reviewing test results. Thus, as medical knowledge accumulates, patent licenses increasingly will be required for physicians to conduct even well established diagnostic tests.”

Supreme Court Takes a Look at Medical Patents (via @bengoldacre)

Let's play a game: Guess what's being patented!

Reader iainmclean works in research and development, which means iainmclean reads a lot of patent-ese. Via the new, awesomer Submitterator, iainmclean sent us an excellent example of how the language used in a patent application can make it very difficult to tell what, exactly, is being patented.

Here's how the game is played. First, read the paragraph below:

An apparatus, comprising: a flexible elongate member that defines at least one lumen and is configured to be inserted within a body passageway of a patient, wherein the flexible elongate member includes a proximal portion, a distal portion, and a medial portion disposed between the proximal portion and the distal portion, and wherein the distal portion is movable between a substantially linear configuration and a curved configuration; and a stiffening member coupled to the flexible elongate member, the stiffening member being movable to a selected location along a length of the flexible elongate member to modify the flexibility of the selected location of the flexible elongate member, and wherein the stiffening member includes a first portion and a second portion, the first portion having a first stiffness and the second portion having a second stiffness different than the first stiffness.

Next, check out the attached image and see if it matches up with what you imagined. Hint: The image is much more safe for work than I guessed it would be.

Patent Strapcutters

After my first child was born, I found that taking pictures was a problem. The Canon S1 IS I’d purchased was a terrific model, but unwieldy when holding a baby.

Read the rest

Real cost of patent trolling

Kim sez, "Tech investor Brad Feld has a blog entry up summarizing and linking to a great paper by some BU School of Law students, in which they research the social & fiscal real world costs of patent trolls. From his site: '... a phenomenal paper titled The Private and Social Costs of Patent Trolls. Rather than be politically correct and refer to NPEs simply as 'non-practicing entities,' they cut through all the noise, define what a patent troll is, and go through a detailed and rigorous analysis of the private and social costs of patent trolls."

Regarding money:

* From 1990 – 2010 NPE lawsuits are associated with $500 billion dollars of lost wealth to defendants.
* In the past four years, NPE lawsuits are associated with an average of $80 billion per year of lost wealth to defendants.
* Very little of this loss wealth represents a transfer to inventors.

The litigation has distinctive characteristics:

* It is focused on software and related technologies.
* It targets firms that have already developed technology.
* Most of these lawsuits involve multiple large companies as defendants.

The authors suggest that these lawsuits exploit weaknesses in the patent system. They conclude that the loss of billions of dollars of wealth associated with these lawsuits harm society and state “while the lawsuits increase incentives to acquire vague, over-reaching patents, they decrease incentives for real innovation overall.”

The Real Cost of Patent Trolls

Expired patent of the day: Lego

Godtfred Kirk Christiansen et al, filed Jul 28 1958 [US Patent Office/Google Patents via 365blanc]

Previously: The Lego brick turns 50; Lego cannot be trademarked, European judges rule.

Patent trolls and shakedowns: Intellectual Ventures and the "little guy"

NPR's Planet Money looks at Intellectual Ventures, the patent-exploitation firm started by former Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold. Intellectual Ventures presents itself as a firm that goes to bat for inventors, buying up their patents with the intention of getting big guys who abuse them to pay up. But the reality discovered by Planet Money is very different: Intellectual Ventures doesn't put up very many compelling reference customers for their "protecting and enriching inventors" mandate, but there are examples of patents being sold on again to out-and-out trolls who make nothing but lawsuits, using shaky patents to attack big and small firms and extract rent from them. It appears there's even a town in Texas where empty office buildings house the "headquarters" of shell companies who buy poor-quality patents from distressed companies and get big judgements from a sympathetic local court. Overall, Planet Money paints a picture of software patent aggregators like IV as parasitic bullies who use their enormous patent portfolios to intimidate other firms into paying fees that end up being incorporated into the prices that you and I pay when we buy goods and services.
It's kind of a cliche to knock on the door of the empty office. But we'd flown a long way. So we knocked. No one answered.

The office was in a corridor where all the other doors looked exactly the same —locked, nameplates over the door, no light coming out. It was a corridor of silent, empty offices with names like "Software Rights Archive," and "Bulletproof Technology of Texas."

It turns out a lot of those companies in that corridor, maybe every single one of them, is doing exactly what Oasis Research is doing. They appear to have no employees. They are not coming up with new inventions. The companies are in Marshall, Texas because they are filing lawsuits for patent infringement.

Patent lawsuits are big business in Marshall, which is part of the eastern district of Texas.

When Patents Attack

(Image: DSC09309, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from 25734428@N06's photostream)