12.12.14

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US Patent Reform (on Trolls Only) More or Less Buried or Ineffective

Posted in America, Law, Patents at 6:55 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Not much in terms of changes except the public face

Michelle Lee
Photo from Asian Pacific Fund

Summary: An update on efforts to reform the patent system in the United States, including the possibly imminent appointment of Michelle Lee to USPTO leadership role

OUR friends over at IP Troll Tracker argue with proponents of patent trolls, including those who try to classify the world’s biggest trolls (firms like Intellectual Ventures) as something else. Apparently, trying to say who qualifies as a patent troll is a controversial issue among those who are in this business and this is why there was hardly any substantial progress on eradication of patent trolls. The de facto definition of “troll” these days is “small actor that uses patents”. It’s about scale, not scope. If you are a massive corporation like IBM and Microsoft, then you somehow can’t qualify as “troll” even when you engage in the very same tactics on a much larger scale.

“If you are a massive corporation like IBM and Microsoft, then you somehow can’t qualify as “troll” even when you engage in the very same tactics on a much larger scale.”This new article from TechDirt speaks of the fight for patent reform by the likes of Newegg, correctly noting that “the company became a leader in fighting back against ridiculous patent lawsuits, going toe-to-toe with some of the biggest trolls around. The company’s Chief Legal Officer, Lee Cheng, has vowed to never settle with a patent troll, and so far has never lost an appeal on a patent claim.”

Another older article from TechDirt cites Professor Bessen and reminds us that Free software projects are directly being harmed and even eliminated by patent trolls (we gave some examples before). To quote the article, via James Bessen, “we [now] learn of how a patent trolling operation by StreamScale has resulted in an open source project completely shutting down, despite the fact that the patent in question (US Patent 8,683,296 for an “Accelerated erasure coding system and method”) is almost certainly ineligible for patent protection as an abstract idea, following the Supreme Court’s Alice ruling and plenty of prior art. Erasure codes are used regularly today in cloud computing data storage and are considered to be rather important. Not surprisingly, companies and lawyers are starting to pop out of the woodwork to claim patents on key pieces. I won’t pretend to understand the fundamental details of erasure codes, but the link above provides all the details. It goes through the specific claims in the patents, breaking down what they actually say (basically an erasure code on a computer using SIMD instructions), and how that’s clearly an abstract idea and thus not patent-eligible.”

See this page about the patent: “The Accelerated erasure coding system and method software patent was filed by StreamScale, a patent holding company, and granted by the US patent office in march 2014 (filed july 2013). It claims to own the idea to use SIMD instructions to speed up the computation of Erasure Code. It is a patent-ineligible abstract idea and can be ignored.”

Well, it may be a patent-ineligible abstract idea, but proving in in Court can be costly, especially for a Free software project.

It is being reported right now that Michelle Lee, formerly of Google, is en route to becoming the next head of the USPTO (the pro-software patents sites exploit this to try to promote stronger policy in favour of software patents). “There were no big surprises,” writes Patent Progress, “on Michelle Lee’s nomination as head of the USPTO. The Committee went fairly easy on her with their questions, with the possible exception of Senator Durbin, who admits that he knows nothing about patents or patent law, but seems convinced by his Illinois constituents that there is no patent troll problem.”

Durbin and the likes of him seem to be talking based on (mis)information from lobbyists and funders, not facts. It’s the big corporations talking. Either way, while it’s clear that there is a patent troll problem, there is also a patent scope problem and that’s what trolls tend to exploit. It’s not a surprise that a site like Patent Progress only focuses on patent trolls; see who funds the site by proxy (certain type of big corporations). Another new post from this site states that “Commissioner Brill’s main point was that we shouldn’t wait for the study to be concluded before pursuing legislation against PAEs. There’s no question that the PAE problem exists and is getting worse; she made clear that the new Congress should act immediately after taking office.”

PAE is just a euphemism for troll or shark.

As readers may recall, the Republicans (GOP) spoke about 'reform' on patents roughly one month ago, but nothing was really going to change. Mike Masnick from TechDirt recently published this update that says: “Back in May, we wrote about how, despite pretty much everyone agreeing on a (decent, if not amazing) patent reform bill in the Senate, the whole thing got shot down at the last minute. That was when the trial lawyers called Senator Harry Reid, asking him to kill the whole thing, which he did by telling Senator Patrick Leahy that he wouldn’t allow the bill to go to the floor for a vote. This came after months of detailed negotiations, getting nearly everyone into agreement on the bill, which would have made life at least somewhat more difficult for patent trolls. About a week after that, we pointed out that it seemed likely that the patent trolls had miscalculated badly, because it was widely expected that the Republicans would take control of the Senate in the fall (as they did), and they were more gungho on real patent reform and (obviously) not concerned with what trial lawyers think (mocking trial lawyers being a hobby of Republican politicians).”

To make a long story short, there is still no sign of reform on patents and even if there’s reform some time in the near future, it won’t actually address the problem of patent scope; it only targets “small trolls”, not “big trolls” like Microsoft and Apple, which still can use software patents to imitimate or extort Free software projects, including Android and Linux.

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