Heiress "Instagram influencer" whose parents are accused of paying a $500K bribe to get her into USC has trademark application rejected for punctuation errors

Olivia Jade Giannulli is the millionaire heiress of actor Lori Laughlin and fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, who are accused of paying a $500,000 bribe to the University of Southern California to secure her admission; Jade's university career was bound up with her other career as an "Instagram influencer," with sponsor deals for the decor in her dorm room and other collegiate trappings. Read the rest

How the patent office's lax standards gave Elizabeth Holmes the BS patents she needed to defraud investors and patients

When legendary grifter Elizabeth Holmes was 19 years old, she conceived of a medical device that could perform extensive diagnostics in an eyeblink from only a single drop of blood; she had no idea how such a device would work or whether it was even possible, but that didn't stop her from drawing up a patent application for her "invention" and repeatedly submitting to the patent office until, eventually, she was awarded a patent for what amounted to a piece of uninspiring design fiction. Read the rest

America's most notorious patent troll, now bankrupt, values its bullshit patents at $1

For more than a decade, Shipping and Transit LLC (AKA Arrivalstar) has been aggressively pursuing dubious patent claims against public transit companies, shippers, and other businesses whose practices overlapped with Arrivalstar's absurd, obvious patents on using GPSes to figure out where stuff was. Read the rest

UPDATED: The US Patent and Trademark Office is ready to hand over an exclusive trademark for "Dragon Slayer" for fantasy novels

Update: The USPTO has withdrawn this from publication for "further review."

Michael-Scott Earle, a self-publisher of "pulp harem fantasies" is seeking a trademark on the use of "Dragon Slayer" in connection with fantasy novels. Read the rest

Research shows that patent examiners are more likely to grant patents to companies they later work for

In their National Bureau of Economic Research working paper From Revolving Doors to Regulatory Capture? Evidence from Patent Examiners (Sci-Hub Mirror), Business School profs Haris Tabakovic (Harvard) and Thomas Wollmann (Chicago) show that patent examiners are more likely to grant patents for companies that they subequently go to work for; they also go easier on patents applied for by companies associated with their alma maters (where they have more connections and will find it easier to get a job after their turn in government service). Read the rest

Big Bang: the "stupid patent" on teledildonics has expired

Twenty years ago, the US Patent and Trademark Office granted patent number 6,368,268: "Method and device for interactive virtual control of sexual aids using digital computer networks," a minor classic of a majorly fucked-up genre, the bullshit tech patent that simply adds "with a computer" to some absolutely obvious and existing technology or technique. Read the rest

For the best of reasons, The Slants won the right to trademark racially offensive slurs -- and now there's rather a lot of that

It's been a year since the Asian-American band The slants won their court case against the US Patent and Trademark office, which had refused to allow them to trademark their band-name because it was a racial slur. Read the rest

Crowdfunded by listeners, EFF perma-kills a bogus podcasting patent

Five years ago, a patent troll called "Personal Audio" started demanding money from podcasters, claiming that their patent on mailing cassette tapes of people reading magazines (a ridiculous patent on its face) also covered podcasting. Read the rest

The US Patent Office just (in 2017!) awarded IBM a patent over out-of-office email

On January 17, 2017 -- yes, 2017 -- the USPTO granted Patent 9,547,842 to IBM: "Out-of-office electronic mail messaging system." Read the rest

Stupid patent for the ages: "Changing order quantities"

The USPTO granted a notorious patent troll a patent on allowing customers to change quantities after they place their initial order. Read the rest

US Patent Office awards patent to herbal snakeoil that "kills cancer"

The USPTO awarded Patent 8,609,158 last December for a mix of "evening primrose oil, rice, sesame seeds, green beans, coffee, meat, cheese, milk, green tea extract, evening primrose seeds, and wine" that "rebukes cancer, cancer cells, and kills cancer" -- the accompanying extract states, "it works." Sounds legit. Read the rest

Amazon patents taking pictures of stuff on a white background

The annals of stupid, sloppy patents have a new world-beating entry: Amazon has received a patent on taking pictures of stuff on a white background. The patent's particulars specify a well-known lighting arrangement that minimizes shadows and post-production cleanup. As DIY Photography points out, there's a huge corpus of prior art on this that Amazon didn't disclose in its filing, and the USPTo appeared to have done no due diligence before giving the company a 20-year monopoly on a common studio technique. Read the rest

EFF, Public Knowledge and Engine tell the USPTO how to improve patent quality

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, Public Knowledge and Engine have submitted comments [PDF] to the US Patent and Trademark Office explaining how examiners could improve the quality of patents that the USPTO issues by expanding their search for "prior art" (that is, evidence that the thing under discussion has already been invented) by building searchable databases, and by seeing through the common, misleading practices of using synonyms for common words to make obvious things sound new.

