Archive for the ‘Legal/Tech News’ Category

IRS Ruling Declares Bitcoin Will Be Taxed As Property

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On March 25, 2014, the Internal Revenue Service issued a ruling declaring that it will tax virtual currencies, such as Bitcoin, as property. This ruling could have significant effects on the way that consumers use Bitcoin. The implication of the ruling is that Bitcoin can no longer operate as an alternative form of currency because any transaction using Bitcoin as consideration will lead to a capital gain or loss for the person paying with Bitcoin. Bitcoin fluctuates drastically in value, which means that almost every transaction using Bitcoin will result in some sort of gain or loss which will now be taxable at capital gains rates. So, for example, if a person buys a Bitcoin for $10 and uses it to purchase an item for $15, he or she will be required to pay capital gains tax on the $5 increase in value. The extreme value fluctuation, however, also explains why the IRS’s ruling may not be as extreme as some commentators suggest. It is, in fact, this value fluctuation which has led consumers to use Bitcoin primarily as an investment medium, like gold, silver, and other commodities, rather than as actual currency. The rapidly changing value of Bitcoin provides plenty of room for investors to try to maximize value by betting on the increase or decrease of the technological commodity. There are also significant administrative restrictions which will make the IRS’s ruling difficult, if not impossible, to enforce, at least with respect to the average individual. In order to determine the amount of capital gains tax an individual owes to the U.S. government, he or she will have to carefully track all of the purchases made with Bitcoin over the course of the year. If individuals are making multiple purchases with Bitcoin, this will prove to be a very tedious and complicated requirement and is likely to discourage individuals from using Bitcoin as currency in the first place. In addition to being difficult for individuals to monitor their capital gains, it will be just as complicated for the IRS to figure out how much it should be receiving in taxes from these individuals. Bitcoin’s original purpose was to provide a type of currency that was completely anonymous, which is why it has often been used in funding illegal transactions. The virtual wallets which house Bitcoins are not tied to individuals; this will make it very difficult for the IRS to monitor how much capital gains tax individuals owe on their Bitcoin transactions. This administrative monitoring gap may provide a new venue for entrepreneurs to develop a platform which provides tracking of an individual’s basis in and purchases using Bitcoin in order to properly determine how much capital gains tax they owe in connection with Bitcoin transactions. But without this type of platform, it is unclear how the IRS will effectively enforce its new ruling. Sources:
  • http://money.cnn.com/2014/03/31/technology/irs-bitcoin/
  • http://techcitynews.com/2014/03/28/bitcoin-is-property-not-currency-rules-irs/
  • http://techcrunch.com/2014/03/30/bitcoin-slips-in-the-wake-of-the-irss-tax-decision/
  • http://www.coindesk.com/irs-bitcoin-ruling-may-bright-side/
  • http://www.inman.com/2014/03/31/irss-bitcoin-guidance-turns-every-transaction-into-a-reportable-capital-gain-or-loss-at-tax-time/
  • http://www.irs.gov/uac/Newsroom/IRS-Virtual-Currency-Guidance
  • http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/03/why-bitcoin-can-no-longer-work-as-a-virtual-currency-in-1-paragraph/359648/
  • http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/mar/31/bitcoin-legally-property-irs-currency

