Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

CVSG Filed in Commil: Is This Yet Another “Fundamental Misunderstanding” of Patent Law by the Federal Circuit?

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On June 2nd, the Supreme Court unanimously reversed the Federal Circuit’s decision in Limelight Networks, Inc. v. Akamai Technologies, Inc. The Court found a defendant could not be held liable for induced infringement of a patent under 35 U.S.C. §271(b) where there has been no infringement under §271(a). In the opinion, the Court had some harsh words for the Federal Circuit. The Court was uncertain why, despite the “simple truth” that liability for inducement must be predicated on direct infringement (to which all parties and the Federal Circuit agreed), the Federal Circuit nonetheless continued its analysis. Ultimately, the Court felt that “the Federal Circuit’s analysis fundamentally misunderstands” method patent infringement.  The amicus brief filed by the Government on October 16th in Cisco Systems, Inc. v. Commil USA, LLC suggests that if and when the Court considers the case, it might reject the Federal Circuit’s decision with comparable vigor. Commil alleged that Cisco both directly infringed and induced infringement of its method patent for hand-offs of mobile devices between base stations in a wireless network system. During the district court trial (the second, the first being reversed after an attempt to unfairly prejudice the jury by counsel for Cisco), the jury found for Commil on both issues and awarded $63.7 million in damages (with an additional $10.3 million awarded by the court for prejudgment interest and costs). On appeal, Cisco argued that the jury instruction on the claim of induced infringement used the language of negligence as opposed to instructing the jury on the higher scienter requirement the Court has adopted for induced infringement cases. Of greater importance, the Federal Circuit held that Cisco should have been able to admit evidence of its good-faith belief that the patent was invalid which bears upon the “willful knowledge” scienter requirement. As it is “axiomatic that one cannot infringe an invalid patent,” the court reasoned that a “good-faith belief of invalidity” could negate the requisite “specific” intent for induced infringement. The Federal Circuit’s support for this new defense was hardly unanimous. Judge Newman, in dissent, argued that the majority’s holding was “contrary to the principles of tort liability, codified in [§271(b)].” A subsequent petition to grant rehearing en banc was denied by a 6-5 vote in the face of two additional dissents. All five dissenting judges, led by Judge Reyna, argued that the defense is “without foundation in law and precedent.” The Government’s brief in support of granting certiorari on the issue of the good-faith defense asserted a similar position. As with the dissenting judges, the Government took issue with the good-faith defense as being “inconsistent with the text, structure, and the purposes of the relevant Patent Act provisions.” Firstly, the Government argued that patent invalidity and non-infringement of the patent are separate defenses under the Patent Act. “The validity of the patent is not an element of direct infringement” so they argued that any belief that the patent is invalid is “irrelevant” to direct infringement. Direct infringement is a strict-liability tort, so the only defense is simply that no direct infringement occurred (i.e. non-infringement). The brief was particularly concerned with the “axiomatic” proposition that one cannot infringe an invalid patent: it noted that one of the authors of the original Patent Act described the very assertion as a “nonsense statement.” An actual finding of invalidity would preclude liability for infringement, direct or induced, and not “negate the fact of infringement.” Furthermore, infringement is understood as practicing the actions which the granted patent allegedly protects, whether or not that grant should have been made by the PTO. Even if the inducer subjectively believes that the patent is invalid, inducing the conduct amounts to inducing infringement. Finally, the Government affirmed the belief held by the Federal Circuit dissenting judges that this defense would “fundamentally change” inducement suits, and not necessarily in a manner favorable to patent holders attempting to enforce their rights. Recognizing that some amount of direct patent infringement (perhaps 20 or 30 percent) cannot be enforced in a practical manner, Congress made the policy decision to allow for an induced infringement cause of action in order to provide some recourse in these situations. Recognizing that all defendants may now “quickly obtain an ‘opinion of counsel’ to support a claim of good-faith belief in invalidity,” the Government sees the potential that this defense may “substantially undermine” a primary purpose of §271(b). Amidst a clear opposition by almost half of the Federal Circuit and the US government, on top of the existing and explicit lack of trust the Supreme Court has in the Federal Circuit’s understanding of method patents (the type allegedly infringed in Commil), it would be surprising if the Court denied cert. on this issue. If the misunderstanding here is as fundamental as in Limelight (as those in opposition present it to be), the Court may soon be forcefully overruling another Federal Circuit inducement decision.

