Showing posts with label patent reform. Show all posts
Showing posts with label patent reform. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

New low in patent stupidty: searching for a used car with a clean title

Cory Doctorow: The US Patent and Trademark Office has just granted a particularly ludicrous patent: Carfax now owns the idea of searching for cars that have clean titles. Somehow, this didn't qualify as "obvious."
A method of searching for used vehicles comprising:

* Using VIN numbers to look up the title status of a vehicle; * Storing the title status of the vehicle in a database; and * Providing a list of vehicles based on title status to users who search for them online.

Could this be any more obvious? Even the patent itself admits that methods of compiling title information on used cars have been around since 1991. So what's the novel aspect of this invention?

Why does stupid stuff like this matter? It matters because every click and every idea is becoming someone's property. It doesn't matter if we've been doing it forever (like querying databases!), or if it's totally obvious, someone ends up owning it. The USPTO is open for anyone who wants to claim ownership of any idea (no wonder -- their funding comes from filing fees for patents), and once those patents end up in the hands of patent trolls, it's open season on the firms and people who make great stuff.

We all pay: we pay for the legal costs of fighting patent battles, built into the price of our stuff. We pay for the technologies that never come to market because of patent fears. We pay for all the ridiculous "defensive patents" filed by startups (there's no such thing as a defensive patent: having a patent doesn't mean that the USPTO won't give the same patent to someone else, and then your "defense" consists of not running out of money to fight the patent in court), which then turn into patent-troll armaments when the startups tank.

Astroturfing companies run bogus sites like this one, where they argue for "patent reforms" that consist of not reforming anything. Sites like Patent Fairness are a good place to get the real story.



Wednesday, May 23, 2007

If the Patent Reform Act Passes

Legislation changing the current system, by granting patents to the "first-to-file" vs. the "first-to-invent," has a good chance of passing

Last month, a bipartisan group of leaders from the Senate and the House introduced identical patent-reform legislation that experts believe has a good chance of passing. The Patent Reform Act of 2007 is similar to legislation that has been tried in years past but never succeeded, says J. Warren Lytle, an intellectual property lawyer at Sughrue Mion, in Washington, D.C. Lytle spoke recently with Smart Answers columnist Karen E. Klein about the proposed changes to intellectual property law and how they might affect small-business owners (see, 5/14/07, "A Higher Hurdle for Inventors"). Edited excerpts of their conversation follow:

This legislation, introduced by senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), and Representatives Howard Berman (D-Calif.) and Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), is similar to legislative reform introduced last year and even before that. What chance does this version have of becoming law?

This year, all the stars seem to be aligned. It looks very favorable that some reform will go through in this Congress before the fall, when the concentration is going to shift to the 2008 elections.

What does the bipartisan bill do?

It updates current patent laws and provides reform for patent seekers and patent holders. Among many important reforms, the bill would create a pure "first-to-file" system. The U.S. system is the only one in the world that still grants patents to the first inventor, rather than to the first person to file a patent application. The bill also creates a more streamlined and effective way of challenging the validity and enforceability of patents.

When we're talking about the "first-to-file" right, what does that mean?

The U.S. has been unique among all other countries because we have this "first-to-invent" system, rather than a "first-to-file" system. What that means is that diligent inventors get the patent if they can prove they had the idea first and they began using it commercially, even if they aren't the first to file for a patent.

Smaller companies might not have the resources in place to generate patent applications quickly, as large corporations can do. So in the past, the entrepreneurs have been happy with the "first-to-invent" system because they get the rights if they can show that they've invented it and they've been selling the product.

So if the legislation passes, will this be a bad thing for small companies and inventors?

It'll certainly make it even more important for them to file for a patent for their inventions and new products right away.

What are the reforms proposed on the back end of the process, in terms of challenging a patent's validity?

The legislation establishes something like a "post-grant opposition system." This means that after a patent has been granted, there will be a short period of time in which someone can challenge it. So if a patent issues, and somebody in your company has been watching for it, they can initiate an opposition action within the patent office to oppose the patent and there will be a mini-trial held in front of the patent administration office to determine the validity of the patent.

Other countries, like those in Europe, have this kind of system but if this legislation passes, it will be a first for the U.S. That means an entrepreneur wouldn't have to go to federal court to invalidate a patent, which is very costly, with long delays and a jury.

What are the implications of this for the small-business owner?

