Patent reform advocates have long argued that “patent trolls”—companies that do nothing but sue over patents—are harmful to innovation, not just a plague on big companies. A new study attempted to find out if there’s any real data behind that accusation or if it’s just a few sad anecdotes.
Turns out there is a very real, and very negative, correlation between patent troll lawsuits and the venture capital funding that startups rely on. A just-released study [PDF] by Catherine Tucker, a professor of marketing at MIT’s Sloan School of Business, finds that over the last five years, VC investment “would have likely been $21.772 billion higher… but for litigation brought by frequent litigators.”
The study defines “frequent litigators” as companies that file 20 or more patent lawsuits, which limits the definition to true-blue “patent trolls,” or Patent Assertion Entities (PAEs), the term used by the paper. The study covers the period from 1995 to 2012.
Tucker’s paper estimates a 95 percent confidence interval for the amount of lost investment to be between $8.1 billion and $41.8 billion. Those numbers are relative to a baseline of just under $131 billion of investment that actually occurred during that five-year period of time.
Federal regulators are pressing the Supreme Court to stop big pharmaceutical corporations from paying generic drug competitors to delay releasing their cheaper versions of brand-name drugs. The regulators argue those deals deny American consumers, usually for years, steep price declines that can top 90 percent.
The Obama administration, backed by consumer groups and the American Medical Association, says these so-called “pay for delay” deals profit the drug companies but harm consumers by adding 3.5 billion annually to their drug bills.
But the pharmaceutical companies counter that they need to preserve longer the billions of dollars in revenue from their patented products in order to recover the billions they spend developing new drugs. And both the large companies and the generic makers say the marketing of generics often is hastened by these deals.
The justices will hear the argument Monday.
Such pay-for-delay deals arise when generic companies file a challenge at the Food and Drug Administration to the patents that give brand-name drugs a 20-year monopoly. The generic drug makers aim to prove the patent is flawed or otherwise invalid, so they can launch a generic version well before the patent ends.
Brand-name drug makers then usually sue the generic companies, which sets up what could be years of expensive litigation. When the two sides aren’t certain who will win, they often reach a compromise deal that allows the generic company to sell its cheaper copycat drug in a few years, but years before the drug’s patent would expire. Often, that settlement comes with a sizable payment from the brand-name company to the generic drug maker.
When Steven Vicinanza got a letter in the mail earlier this year informing him that he needed to pay $1,000 per employee for a license to some “distributed computer architecture” patents, he didn’t quite believe it at first. The letter seemed to be saying anyone using a modern office scanner to scan documents to e-mail would have to pay—which is to say, just about any business, period.
If he’d paid up, the IT services provider that Vicinanza founded, BlueWave Computing, would have owed $130,000.
The letters, he soon found out, were indeed real and quite serious—he wasn’t the only person getting them. BlueWave works mostly with small and mid-sized businesses in the Atlanta area, and before long, several of his own customers were contacting him about letters they had received from the same mysterious entity: “Project Paperless LLC.”
“I was just mad,” he said.
Vicinanza soon got in touch with the attorney representing Project Paperless: Steven Hill, a partner at Hill, Kertscher & Wharton, an Atlanta law firm.
“[Hill] was very cordial and very nice,” he told Ars. “He said, if you hook up a scanner and e-mail a PDF document—we have a patent that covers that as a process.”
It didn’t seem credible that Hill was demanding money for just using basic office equipment exactly the way it was intended to be used. So Vicinanza clarified:
“So you’re claiming anyone on a network with a scanner owes you a license?” asked Vicinanza. “He said, ‘Yes, that’s correct.’ And at that point, I just lost it.”
Apple’s “pinch-to-zoom” patent should not have been awarded, according to a preliminary ruling by the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
The innovation was at one of six patents at the heart of a recent lawsuit between the iPhone-maker and Samsung.
For now the patent remains valid and Apple is expected to appeal.
However, it could ultimately mean that a judge reduces the amount of damages that Samsung has to pay.
It is the second time in three months that the USPTO has placed one of Apple’s patents in the case under review.
In October it was revealed it had taken the same action against Apple’s “rubber band” user-interface effect which makes lists appear to bounce and snap back in place after a user has scrolled beyond their end.
News of the latest decision was made public in a filing submitted by Samsung to a California court on Wednesday.
The patent is formally referred to as “application programming interfaces for scrolling operations”.
Although it has been commonly referred to as the basis for Apple’s “pinch-to-zoom” control mechanism, it specifically describes ways for software to determine whether it should scroll through material or transform it by zooming in or out, or rotating it.
It suggests this could be worked out by seeing if one finger was used or several and examination of the way they were dragged.
A total of 21 specific methodologies are claimed by Apple’s filing. All were rejected by the patent office on the basis that they had already been granted to previous applicants - something the USPTO had not discovered before approving the document in November 2010.
The patent application made waves immediately after it was published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office last August. Amazon filed for it in February 2010 and was granted it today, Engadget notes.
At its core, the patent details a system that uses your gadget’s built-in gyroscope, accelerometers, camera, and other onboard sensors to figure out if the device has gone airborne. If so, a system can keep the device from getting too badly damaged by changing its fall, and even deploying airbags to lessen the damage.
