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08.17.15

Patents Roundup: Patent Reform, Google’s ‘Startups’ Ploy, JDate, Fitbit, Cisco, and UPC in the UK

Posted in America, Europe, Patents at 3:30 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

The UK silently adopts a worse patent system without even consulting the public

Manchester library

Summary: A collection of news stories about patents, accumulated over the past week or so

LAST week we observed quite a few ongoing patent cases, as well as new developments in Europe and the United States. This post summarises all the important ones.

The Economist Started a Massive Debate

In at least two articles, both of which published earlier this month, The Economist slammed the current patent system, alluding not specifically to the notorious US patent system. It’s a global problem, that’s for sure, as many systems are interconnected (more so over time, especially with so-called ‘trade’ deals afloat). It is very nice to see a respected British newspaper like The Economist (notable as the UK’s patent regime and copyright regime have historically been most overzealous) joining the opposition to it all, after all…

“In at least two articles, both of which published earlier this month, The Economist slammed the current patent system, alluding not specifically to the notorious US patent system.”Days later, citing The Economist, David Perry of Red Hat said that “more recently, it seems that the problem of patent trolls has captured the attention of a broader audience. Four years ago, NPR produced an episode of This American Life called “When Patents Attack!” And, four months ago, John Oliver devoted the bulk of his time on Last Week Tonight, to raising awareness about patent trolls. “Most of these companies don’t produce anything—they just shake down anyone who does, so calling them trolls is a little misleading—at least trolls actually do something, they control bridge access for goats and ask fun riddles,” he explained.”

Red Hat focuses on patent trolls again. “The patent troll problem is not a new one” is the headline. The Economist, however, did not focus on trolls at all. It’s regretful to see Red Hat distracting the debate again, moving us away from the core issues.

Another article, composed by Mike Masnick, offered a better response. “Once Again The Economist Thinks Patents Are Hindering Innovation And Need Reform” was the headline and citing The Economist, Jeff John Roberts of Fortune, a man who recently wrote some good articles about patents, published an article titled “Hey lawmakers, patents and innovation aren’t the same – here’s a reminder”. This too was motivated by the debate above. To quote Jeff John Roberts: “Patents mean more innovation, right? Sadly, that’s not the case as The Economist makes clear. In a terrific piece of writing in the August 8th issue, the UK magazine explains in clear language what has gone so wrong:

“Red Hat focuses on patent trolls again.”“Patents are supposed to spread knowledge, by obliging holders to lay out their innovation for all to see; they often fail, because patent-lawyers are masters of obfuscation. Instead, the system has created a parasitic ecology of trolls and defensive patent-holders, who aim to block innovation, or at least to stand in its way unless they can grab a share of the spoils […]

“Innovation fuels the abundance of modern life. From Google’s algorithms to a new treatment for cystic fibrosis, it underpins the knowledge in the “knowledge economy”. The cost of the innovation that never takes place because of the flawed patent system is incalculable.”

“The Economist editorial comes at a time when patent reform is getting bogged down yet again in the U.S. Congress. If you’re keeping score, this is the third time in five years that lawmakers have tried to fix the system but, as before, the patent lobby is swooping down with money and dire slogans to grind the process to a halt.”

It has been nice to see the public debate changing somewhat (diverted away from “trolls”), owing to articles that question the system as a whole, not just parasitic elements in it.

Sadly, discussions about patent scope are almost inexistent. That’s a due to a failure of scientists to ‘butt in’ and become involved in the debate. Maybe it’s also the fault of journalists for not approaching scientists for their views.

Lobbying for and Against Patent Reform

Reform debate has been locked down. When the political system in the US speaks of patent ‘reform’ (especially these days but also historically) it basically speaks about “trolls”. Classic “patent troll”, as per definition, is a firm looking to make financial gain not from products (they do not exist) but from extortion. Patent trolls encourage and promote a non-producing economy for parasites to thrive in, nobody can deny that. Is it any better if products exist though? Companies like Microsoft have some products, but in many areas they act like parasites, preying on companies that actually have the lion’s share of the market (Android for instance). It should be clear by now that eliminating “trolls” alone would not end the problem. It’s therefore a misguided debate, driven for the most part by corporations, their lobbyists, and patent lawyers to whom they are top clients.

“It is important that the people who actually produce (actual products, not paperwork) provide their input regarding patent law, or else they will be misrepresented and the law steered against them.”Last week we saw an occupied media lobbying on patent ‘reform’ [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]. As expected, much of this comes from corporate media for corporate agenda [1,2], [3] (posted in other sites) is a “Case for Patent Reform” by Lee Cheng, the chief legal officer at Newegg, which is exceptionally proud of its fight against 'trolls', having done so for years. It receives recognition in this new piece titled “Don’t Be a Victim: Protecting Your Small Business from Patent Trolls”. [4] is a piece from the lobbyists’ media, composed by member of the “Independent Inventors of America”, who basically lobbies against the favoured reforms currently on the table. We sure wonder if this is just another lobbying piece from a front group pretending to be “inventor”. Lastly, in [5] we have greedy patent lawyers who openly call for expansion of patent scope. Where are the scientists in all this? It’s mostly lawyers again. It is important that the people who actually produce (actual products, not paperwork) provide their input regarding patent law, or else they will be misrepresented and the law steered against them.

