04.24.16

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Patents Roundup: Marijuana Patents, Patent Satellites, Patent Trolls, Wars, and Merchants (Notably Lawyers)

Posted in Apple, HP, Patents at 9:30 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Summary: Various strands of news about patents, focused on issues raised in the latter half of last week

WE habitually publish outlines of news about patent injustice. While we’re not inherently against patents, there are some domains that oughtn’t have patents in them because collective goals are being impeded rather than advanced by them.

Patents on Marijuana Plants

We start this roundup with the eye-catching article about patents on marijuana. To quote Vice: “On August 4, 2015, US officials quietly made history by approving the first-ever patent for a plant containing significant amounts of THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, according to the patent’s holders, their lawyers, and outside experts in intellectual property law.

“One has to wonder how this relates to already-controversial patents on plants, putting aside the controversy surrounding legalisation of cannabis.”“Patent No. 9095554, issued to a group of breeders in California, “relates to specialty cannabis plants, compositions and methods for making and using said cannabis plants and compositions derived thereof,” according to the 145-page document, which is filled with charts, graphs, and reams of scientific jargon describing a range of hybrid strains with distinctive ratios of cannabinoids.”

One has to wonder how this relates to already-controversial patents on plants, putting aside the controversy surrounding legalisation of cannabis.

Patent Misconceptions

An article by Terry Ludlow, CEO at Chipworks, recently referred to patents as something one “develops” (rather than applies for after actually developing something), which probably highlights a common misconception about what patents actually are (many conflate them with physical objects — things that have had patents applied to them).

“Johnson’s assertion that maintaining high patent quality is important should be commended.”

Hewlett Packard

Hewlett Packard (HP), as showed here in past years, promoted software patents even outside the US and MIP has this new interview with HP’s IP litigation counsel. “The California-based counsel shares her views on the state of the IP environment in the US and how professionals can contribute to improvements, particularly in the patent field,” wrote MIP. One part of the interview said this: ‘Johnson adds that “creating and maintaining a balanced patent system that promotes innovation and good, valid patents, while also ensuring that bad, low quality patents are not used to abuse the system and ultimately undermine its effectiveness” is one of the biggest challenges in patent law. She says: “There are three main US venues that address patent disputes – the ITC, PTO, and federal courts. IP litigation counsel in my position have to stay vigilant about understanding trends and the discourse around all three of these venues.”’

We don’t generally regard HP to be so bad on the patent front, either because it doesn’t attack companies using patents all that often or because it doesn’t lobby for software patents as often as companies like GE, Intel, Microsoft, and IBM (comparable in terms of scale). Johnson’s assertion that maintaining high patent quality is important should be commended. Later today we are going to show that Microsoft and IBM push in the opposite direction.

Marathon Patent Group and Satellite Strategies

“It’s important to understand that what we have here is a patent company (or troll) acting as a satellite for another — an increasingly-common loophole to ensure no reactionary lawsuits.”Regarding a case which was mentioned here recently, MIP writes a decent article and so does IP Kat, which said late on Friday: “Dynamic Advances parent company, Marathon Patent Group (a patent licensing company) , stated in its SEC filing that under the terms of the settlement Apple will be granted a licence for the patent and a 3-year covenant not to sue. In exchange, Apple will pay $24.9 million under the agreement, with $5 million of that sum payable upon dismissal of the litigation.”

It’s important to understand that what we have here is a patent company (or troll) acting as a satellite for another — an increasingly-common loophole to ensure no reactionary lawsuits. It’s an anti-deterrence tactic. This discredits the theory of “defensive” patents; how can patents be used defensively against entities which have no products at all? As the headline of this article from a trolls expert put it, “Apple pays $25M to a university—and the patent troll it cut a deal with” (summarised accurately and succinctly).

“So one can see that Marathon Patent Group is nothing but a new (ish) kind of troll.”“Apple has agreed to pay $24.9 million to a “patent troll”,” it says, in order “to end a lawsuit over its Siri voice system, according to documents filed yesterday with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Publicly traded Marathon Patent Group, whose business is focused on patent licensing and lawsuits, will split the settlement cash with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), the New York technical university that provided the patents.”

So one can see that Marathon Patent Group is nothing but a new (ish) kind of troll.