Well, a small company that monitors the patents coming out in their area of expertise might be able to take advantage of this opposition system immediately instead of waiting to get sued. If a patent issues that looks close to what you're doing, or that might give you problems, you could initiate an opposition to it.

The downside is that if you petition for opposition, and your petition is denied, you can't later seek to raise the same issue in a federal civil lawsuit. You can still file the suit later, however, if you've not taken advantage of the opposition system.

What's the motivation for this reform?

The goal has been to reduce the number of patents that should not be granted every year and to reduce the amount of expensive patent litigation that gets brought into the courts. There has been a lot of litigation resulting from people who get patents on inventions that are "obvious"—or not novel.

What happens is that they get these patents and then they assert them against businesses that are generating money. We call these people "patent trolls"—they get a patent, they don't make that product, but they legally go after companies that are producing that product. The word troll arises from the idea that there's a "patent thicket" out there that innovative companies have to navigate in order to get a product out. And, at the worst time, a troll emerges from the thicket with a lawsuit.

How costly is it to get a patent these days?

If you've got a mechanical invention, it'll cost between $5,000 to $10,000 including attorney's fees and filing fees. If you're talking about electronics, the cost goes up to more like $8,000 to $15,000. In the biotechnology industry, the cost is even higher.

Karen E. Klein is a Los Angeles-based writer who covers entrepreneurship and small-business issues.


Thursday, May 17, 2007

Your old CD ROMs could help kill a bogus patent!

EFF and its friends are on the verge of busting one of the most bogus technology patents ever granted, and they need your help to drive a spike through its heart. The patent in question is Acacia's ridiculous ownership over the idea of shipping CD ROMs and other media with hyperlinks in them.
To help bust this overly broad patent, we are looking for Prior Art that shows the use of this technology before 1994. Specifically, we are seeking the following items:

1. NetNews CD-ROMs, sold by Sterling Software, preferably volumes #1 through #35. These CDs may have been also available through CD Publishing Corporation.


2. Other CD-ROMs that were distributed in 1993 or earlier that contained hypertext content or were installation disks for applications that linked to Internet content.



Tuesday, May 08, 2007

India trying to save the world from yoga patents

Western governments are granting patents, trademarks, and copyrights over yoga to con-artists who claim to have invented the millennia-old practice. The Indian government is retaliating by publishing a giant, multi-lingual database of yoga-stuff so that patent examiners can see that "yoga didn't originate in a San Francisco commune."
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has issued 150 yoga-related copyrights, 134 patents on yoga accessories, and 2,315 yoga trademarks. There's big money in those pretzel twists and contortions - $3 billion a year in America alone. It's a mystery to most Indians that anybody can make that much money from the teaching of a knowledge that is not supposed to be bought or sold like sausages.

The Indian government is not laughing. It has set up a task force that is cataloging traditional knowledge, including ayurvedic remedies and hundreds of yoga poses, to protect them from being pirated and copyrighted by foreign hucksters. The data will be translated from ancient Sanskrit and Tamil texts, stored digitally, and available in five international languages, so that patent offices in other countries can see that yoga didn't originate in a San Francisco commune.

It is worth noting that the people in the forefront of the patenting of traditional Indian wisdom are Indians, mostly overseas. We know a business opportunity when we see one and have exported generations of gurus skilled in peddling enlightenment for a buck. But as Indians, they ought to know that the very idea of patenting knowledge is a gross violation of the tradition of yoga.


Supreme Court Issues Two Important Patent Decisions

May 1, 2007 3:18 PM byJason Mendelson

Clearly, the Supreme Court read my patent rant. Okay, maybe not, but I'd like to claim that they did. As many of you know, I have a real issue with the entire patent litigation system. As many of you also know, Brad and I are huge proponents of invalidating software patents, in general. We feel that they stiffle innovation and are used mostly by unsavory folks trolling for dollars.

Today, the Supreme Court issued two important rulings. The first opinion deals with the concept of what is "obvious" under patent law. In a rare, rare situation, the court was unanimous. I haven't read the opinion (yet), but the news is reporting that they slapped down a federal appeals court that went too far in providing patent protection. Clearly the court is sending a message to the PTO office that it believes there are too many patents being granted.

In the second case, the Supremes endorsed US law that says US patents are not infringed upon if the products at issue are made and sold in other countries. In other words, foreign law pertains to goods sold in foreign countries.

It will be some time until we know how / if this actually affects our patent system as it stands today. For now, it's a step in the right direction.