In practice this means a dropped device might even be able to survive a fall completely unscathed, except for people mistaking the entire episode for your extreme flatulence.
he morning that Michael Risch inserted himself into the battle between a Fortune 100 company and the man known as the “father of the iPod” began like any other, with a wake-up call from his six-year-old son. Risch, a professor of intellectual property law at Villanova University, padded to the kitchen of his suburban Philadelphia home and—in a move that his wife hated—joined his family at the table, his laptop in hand.
Of interest this morning was a new message from Article One Partners. For the past three years, Risch had moonlighted as a researcher for the company, which represents clients who are being sued, or are about to be sued, by someone who claims they’re infringing on a patent.
Article One posts the disputed patent online for Risch and the rest of its 20,000 researchers to see. What it’s hunting for is called “prior art”: magazine articles, brochures, or other published evidence that could show that the patent is invalid and therefore not worthy of a lawsuit.
What it offers in return are large cash rewards, sometimes as much as $50,000. Which explains why Risch’s wife tolerates the way he divides his mornings between his kids and his computer.
Table utensils are, above all, cultural objects, carrying with them a view of what food is and how we should conduct ourselves in relation to it. And then there are sporks.
The term “spork” is first recorded in a dictionary in 1909, though the first patent for one was only issued in 1970. Both the word and the thing are a hybrid of spoon and fork. Like a pencil with an eraser on the end, the spork is what theorists of technology call a “joined” tool: two inventions combined. In its classical form — fashioned from flimsy disposable plastic and given away at fast-food outlets — the spork has the scooping bowl of a spoon coupled with the tines of a fork. It is not to be confused with a Splayd (knife, fork and spoon in one), a knoon, a spife or a knork.
Sporks have developed an affectionate following of a somewhat ironic kind in our lifetime. There are several web sites devoted to them, proffering tips on use (“Bend the prongs inward and outward and stand the spork on end. This is a leaning tower of spork.”), haikus in their honor (“The spork, true beauty / the tines, the bowl, the long stem / life now is complete”) and general musings. spork.org has this to say:
A spork is a perfect metaphor for human existence. It tries to function as both spoon and fork, and because of this dual nature, it fails miserably at both. You cannot have soup with a spork; it is far too shallow. You cannot eat meat with a spork; the prongs are too small.
A spork is not one thing or another, but in-between. In the Pixar-animated film “Wall-E,” a robot in a postapocalyptic wasteland attempts to clear up the detritus left behind on planet Earth by the human race. He heroically sorts old plastic cutlery into different compartments until he encounters a spork. His little brain cannot cope with this new object. Does it go with the spoons? Or the forks? The spork is uncategorizable.
Apple has suffered an early loss in its patent suit against Motorola. An administrative law judge (ALJ) with the International Trade Commission (ITC) issued an initial ruling late on Friday, saying that Motorola did not violate three of Apple’s smartphone patents. The decision signals potential trouble for Apple, though it still faces the approval of a six-person ITC panel.
Apple and Motorola have been embroiled in a series of lawsuits both in federal court and with the ITC since 2010, when Motorola first accused Apple of violating a wide range of its patents covering 3G, GPRS, and 802.11 technologies, antenna design, proximity sensing, and device synchronization, to name a few. As is typical for these patent disputes, Apple immediately responded with its own countersuits, claiming that Motorola’s Android-based smartphones were infringing on Apple’s own intellectual property.
Friday’s ruling isn’t yet the final word from the ITC, and the panel doesn’t always rule the same way as the ALJ. Still, the decision is an indicator that Apple’s IP fight against Android may not be as easy as former Apple CEO Steve Jobs might have hoped when he said he hoped to “go thermonuclear war” against the platform. Though Apple has not commented publicly on the initial ITC ruling, Motorola was quick to send out a victorious statement for its early win.
RIOT shields that project a wall of sound to disperse crowds will reduce violent clashes with police, according to a patent filed by defence firm Raytheon of Waltham, Massachusetts.
The device looks similar to existing riot shields, but it incorporates an acoustic horn that generates a pressure pulse. Police in the US already use acoustic devices for crowd control purposes that emit a loud, unpleasant noise.
The new shield described by Raytheon produces a low-frequency sound which resonates with the respiratory tract, making it hard to breathe. According to the patent, the intensity could be increased from causing discomfort to the point where targets become “temporarily incapacitated”.
Acoustic devices haven’t seen wide adoption because their range is limited to a few tens of metres. The patent gets around this by introducing a “cohort mode” in which many shields are wirelessly networked so their output covers a wide area, like Roman legionaries locking their shields together. One shield acts as a master which controls the others, so that the acoustic beams combine effectively.
Raytheon declined to comment on the work.
Oracle Corp. is seeking billions of dollars in damages in a patent- and copyright-infringement suit against Google Inc., claiming the search-engine company’s Android software uses technology related to the Java programming language, according to a filing in San Francisco federal court.
The amount was disclosed in a filing Thursday by Oracle seeking to block Google from keeping documents that state Oracle’s monetary claims from public view.
Litigation is a huge business in Silicon Valley…