‘Killing’ Patent Trolls

The Week has published a new article titled “How to kill patent trolls once and for all”. Composed by Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, who describes himself as “a writer and fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center,” the article starts with some useful background: “Why are patent trolls so deleterious? Well, these companies exist for no other reason than to gobble up patents and then file frivolous lawsuits over semantic patent violations against any target they can find, with the hope of cashing in with a big settlement. Needless to say, this can wreck the finances of startup companies. (If you want more details, listen to this brilliant This American Life investigation of patent trolls from 2011.)”

“Militarisation of the world’s patent systems isn’t new; a lot of weapons manufacturers want a monopoly on ‘innovative’ new ways to kill people.”A commonly-cited (but controversial) study is then cited: “Patent trolls cost defendant firms $29 billion per year in out-of-pocket costs, according to one study. But the drag on innovation is much bigger than that. Think of all the fledgling companies that miss crucial time-to-market opportunities, and whose products don’t reach their full potential, because they have to fight patent trolls. Some would-be entrepreneurs are surely so frightened of patent trolls that they don’t even bother trying.”

The concluding words are these: “Always, always stand up to the bully. It’s the right thing to do, and it also happens to be the smart thing to do.”

That’s what NewEgg has been doing. It can at least afford to.

Patent Wars

Militarisation of the world’s patent systems isn’t new; a lot of weapons manufacturers want a monopoly on ‘innovative’ new ways to kill people. A new article, “The Pentagon Turns to Intellectual Property to Protect U.S. Military Dominance”, wants us to believe that there’s something to be cheered for because ‘we’ (readers), supposedly as US citizens, are ‘protected’ by the patent system, which keeps ‘our’ military strong, as if rival armies (like China’s or Russia’s) will bow to some patent offices abroad and pay patent royalties to corporations that try to nuke their nation (if it wasn’t for mutually-assured destruction and other forms of deterrence).

“The excesses/abundance/saturations reduce productivity, waste resources, generally slow down development in various fields, and ultimately help nobody but patent lawyers and their largest clients (usually global monopolists).”

Patent Merchants

It’s not so unusual to find patent lawyers in the media. They keep spewing out their pro-war/feud (in the patent sense) propaganda and they try to ‘sell’ patents (applications, lawsuits and other such ‘products’), in the same way arms manufacturers do. An article which misses the point that not all patents are equal and similar, e.g. software patents, was published in the Canadian press a couple of days ago. “Patents are no barrier to innovation, despite the myths,” says the headline. Well, ask software engineers about it and see what they say. The author wrote that “Canadian entrepreneurs should be vigilant to protest against measures that would cripple our patent system to the disadvantage of innovators. This vigilance should extend to monitoring changes that may be proposed to our laws pursuant to international treaty negotiations.”

Well, actually, some patents may be good (we don’t deny this), but their breadth and number made them so shallow and impractical to keep track of. The excesses/abundance/saturations reduce productivity, waste resources, generally slow down development in various fields, and ultimately help nobody but patent lawyers and their largest clients (usually global monopolists). A Web site of lawyers in Indiana has just said “Indiana patent law delaying demand letters” and an Australian law firm celebrates “Growth, Growth & More Growth” in so-called ‘IP’ (growth for patent lawyers, not for the economy). The Australian, a paper owned by News Corp. (‘Conservative’), plays along with this type of agenda, having just published “Innovators miss the bus on filing home patents”. The Financial Express, in the mean time, calls “a market-oriented approach (corporate-leaning) to patent box regime. Because hey, who cares what the general public thinks, right?

“WIPO doesn’t care about development. It doesn’t care about people. It doesn’t even care about its own staff, which it sometimes drives to suicide.”In contrast to this, based on this report from Africa, there is some resistance from a minister. “A South African cabinet minister speaking at an international conference on intellectual property has challenged the view that protecting the rights of creators and inventors leads to innovation,” says this report. “Rob Davies, the country’s trade minister, raised eyebrows recently when he told the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) – the global HQ of patents – that the role of patent protection in promoting innovation has been controversial.”

WIPO doesn’t care about development. It doesn’t care about people. It doesn't even care about its own staff, which it sometimes drives to suicide. It’s Gurry’s way or the highway, just like at the EPO where Battistelli (previously competed with Gurry for the WIPO position) believes he is a king, so no opposition — however minute — can be tolerated.

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