09.02.18

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EFF and TechDirt Continue to Challenge the USPTO (and the Courts) to Improve Patent Quality

Posted in America, EFF, Law, Patents at 10:08 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Recent: Google Gets Told Off — Even by the Typically Supportive EFF and TechDirt — Over Patenting of Software

Indian eagle
Hitting back against patent hawks and eagles/vultures (those looking to prey on someone)

Summary: US-based sites/groups which are technology-leaning rather than lawyers- or litigation-leaning advise the world’s most powerful patent office and the corresponding courts to consider what’s truly unpatentable and decide accordingly

THE USPTO has been pressured to improve patent quality; one way to achieve this is to highlight obviously bad (and embarrassing) patent grants/awards. How about European Patents on literally fraudulent things (part of elaborate scams) and special awards for such people?

We recently wrote about a "Stupid European Patent" (EP) and we welcome pointers from readers (pointers to other ridiculous European Patents). In the meantime see “Stupid Patent Of The Month: A Newspaper On A Screen” by Alex Moss (EFF). This was published by TechDirt days after the original had been published in the EFF’s site to say:

One of the oldest challenges in journalism is deciding what goes on the front page. How big should the headline be? What articles merit front-page placement? When addressing these questions, publishers deal with a physical limit in the size of the page. Digital publishing faces a similar constraint: the storage capacity of the user’s device. You can only put as much content on the device as will fit. If that sounds like a fundamental to you, and unpatentable, idea, we agree. Unfortunately, the Patent Office does not. They recently decided to issue our latest Stupid Patent of the Month: U.S. No. 10,042,822, titled “Device, Method, and System for Displaying Pages of a Digital Edition by Efficient Download of Assets.”

The ’822 patent adds nothing remotely inventive or technological to the basic idea of providing a portion of a periodical—i.e., a newspaper—based on the amount of space available. The patent owner, Nuglif, makes an application for distributing news and media content.

Even a cursory glance at the patent reveals the limits of its technological reach. It explains: “The present invention is concerned with a processor-implemented method for displaying a digital edition readable by a dedicated software application running on a data processing device having a display screen, even though the digital edition is not completely downloaded on the data processing device.” The specification is typically elusive as to what that invention actually is, instead repeating the boilerplate phrase beloved by patent applicants, that “the description set forth herein is merely exemplary to the present invention and is not intended to limit the scope of protection.”

For the limits of the patent, we look to its claims, which define the applicant’s legal rights instead of describing the operation of the “invention” to which the claims supposedly correspond. The patent has only one independent claim, which includes steps of (a) receiving a pre-generated file linking to at least some content from current and upcoming digital editions, (b) requesting the linked-content for display, and (c) determining how much content from the upcoming edition to download based on publication date and device capacity.

Here is Mike Masnick’s take on the recently-mentioned EFF and R Street amicus brief (about SCOTUS and the Federal Circuit‘s decision). From TechDirt:

In order for something to be patentable subject matter, it has to meet a few criteria, listed out in the Patent Act. It needs to be a “useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter” and it needs to be “non-obvious” to someone “having ordinary skill in the art.” But, perhaps most importantly it needs to be a new invention. You can’t patent something someone else already invented. That’s why prior art is so important.

Already, the US Patent Office is notoriously bad at finding prior art, which has been a big complaint here at Techdirt for over a decade. Part of this is that they limit what they’ll even look at as prior art, unless information is put directly in front of their faces by those trying to invalidate bad patents. Generally, most of the prior art that patent examiners look at consisted of… earlier patents and scientific journals. And that’s not nearly enough for a whole variety of reasons. But, now the Federal Circuit has suggested that even earlier patent applications may not really count as prior art.

EFF and R Street teamed up to file an amicus brief with the Supreme Court asking it to reverse the Federal Circuit (something the court has done over and over and over and over and over again in the last dozen or so years).

We’ve always appreciated the EFF’s campaigns regarding patents at the US Patent Office, sometimes more than on other occasions (there was a time when the EFF’s strategy was a lot poorer). Nowadays they openly speak about software patents; they speak out against these.

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