As EFF points out in its post on the filing, the real answer for this is action from Congress to reform patents and end patent-trolling, but these are all useful steps for the USPTO to take in the meantime. Read the rest

Patent mess goes to the Supreme Court

Two more high-profile patent cases are headed to the US Supreme Court, which has already agreed to hear a patent case this year. The patent system is in chaos, with ever-more-trivial patents being granted, and ever-broader theories of patent infringement being created by the Federal Circuit, the court that oversees the patent system.

A Supreme Court ruling that restored some sanity to patents would be very welcome indeed -- but if they went the other way, it would be dreadful. The only solution at that point would be for Congress -- whose campaigns depend on revenue from patent abusers -- to pass a new law (don't hold your breath). Read the rest

Scan-to-email patent trolls sue Coca-Cola and other large companies

MPHJ is America's most notorious patent troll. The company -- whose owners are shrouded in mystery through a network of shell companies -- claims a patent on scanning documents and then emailing them, and they threaten business-owners with massive lawsuits unless they pay $1,000 per-employee "license fees."

Mostly, the troll has gone after small-fry, companies too small to defend themselves, and has stopped short of actually going to court. But now they've gone big-league, announcing suits against Coca-Cola, Dillards, Unum Group and Huhtakami.

It's not clear whether they've built their litigation warchest through the small-fry, but it seems unlikely. The lawsuit discloses that the troll extracted payments from Canon and Sharp in exchange for not suing their customers, and I suspect this is where the money for the suits came from.

The legal filings in the cases are very long, and detail the companies' internal networks as evidence of patent violation. The troll relies on the fact that all three companies use Xerox and Lexmark products and since these two companies haven't paid ransom for their customers, it can be assumed that anyone using their devices violates the patents. Read the rest

Killing stupid software patents is really easy, and you can help

The US Patent and Trademark Office is required by law to let the public submit "prior art" for pending patents -- essentially, evidence that the thing the patent-filer is claiming to have invented already exists. People who spot patents in need of killing post them to a Stack Exchange forum called Ask Patents, in the hopes that other forum members will come up with invalidating art.

Joel Spolsky writes about how he found -- in 15 minutes, mind you -- the prior art necessary to invalidate a dumb-ass Microsoft patent on scaling images. He documents the process by which he did it, and shows how easily you could do it, too. As Spolsky points out, software patents are all basically shit, and trivial to prove as such. It just takes a dedicated army of freedom fighters to find and submit the prior art that helps the overworked patent examiners at the USPTO to reject the garbage they get by the truckload.

Software patent applications are of uniformly poor quality. They are remarkably easy to find prior art for. Ask Patents can be used to block them with very little work. And this kind of individual destruction of one software patent application at a time might start to make a dent in the mountain of bad patents getting granted.

My dream is that when big companies hear about how friggin’ easy it is to block a patent application, they’ll use Ask Patents to start messing with their competitors. How cool would it be if Apple, Samsung, Oracle and Google got into a Mexican Standoff on Ask Patents?

Read the rest

Village Voice sues Yelp over "Best of $CITY" trademark

The Village Voice received an improbable trademark over the use of "BEST OF" in connection with lists of the best things on offer in various cities, and now they're suing Yelp for creating their own "Best of" lists. This ridiculous suit is only possible because of the US Patent and Trademark Office's bungling, terrible methods, as the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Corynne McSherry writes, and will only be resolved when the USPTO cleans up its act:

What is going on at the Patent and Trademark Office? For decades, folks have been complaining (with good reason) that the patent examiners need to do a better job of screening out bogus patent applications. It’s clear that the problem extends to the trademark side as well. The PTO has allowed companies and individuals to register marks in any number of obviously generic and/or descriptive terms, such as “urban homestead” (to refer to urban farms), “gaymer” (to refer to gay gamers), and “B-24” (to refer to model B-24 bombers).

Once a mark is registered, it is all too easy for the owner to become a trademark bully. And while companies like Yelp have the resources to fight back (as we expect it will), small companies and individuals may not. Just as dangerous, the trademark owner may go upstream, to intermediaries like Facebook who have little incentive to do anything other than take down an account or site that’s accused of infringement.

"Good enough for government work" isn't good enough for free speech. It’s time the PTO did its part to stop trademark bullies and tightened up the trademark application process.

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