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April 8th, 2014 at 10:27 am

Keurig Walls Off the Garden by Shutting Out Third Party K-cups

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Keurig, the single serve coffee machine produced by Green Mountain, is nearly ubiquitous in offices, homes, and schools around the country. The device rose to popularity on the back of the K-cup, the single serve pods produced by Green Mountain that allowed a single cup of hundreds of different coffee, tea, and chocolate drinks to be brewed in a matter of seconds. Green Mountain made $3.9 billion in sales in 2012, with 2.7 billion coming from K-cup sales. Keurig was able to maintain strong sales of its K-cups because of several patents on the design and features of the K-cup. However, in September 2012, U.S. Patent Nos. 5,353,765 and 5,840,189 expired. These two patents covered the original K-cup design. Their expiry has opened the door for generic knockoff K-cups to flood the market. Green Mountain claims that the design covered by these patents is outdated and has been superseded by new and improved designs covered under patents that are still in force, including, U.S. Patent Nos. 6,645,537 and the still pending Application No. 20050051478. However, many generic K-cups are already on the market and work in Keurig’s brewing machines. While Keurig claims that generic K-cups will continue to make up less than 15% of the total K-cup market and stress that their current design is superior to any competing product, Green Mountain is clearly worried about the generic threat. In early March of this year Green Mountain announced “Keurig 2.0,” an improved brewing device that would be launching as early as the fall of 2014. Among other changes over previous models, the new Keurig brewer will contain technology that prevents generic K-cups from being used. Green Mountain is the latest to introduce protections for their propriety technology, following in the footsteps of Hewlett-Packard and other printer manufacturers who have added technology to their printers preventing generic printer cartridges from being used, or software companies that have added Digital Rights Management (DRM) to their software to prevent piracy. It is unclear exactly what sort of form this proprietary protection will take, but past forms used in printers include RFID tags. In any case, Green Mountain has made clear that they will still allow third parties to produce K-cups so long as they obtain a license from Green Mountain. Already, a legal fight is brewing over Green Mountain’s proposed move. TreeHouse Foods and Rogers Family are already suing Green Mountain on antitrust grounds. Besides the antitrust concerns, Green Mountain may have difficulty stopping third parties that circumvent their protections. In 2012, Lexmark installed technology to prohibit generic printer ink refills in their printers and lost an appeal in the 6th Circuit for a copyright and DMCA claim against a company that developed a work around for the protection technology for their generic ink refills. In the near future, the legal precedents set by these cases could have far-reaching effects on DRM and physical proprietary protections across the market.

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April 2nd, 2014 at 4:22 pm

Patent protection is essential yet insufficient for the success of a startup

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Pebble has successfully run the largest Kickstarter campaign, raising more than $ 10.2 million in 2012 [1] [2]. However, Pebble’s future might not be so bright. First, the USPTO recently issued a final rejection to Pebble Technology’s only US patent application (US Patent Application Number 13/511,531 titled System and Method for Alerting a User on an External Device of Notifications or Alerts Originating from a Network-Connected Device) on March 10, 2014 [3]. In contrast, Apple has filed at least 79 patents related to smart watches [4]. Second, large companies have the resources to defend themselves against non-practicing entities while a startup such as Pebble Technology does not. Fortunately for Pebble Technology, this concern is somewhat alleviated by the 2013 Obama Executive Order on Patent Trolls. But Pebble is also facing strong competition from established consumer electronics giants such as Sony. In addition, other companies such as Google and HTC are eager to enter the market. Furthermore, cheaper alternatives such as Fitbit may be more attractive to some consumers. Clearly, the wearable technology space is not short of impressive design and technologies [5] [6]. Navigating a crowded technology space is definitely not easy for a startup. To be successful, a startup needs to be innovative, to have a strong business plan and strategy, and to have intellectual property protection. And Pebble Technology might need help in all these areas.

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March 30th, 2014 at 11:39 am

Patents for Humanity

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The Obama administration recently announced a renewal of Patents for Humanity, a USPTO program promoting the use of patented technologies to address worldwide humanitarian needs.  Patents for Humanity is part of the President’s program to strengthen the patent system and to promote innovation by recognizing patent owners and licensees who using their patented technology to improve global health and living standards for the less fortunate.  In addition to public recognition for their contribution to humanitarian needs, the winners will receive an acceleration certificate that gives expedited processing of select matters (e.g. moving patent re-examination proceedings to the front of the queue) before the USPTO. The first Patents for Humanity was implemented in February 2012 as part of an initiative to solve long-standing development challenges.  Participants described in their applications how they've used their patented technology or product to address humanitarian issues (defined as issues “significantly affecting the public health or quality of life of an impoverished population”) in one of the four categories: medical technology, food and nutrition, clean technology and information technology.  The first 1,000 applications that met the competition requirements were considered, and the applications were independently reviewed by three judges selected from academia for their expertise in medicine, law, science, engineering, public policy, or a related field.  The judging process applied three neutrality principles – technology-neutral, geographically-neutral, and financially-neutral.  The program considered inventions from any field of technology that met the competition criteria. The targeted impoverished population may be located anywhere in the world.  And any means of getting technology to those in need may qualify without regard to financial consideration.  Lastly, the program considered the diversity of contributions in order to highlight global humanitarian contributions across all types of technology, organizations, and practices. The 2012-2013 program recognized 10 winners and 6 honorable mentions.  The medical technology category was divided into a category for medicine & vaccines and a category for diagnostics & devices.  The winners of the pilot program include research institutions like University of California, Berkeley and industry leaders, such as Microsoft and Proctor & Gamble.  USPTO expects to open applications for the 2014 Patents for Humanity program in April.  The latest USPTO announcement states that the 2014 program will be structured similarly to the pilot program that was introduced in 2012, with a few changes based on the feedback from the pilot program.