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December 3rd, 2014 at 7:01 pm

Posted in Cases,Technology

“We Don’t Care”? Maybe Kanye should…

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140 characters may not seem like enough room to really say something of value. But if Kanye West is saying something, it can be worth a lot more than one may expect. Etsy seller “supervelma” has hand-stitched popular tweets from the rapper Kanye West onto fabric, framed them, and is currently selling them for $45 each on the online craft retailer Etsy. Understandably, West may be upset that someone else is profiting off of his hard-earned Twitter notoriety, but does he have a remedy? Copyright is the traditional form of protection for works of art. Having a registered copyright can prevent others from reproducing the work, making a derivative piece of art based on your original work, or further diluting the value of your work by displaying it. West could argue a claim of copyright infringement, however he may encounter difficulty proving that a tweet can actually receive copyright protection. Many tweets simply state facts—which cannot be protected by copyrights—or link to news articles, whose headlines are generally found to be insufficiently creative to warrant copyright protection. It is also debatable whether a tweet like, “Fur pillows are hard to actually sleep on” meets the de minimis requirement of creativity that a copyrighted work must have. Most copyright experts agree that there is not a bright line rule about whether tweets can gain copyright protection; a copyrightable tweet would certainly be the exception rather than the norm because of the observational nature of Twitter. West—a professional wordsmith—might be able to make a stronger argument than most that his tweets go beyond mere observations, and are artistic expressions that might even make it into future albums. Viewing his tweets as strings of song lyrics may convince a judge that his entire Twitter history, or at least some of his more introspective and personal tweets, would warrant the protective shield of a copyright. Even without a copyright, West would likely prevail because of the use of his name and “likeness”—in the form of a hand-stitched avatar on the cloth. Most states have held that people are entitled to a “right of publicity,” which recognizes a property right in the commercial value of a person’s identity. The commercial value of the name Kanye West, and the public image he has developed, is clearly what is driving the market for these embroideries. While “supervelma” does offer customers the chance to custom order whatever tweets they would like, West’s tweets are what gained the recognition of popular website Buzzfeed and undoubtedly drove up business. West certainly has grounds to seek an injunction to stop “supervelma” from continuing to produce these items, and depending on the state statute regarding remedies he could also sue to recover for any damages and may even be able to get exemplary damages if a jury felt they were appropriate. Public figures should be aware that the same media making them more available to fans can also provide more material for appropriation, and it may be worthwhile to increase their monitoring of retail websites like Etsy, Amazon, and eBay for unauthorized products.

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December 1st, 2014 at 1:44 pm

Posted in Commentary,Technology

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Appellate Review of Markman Hearings

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In Markman, the Supreme Court declared that determining the meaning of patent claims, i.e. “claim construction,” is a question to be decided by the court; the Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial does not apply. Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 517 U.S. 370, 372 (1996). Shortly thereafter, in Cybor, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit held that de novo review applied when results from these newly-created ‘Markman hearings’ are appealed. Cybor Corp. v. FAS Technologies, Inc., 138 F.3d 1448, 1451 (Fed. Cir. 1998) (en banc).   Earlier this year, the Federal Circuit granted a rehearing en banc to determine if Cybor should be overruled, and what, if any, deference should be given to a District Court’s claim construction. Lighting Ballast Control LLC v. Philips Electronics N. Am. Corp., ___F.3d___, WL 667499 (Fed. Cir. Feb. 21, 2014) (en banc). The court considered three options: (1) reaffirm Cybor and maintain de novo review, (2) overrule Cybor and declare claim construction a question of fact, or (3) adopt a “hybrid” standard of review that affords deference to the District Court’s factual determinations but preserves de novo review of the “ultimate” conclusion. Amici from industrial and technological companies advocated reaffirming Cybor. Academics and practitioners generally favored either the hybrid approach or the overruling of Cybor. Relying on stare decisis, a 6-4 majority reaffirmed Cybor.   The majority pointed out that since Cybor was decided, Congress has not acted to overturn it while enacting other patent legislation during that time. They further explained that predictability and consistency favor maintaining the status quo. Consistency is a concern particularly relevant in patent law – a concern which led to the creation of the Federal Circuit over thirty years ago. The majority feared a return of “forum shopping” because the same patent could be subject to conflicting interpretations in different District Courts. Parties would be incentivized to choose a forum with judges likely to interpret patent claims in their favor knowing that reversal on appeal is unlikely.   The dissent, appearing to favor the hybrid approach, pointed out that the parties in the present case, almost all amici, and the Supreme Court recognize that claim construction involves some questions of fact. Thus, they vehemently argued that under Rule 52(a)(6), courts of appeal can set aside only those findings of fact that are “clearly erroneous.” Rejecting stare decisis, the dissent argued that “informal deference” is already given to District Courts because they spend “hundreds of hours” learning the relevant technology, so overruling Cybor would “not upset settled expectations.” The dissent also stated that de novo review incentivizes the losing party to appeal, decreases the likelihood of settlement, and increases litigation costs.   But Lighting Ballast may not stand for long. In April, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc. v. Sandoz, Inc., which presents a nearly identical question as that in Lighting Ballast. In Teva, the District Court held a Markman hearing and construed the claims in Teva’s favor, avoiding invalidity for indefiniteness. The trial judge relied heavily on Teva’s expert witness to determine the level of ordinary skill in the art at the time of invention. Teva Pharm. USA, Inc. v. Sandoz Inc., 810 F. Supp. 2d 578, 596 (S.D.N.Y. 2011). On appeal, the Federal Circuit explicitly applied de novo review, compared the testimony of the competing expert witnesses, reversed the District Court, and held the claims indefinite. Teva Pharm. USA, Inc. v. Sandoz, Inc., 723 F.3d 1363, 1369 (Fed. Cir. 2013), reh’g en banc denied. Similar to the dissent in Lighting Ballast, Teva claims that Rule 52(a)(6) should have governed the Federal Circuit’s standard of review because determining the level of ordinary skill in the art is a question of fact. Unfortunately, Teva will not be heard until the Supreme Court’s October 2014 term. Until then, Lighting Ballast remains good law; de novo review of claim construction still applies.   Guest Post Written by Brian Apel