We were rather amused to see greedy patent lawyers who openly call for expansion of patent scope trying a gross reversal of today’s reality and attempting distortion of facts, pretending that large corporations pass patents to startups (the ‘trickle-down’ nonsense), as opposed to troll-feeding by large corporations, so as to get their rivals attacked by trolls like MOSAID (renamed Conversant). Well, to be fair to patent lawyers, that’s just what they do for a living. They present a gross, biased, and often inaccurate picture of reality in order to get their way and win cases.

Patent Lawyers/Maximalists Against Patent Reform

Yet another lawyers’ firm, McCarthy Tétrault LLP, writes about what it labels “Google’s “FFF” patent plan”, noting: “These two initiatives build on Google’s effort to impact patent reform in the United States and beyond. Prior to these announcements, Google’s efforts included the launch of the Patent Purchase Promotion in April (which we discussed here). Google has not officially released any information on the outcome of the Patent Purchase Promotion but Kurt Brasch, a lawyer at Google, reported that the program was a big success. In a phone interview with Fortune.com Mr. Brasch stated that the company bought numerous patents at purchase prices ranging from $3000 to $250,000.”

“Google cannot fend off patent trolls, so its claims to be helping startups with its patents are just marketing.”Google claims that it helps startups, but this won't work. Google’s IBM-like strategy was talked about by other sites of patent lawyers (covered in brief along with expected protests against the aforementioned reports from The Economist).

Here is what IP Troll Tracker wrote about Google’s strategy when it comes to a startup it supports: “Google would rather shutter the venture than try and fend off the lawsuit, unless the Ordrx software were already pulling in mountains of money.”

Google cannot fend off patent trolls, so its claims to be helping startups with its patents are just marketing. Fortune‘s Jeff John Roberts said so too. That was just a couple of weeks ago in the corporate press.

JDate

“JDate is not a classic patent troll, but it sure acts like one.”Tackling the JDate case, which we wrote about repeatedly for weeks, TechDirt says that “The whole lawsuit is absurd, and it starts with the trademark claims that come before the patent ones.”

JDate is not a classic patent troll, but it sure acts like one. JDate will hopefully get sued in a move of retaliation, preferably to the point of bankruptcy. What the company has done here sets a very bad example to any others that are watching. Software patents on very vague concepts are the weapon.

Jawbone and Fitbit

Citing this patent maximalists’ site (which even grooms notorious patent trolls), IP Kat says that “Jawbone holds 78 utility patents and 78 design patents compared to Fitbit’s 89 utility patents and 11 design patents. Jawbone’s patents lean towards hardware and design, whereas Fitbit’s patents are more focused on hardware and software.”

Yes, Fitbit is patenting software, as we noted here several times before. Its Orwellian surveillance tendencies aside, it ought to convince people to avoid these products. A good friend of mine had purchased a Fitbit device and saw it lasting for only one week. It’s a fragile toy and a fashion accessory that tracks the owner even when the owner is asleep. Nobody needs that.

Cisco

We recently wrote about Cisco's attempt to portray itself as a trolls buster, having acted like a troll itself. Some GNU/Linux-centric sites help the former narrative. This is a good example where a massive corporation, Cisco, not some small startup, uses patents for anti-competitive purposes while claiming to be fighting trolls.

Large corporations want the population to only be obsessed with patent trolls. It helps those large corporations protect themselves and does nothing to tackle the broader issues.

EPO and UPC in the UK

The EPO is coming to the UK. It’s entering from the back door. It gets more of a presence in the UK in ways that we first covered last week, noting that no public consent was even sought! The lawyers who work for (or with) the UK-IPO must think they are above the law, as it increasindly looks a bit like government-sanctioned collusion.

“The UPC is almost guaranteed to bring patent trolls to Europe, enabling them to expand their scope of litigation (or threatening letters, demanding payments).”A maximalist of patents (including software patents), AmeriKat of IP Kat, wrote about the UPC courtroom being established before it’s even authorised. AmeriKat “interprets this as meaning that if the UPC doesn’t happen (pending a UK referendum on membership of the EU) or is somehow delayed than the IPO or, indeed another governmental body, can make use of the space.”

Another piece from the same blog speaks of a “[b]ill that is drafted by civil servants – his servants – and that is supposed to protect the interests of businesses” rather than those of citizens. The UPC is almost guaranteed to bring patent trolls to Europe, enabling them to expand their scope of litigation (or threatening letters, demanding payments).

When people return from their summer holiday we are guaranteed to hear a lot more about the EPO and the UPC. It’s truly undemocratic and often secretive, too.

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