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March 11th, 2014 at 9:33 am

As Patent Litigation Reaches “DEFCON 1,” Tech Companies Look for Alternatives

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Non-practicing entities (NPEs) are nothing new in the world of patent litigation, but this past October, NPE litigation reached a new level when the Rockstar Consortium filed an infringement suit in the Eastern District of TexasRockstar Consortium (not to be confused with Rockstar Games, a videogame developer) is not a well-known name to the public: the company doesn’t actually make anything. Instead, Rockstar makes money by licensing its large (approximately 4,000 strong) portfolio of patents and enforcing its intellectual property through legal action. Rockstar employs a small cadre of engineers and technicians to reverse-engineer consumer electronics products to determine whether they might infringe one of its patents. When an engineer identifies a potentially infringing product, Rockstar’s attorneys approach the alleged infringer, likely threatening legal action if a settlement isn’t reached. However, what distinguishes Rockstar from a run-of-the-mill NPE is the support that it has received from traditional technology giants. Rockstar was formed shortly after the bankruptcy of the former Canadian telecommunications giant Nortel Networks. Nortel auctioned off its stash of patents, and “Rockstar Bidco,” backed by the unliely alliance of Apple and Microsoft (among others), won the auction with a bid of $4.5 billion, beating Google after many rounds of bidding. After distributing approximately 2,000 patents directly to its sponsors, a newly minted “Rockstar Consortium” remained with a cache of 4,000 patents to enforce. Two years of anticipated litigation was finally realized when Rockstar asserted patent infringement contentions against Google, Samsung, and a number of other companies who manufacture Android smartphones. Technology industry commentators called the act “DEFCON 1” in the patent wars. Google now faces a well-funded opponent, supported by Google’s direct competitors, with a large cache of high-quality patents. While the exact implications of this litigation have yet to be determined, Google is certainly facing potential disruptions to the distribution of its Android mobile operating system, possible licensing deals that could seriously damage its future profitability, and the near-certainty of spending many millions of dollars in legal costs. Google’s recent cross-licensing agreement with Samsung suggests that it may be looking for alternatives to litigation, and it would probably make good business sense for Google to explore options for resolving this dispute out of court.
 

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February 18th, 2014 at 11:24 am

