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02.09.18

Joe Mullin Joins the EFF to Fight Mean Software Patents, Starting With Coverage About Unified Patents Defeating Sportbrain

Posted in America, EFF, Patents at 5:59 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Related: CAFC Meddling in PTAB Affairs; Unified Patents Fights a Good Fight by Invalidating Software Patents

Joe Mullin
Joe Mullin’s Twitter account

Summary: The Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) has just smashed another troublesome patent and Joe Mullin was there, this time in EFF clothing, to cover it

THE previous post spoke about patent trolls with USPTO-granted patents and the EFF’s response to them. The good news is, not only does the EFF tackle the right issues (it used to have a poorer and rather misguided strategy). The EFF has just hired Joe Mullin for activism/journalism against software patents and patent trolls — something he had done in a blog before some media companies took him on board. Eventually he must have realised that advocacy without the whole pretense of “balance” would be better use of his time; at least that’s what happened with me (more than a decade ago I wrote for media companies, but they did not give me sufficient freedom to express myself).

“The EFF has just hired Joe Mullin for activism/journalism against software patents and patent trolls — something he had done in a blog before some media companies took him on board.”“I’m happy to report I’m working at @EFF now,” he announced in Twitter, “working mostly on IP-related things.

“Here’s my first blog post,” he wrote after had published this piece about Sportbrain [1, 2, 3] (covered here before). To quote:

The importance of the US Patent Office’s “inter partes review” (IPR) process was highlighted in dramatic fashion yesterday. Patent appeals judges threw out a patent [PDF] that was used to sue more than 80 companies in the fitness, wearables, and health industries.

US Patent No. 7,454,002 was owned by Sportbrain Holdings, a company that advertised a kind of ‘smart pedometer’ as recently as 2011. But the product apparently didn’t take off, and in 2016, Sportbrain turned to patent lawsuits to make a buck.

A company called Unified Patents challenged the ’002 patent by filing an IPR petition, and last year, the Patent Office agreed that the patent should be reviewed. Yesterday, the patent judges published their decision, canceling every claim of the patent.

The ’002 patent describes capturing a user’s “personal data,” and then sharing that information with a wireless computing device and over a network. It then analyzes the data and provides feedback.

After reviewing the relevant technology, a panel of patent office judges found there wasn’t much new to the ’002 patent. Earlier patents had already described collecting and sharing various types of sports data, including computer-assisted pedometers and a system that measured a skier’s “air time.” Given those earlier advances, the steps of the Sportbrain patent would have been obvious to someone working in the field. The office cancelled all the claims.

That means the dozens of different companies sued by Sportbrain won’t have to each spend hundreds of thousands of dollars—potentially millions—to defend against a patent that, the government now acknowledges, never should have been granted in the first place.

Joe Mullin was debunking patent myths and naming trolls even recently (he had covered other topics too). He often referred to (and cited) EFF posts, but now he’s joining Ranieri and Nazer (there used to be more staff assigned to deal with the patent matters)‏. He’ll be working alongside them rather than writing about them. Mullin is a very knowledgeable person; I spoke to him on the phone last year.

Sportbrain’s patent has been “found invalid,” Unified Patents said some days ago (a day after it was confirmed). We saw that almost immediately because we’re subscribed to the RSS feed. To quote: “On February 6, 2018, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board issued a final written decision in Unified Patents Inc. v. Harry Heslop & Sportbrain Holdings, LLC, IPR2016-01464 invalidating all challenged claims of U.S. Patent 7,454,002, owned and asserted by Sportbrain Holdings, LLC. The ’002 Patent, which describes a system for monitoring and providing feedback on a user’s physical data, has been asserted 148 cases (17 of which were pending at the time of this decision). Defendants in these cases span across multiple industries and include such companies as Verizon, Fitbit, Microsoft, LG, TomTom, Garmin, Louis Vuitton, ZTE and Apple.”

“Joe Mullin was debunking patent myths and naming trolls even recently (he had covered other topics too).”Apple is named last. Apple very recently settled in patent dispute, shelling out $871,500. It could possibly just fight against that patent until the end, but it chose not to. Less than a million dollars is ‘slush funds’ to Apple. As the article notes, it recently paid far more to settle other patent cases.

PTAB has been doing very well lately and we’ll have a lot to say about it over the weekend. To quote some recent statistics: “On January 31, the PTAB Affirmed Examiners’ 101 Rejections for 9 Cases; Denied Reconsideration of 101 Rejections in 3 Cases and Reversed Examiners’ 101 Rejections in 2 Cases.”

“In the past 2-3 years — and not just owing to Alice — we often get the feeling that we’re finally ‘winning’ (as some might put it) and the US patent system gets reformed to better suit science and technology, not patenters and litigators.”So they deal with quite a few patent applications, not just patents that are either used in litigation or for threats of litigation. This helps limit patent scope. One journalist focused on patent matters said the other day that “Senator Susan Collins told @BloombergLaw the Special Committee on Aging is working to draft a bill to restrict certain types of patents on drugs, such as new formulations, to limit evergreening, reports @BronwynMixter…”

“Fantastic news,” I responded to her. “A push back against patent maximalism, which made the patent system lose its sight on purpose…”

In the past 2-3 years — and not just owing to Alice — we often get the feeling that we’re finally ‘winning’ (as some might put it) and the US patent system gets reformed to better suit science and technology, not patenters and litigators. That’s the desirable thing for a patent system anywhere.

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