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Patents Roundup: Twitter and Amazon, Microsoft and Apple, USPTO and SCOTUS

Summary: A collection of news about software patents and patents in general

THERE is troubling news from the embargo agency known as ITC, which helps one company attack another by means of a sanction. There are some more reports on this which highlight the relevance to software patents, including this one which says:

The ITC affirmed the Chief Administrative Law Judge's ruling earlier this year that Suprema, Inc. of South Korea and Mentalix, Inc. of Plano, Texas infringe Cross Match's hardware and software patents, further determining that Suprema actively induced others to infringe one of Cross Match's patents.

The ITC loves blocking Asian products at the behest of US companies such as Microsoft and Apple. Pressure is applied to them in the same way that US pressure is applied to Cuba. The 'sin'? Allegedly having similar ideas. How can anybody justify this?

In other news, Twitter, which opposes software patents, is being hit by another patent troll/parasite, just amid complaints from Amazon that it too has become a victim of the patent system:

BOOKSELLER AMAZON has had 11 patent lawsuits filed against it this year, according to a filing with US financial regulators.

The MSBBC covered this too:

Amazon has revealed that 11 companies have filed patent lawsuits against it since the start of the year - more than three times as many as in all of 2010.

From Amazon's original SEC filing:

Risks have been amplified by the increase in third parties whose sole or primary business is to assert such claims [...] our website technology, including our 1-Click ordering system, infringes a patent obtained by Cordance

Amazon has meanwhile been pushing for software patents in the EU and it is in no real position to complain. It also pays Microsoft for GNU/Linux servers and the Linux-based Kindle. The next Kindle too (based on Android) will allegedly be taxed by Microsoft. Amazon did not even put up a fight. Why is it that the press neglects to mention such stories for background? Amazon is not in a position to whine. Stallman is meanwhile quoted widely as saying that Jobs also made it a personal crusade to attack Android with software patents. It is not far fetched to assume that Larry Ellison did a favour to his "best friend" (by his own words) Steve Jobs by suing Android through Google.

The Wall Street Journal mentions the latest twist and IDG comments on the Oracle vs. Google case, which was delayed, by heckling Google, as one ought to expect. IDG has never been a Google-friendly platform.

Meanwhile, patent lawyers get a platform in the Washington Post and they sort of admit being the parasites coming at the expense of actual work. By one's own words:

But when patents cannot be understood, are difficult to obtain, or become nearly impossible to enforce, much of the money that would go toward research and development is spent on lawyers. These legal fees drastically increase the barriers to investment for a promising new idea, dulling America’s technological edge. The modern trend of bundling patents into large portfolios for sale on the open market further demonstrates how the patent market currently favors large corporations over the individual entrepreneur.

As a patent attorney, I am constantly meeting hopeful inventors who dream of securing a patent to protect their ideas. They have been told by potential investors that they need a patent before they are willing to invest in their technology. When I explain that a patent will cost upwards of $30,000 and take around five years to obtain, their hopes are dashed. The news only gets worse when I inform them that enforcing a patent is a multi-million dollar proposition. At that point, most simply give up.

Another paper is giving a platform to Microsoft's FUD against Android and promotion of software patents (there are some parts there about both). To quote the puff piece (Microsoft guest post essentially):

Microsoft attorney outlines Android patent tactics


Those patents (cover) individual features that have been created in a particularly inventive way by Microsoft and that have been recognized by the patent office. It's now being tested in court. It remains to be seen what courts say; they will be the ultimate arbiter. But we believe they're solid patents.

Guess who is is playing along? MSN, Microsoft's fake 'news' site. The Microsoft press on Apple's ridiculous patents that threaten Android is as shallow as one should expect. Compare it to this good piece which complains about a "broken" system:

Apple's Newly Awarded Patent and a Broken System


The result, in my humble opinion, is that the system is broken for the modern age and in need of an overhaul. Over the last few years I’ve seen patents, which were originally developed as a form of protection for an inventor, become a corrupted version of its original intent. Instead of protection they’re now used primarily as strategy and legal weaponry against competition. And the reason is the pure power behind it – a patent grants exclusive rights on the technology in question for 20 years.

Outside of basic patent trolling, there are a number of examples that can be cited here that illustrate the shambles that our patent system is now plagued with, but it was the most recent one that set me off this week. Just recently Apple, which is a perennial member of the patent lawsuit club, was just awarded patent 8,046,721 (7,657,849 is the same thing just older) by the good ol’ USPTO, entitled “Unlocking a device by performing gestures on an unlock image.” I’m going to let that one sink in for a second and let you read some of that patent I linked before the tirade that’s about to follow, divided cleanly into three (3) parts for your convenience. And before I get to it, let me put a disclaimer out there that I’m not a lawyer, nor do I have any formal legal education or professional experience.

You good? OK.

E.D. Kain asks, "Do Patents Kill Innovation?"

Of course they are killing innovation. Their goal was never innovation. It was documentation. "Patent office strained by time, staffing" reads a new headline from the Nashua Telegraph and one lawyers' site helps remind us that this problem is systemic because even SCOTUS won't do what needs to be done:

The Supreme Court's decision did not invalidate the multitude of business method patents already issued or threaten patent applications still pending. Rather, the court invited the Federal Circuit to consider the appropriate way to evaluate business method patents. Due to the lack of guidance from the courts, the time was perhaps ripe for intervention by Congress.

The patent system is harmful and it helps harm small players in particular. Something must be done about it.


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