Coalition for Patent Fairness Attempts to Curb Inefficient Patent Litigation

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On February 5, 2014, Google and Cisco announced a long-term cross-licensing deal. The agreement permits either company to utilize the other company's patent portfolio. That day, Cisco also agreed to a similar cross-licensing agreement with Samsung. Last week, Google also reached a cross-licensing agreement with Samsung. Why are there so many of these cross-licensing agreements? It begins with intense competition in the technology sector. Companies with large patent portfolios have a financial incentive to sue other infringing companies to either procure licensing fees or protect market share. Of course, other companies may have large patent portfolios as well, and they can counter-sue for infringement of their patents. Thus, we have a form of mutual deterrence. Each company is infringing on patents of the other, and it is often impossible to predict how a judge or jury will decide the case. Companies don't deal well with uncertainty and often choose not to roll the dice. As a result, very few of these cases go to court. The cases that we do see involve highly sophisticated markets such as the smartphone battle between Samsung and Apple, which resulted in a near $1,000,000,000 judgement to Apple. There is another aspect to the patent litigation game. As mentioned above, large companies are deterred from suing each other because of the risk of countersuit. However, a large company could contract with a patent assertion company (or "patent troll") to sue the other corporation on its behalf. The company maintains anonymity and gains the desired market advantage. In these proxy lawsuits, it is often hard to determine the actual interested parties. Companies can in effect hire paid guns to do their dirty work. Fittingly, this practice is called "patent privateering." And to many, this is seen as inefficient and undesirable for the economy. The Coalition for Patent Fairness is such a group that believes that the current method of doing business  is broken. As stated on their website, the Coalition is "a diverse group of companies dedicated to enhancing U.S. innovation, job creation, and competitiveness in the global market by modernizing and strengthening our nation’s patent system." Google, Cisco, and Samsung are companies in the Coalition. By negotiating long-term cross-licensing agreements, these companies are announcing that they are tired of the gamesmanship and shadow tactics common in the technology industry, and they are choosing to compete in the marketplace. Hopefully, in time, more companies will follow their lead.  

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February 17th, 2014 at 11:55 am

Update on Bitcoin Regulation

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Since the last post on a proposal for Bitcoin regulation, another 300,000 Bitcoins were mined, [1] the Alibaba Group banned the use of Bitcoin on its e-commerce sites, [2] and the U.S. Department of Justice charged the vice-chairman of the Bitcoin Foundation in a money-laundering conspiracy. [3] Earlier last week, Benjamin Lawsky, New York State’s Superintendent of Financial Services, held a series of hearings on virtual currency regulations. Speakers included the Winklevoss brothers and the deputy U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. Notably, Mr. Lawsky announced his plans to roll out a “regulatory framework for virtual currency firms operating in New York” in 2014. [4] Although it is admirable that New York is taking the initiative, it remains to be seen whether or not state regulation is a practical option. New York’s regulatory framework for Bitcoin will be necessarily confined within its state borders. It is easy to imagine other states following suit, but enacting different laws, which would result in an inconsistent mess of legislation. On one hand, this could lead to loopholes and allow for regulatory arbitrage. On the other hand, this could become so frustrating as to discourage Bitcoin use altogether. After all, one of Bitcoin’s advantages is that is not subject to regulation. Subjecting Bitcoin businesses and users to multiple regulatory regimes might cripple the virtual currency altogether. As Mr. Lawsky explained, however, “Businesses can deal with regulation. What they can’t deal with is uncertainty." [5]

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February 5th, 2014 at 12:35 pm

Google And Samsung Announce Long-Term Cross-Licensing Deal

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Google and Samsung have announced a substantial and long-term cross-licensing agreement. This agreement will allow the companies to use each other’s existing patents, and any new patents filed, for the next 10 years. [1] Cross-licensing is a contract between two parties in which each party grants their intellectual property rights to the other. As such, the parties are free to use one another’s technology. This licensing agreement follows a trend of several other high profile cross licensing agreements in the last few years. Samsung also has a cross-licensing agreement with Microsoft, and both Apple and Microsoft have cross-licensing agreements with the Taiwanese cell phone manufacturer HTC. [2] Both Google and Samsung have expressed a desire to avoid the court room. Allen Lo, Deputy General Counsel for Patents at Google said: “By working together on agreements like this, companies can reduce the potential for litigation and focus instead on innovation.” [3] Google and Samsung have been seen as allies for some time, working together on the Android operating system; thus this agreement isn't surprising.  However, in recent years, Google has been changing their focus to mobile hardware. Google Glass is soon expected to become available at lower prices, Chromecast has been a hot seller, and rumors of a Nexus set-top persist. [4] This deal will likely give Google access to many valuable Samsung hardware patents. Samsung will also receive significant of benefits, gaining access to patents associated with the Android operating system, which may be useful for its developing Android-free Tizen operating system. Whether this deal will prove wise for  Samsung and Google remains to be seen; for now, they both seem to be content taking pot shots at Apple.  Dr. Seungho Ahn, the Head of Samsung’s Intellectual Property Center, has said, “Samsung and Google are showing the rest of the industry that there is more to gain from cooperating than engaging in unnecessary patent disputes.” [5]

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February 4th, 2014 at 12:26 pm

Harnessing Deeper Relationships in South Korea

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Korea has opened its legal market to foreign law firms under Free Trade Agreements about one and a half years ago.  According to the Ministry of Justice, 16 foreign firms have opened shop and are currently operating in South Korea: • 13 US-based firms: Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton; Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton; Simpson Thatcher & Bartlett; Paul Hastings; Ropes & Gray; Covington & Burling; O'Melveny & Myers; K&L Gates; Cohen & Gresser; Square Sanders; Greenberg Traurig; McKenna Long & Aldridge; McDermott Will & Emer • 3 UK-based firms: DLA Piper; Clifford Chance; Herbert Smith Freehills Why Korea?  South Korea is ranked 15th in the world by nominal GDP and 12th by purchasing power parity, and is considered one of the fastest growing economies in the world.  The combined outbound M&A market for last year was $8.8 billion, an increase of 13% from 2011.  The country also ranks 4th in the number of patents issued by the World Intellectual Property Organization in 2011.  Korea's largest companies are technology companies, such as Samsung, LG, and Hyundai.  Law firms are drawn to the corporate and IP opportunities and Korean companies are similarly drawn to their service.  Korean companies and government have spent close to $1.1 billion in 2011 for foreign legal services in 2011. Law firms are integrating in 3 stages.  For the first two years, firms can open representative offices and provide legal counseling on non-Korean law, which has already attracted a long list of interested corporations.  For the following three years, firms can enter into co-operative agreements with Korean firms, which include advising on legal issues involving a mixture of domestic and foreign law, and entering into fee-share agreements with their Korean counterparts.  The final stage is to allow firms to invest in the local market, recruit Korean lawyers, and enter into partnerships with Korean firms. Some say that heightened competition for legal work will impact fees, and predict that a restructuring period will soon begin.  Others focus on the fierce competition that will emerge from local players that have nurtured deep relationships with Korean companies.  Another consideration is to understand the deeply rooted Confusionistic culture that is pervasive in the business culture, such as the top-down management style whereby decisions are made by committees rising up the hierarchy. But on a whole, foreign firms will have better access to the dynamic global market of Korea and enhance bilateral investment opportunities,  in turn making it easier for Korean companies to navigate investments abroad.

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December 21st, 2013 at 7:31 pm

A Proposal for Bitcoin Regulation

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Bitcoin, the creation of Satoshi Nakamoto, an anonymous person or group, is commonly touted as the “world’s first decentralized digital currency”. Since its launch in 2009, users around the world have “mined” just over 12 million Bitcoins, leaving about 9 million to be mined. Aside from the cool factor, Bitcoin offers portability, relative security, and lower transaction costs—unique features resulting from the absence of a central monetary authority.[1] However, the lack of a central monetary authority also creates extreme price volatility and the potential for use for tax evasion and foreign exchange arbitrage. A number of regulatory solutions have been proposed, including regulation by the U.S. Treasury or the Securities and Exchange Commission. Another option for Bitcoin regulation is as a commodity within the scope of the Commodity Exchange Act (CEA), under the supervision of the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). Bitcoin may fall within the definition of a commodity as a good “in which contracts for future delivery are presently or in the future dealt in.”[2] Financial instruments that track the value of Bitcoin unattached to Bitcoin ownership would be regulated as a swap.[3] Subjecting Bitcoin dealers and investors to CFTC regulations for swap dealers and participants may allow regulators to closely monitor this new financial and technological development, prevent its use to exploit consumers, and curb its creation of systemic financial risk.

[1] See Finance and Economics: Bits and bob; Digital currencies, 39 The Economist 83 (Apr. 11, 2013).
[2] 7 U.S.C. §1a(9) (2012).
[3] 7 U.S.C. §1a(47) (2012).

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December 17th, 2013 at 8:53 am

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