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July 13th, 2014 at 1:05 pm

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

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

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

California Passes New Revenge Porn Law, but is it Good Enough?

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Today, just about everything happens on the Internet. That includes flirting, dating, and breaking up. While ex-lovers with broken hearts have sought revenge for centuries, today the implications are far different. Before the Internet, such revenge may have included spreading rumors or writing a phone number in a bathroom stall. Today, however, revenge includes turning private explicit photos of a former lover into non-consensual porn. This is “revenge porn” and California is trying to stop it. Revenge porn is defined as sexually explicit media that is distributed online, without consent of the pictured individual, for the purpose of humiliation. The majority of photos used for revenge porn are taken consensually during a relationship and meant to remain private between the couple. There are a number of websites dedicated to posting such images and they profit from advertising revenue. Revenge porn victims cannot go after web hosts directly due to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which provides a safe harbor. While some believe courts may pierce the section 230 immunity, California took a different approach: making it easier to go after those who distribute sexual images of their exes. Passed by California Governor, Jerry Brown, in early October, the anti-revenge porn legislation would impose a $1,000 dollar fine and six months of jail time upon people convicted of distributing revenge porn. While this may sound good at first, this new legislation has a number of problems. The most glaring problem is that the law only applies when the sexual images are taken by the person accused of posting them online. This means that the law does not apply when a person takes a photo of themselves and shares it with someone who later posts it to a revenge porn website. Unfortunately, according to the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, over 80% of revenge porn victims (and they are predominantly women) took the photo themselves and assumed it would not later be available for public consumption. The law has been heavily criticized, prompting a robust discussion about how to legislate the tricky issue of non-consensual porn. Other ideas include amending the Copyright Act and establishing a federal law against the practice. While these ideas certainly have merit, they are only ideas. California’s law may have critical flaws, but it is at least a meaningful step toward protecting future victims of revenge porn.

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November 14th, 2013 at 2:09 pm

Just a Playlist… or Something More?

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Music streaming service, Spotify, has yet again found itself at odds with a creator in the music industry. This time around, the disagreement centers on a more novel question: Does a compilation constitute copyrightable intellectual property? According to U.K. based dance-music record label, Ministry of Sound, it does. Ministry of Sound, or MoS, has recently filed a lawsuit in the U.K. High Court against Spotify, claiming copyright infringement. MoS produces compilation albums comprised of songs which the label has not itself created, but has selected and placed in a purposeful, specific order on the album. The record label’s “beef” with Spotify is grounded in the fact that the streaming service currently allows users to create playlists that essentially emulate the compilation albums. Further irritating the label, some users even go as far as to title those playlists “Ministry of Sound.” To be clear, the users are not illegally downloading the MoS albums; they are instead legally listening to the individual tracks through the streaming service and replicating MoS’ order of the tracks in their own playlists. After pleading with Spotify to remove these playlists since last year to no avail, MoS finally had enough and essentially said, “see you in court.” This case will turn on the issue of whether or not the order/structure of the content on MoS’ albums is copyrightable. But what are the odds that a court will actually determine that the compilation albums (in terms of their ordering of songs) constitute copyrightable material? The claim MoS is making is certainly deserving of at least some consideration. Factually, we can see how the artistic compilation of music is the result of a unique, creative process. This process may even require extensive research and hours of dedication to deriving the perfect order. For those reasons, there is an argument to be made that the end result of the process is an original work. Where MoS will likely find its greatest struggle in this lawsuit, however, is in showing that its compilation albums constitute a work original enough to be worthy of copyright protection. Since the filing of the lawsuit, many comments on the relevant articles and blog posts have shown disdain for the idea that taking music that someone else created, and placing it in a specific order on a playlist, could constitute anything that could even remotely be considered copyrightable, or truly original. When MoS’ albums are equated with mere playlists (which are viewed as lists that require no skill or real effort to produce) the future for MoS in this lawsuit against Spotify doesn’t look so bright. While the public consensus seems to be that MoS’ claim simply does not hold water, the worlds of music, technology, and copyright should certainly keep a close eye on this case, as the possibility exists that the UK court could side with MoS. This is an issue of copyright definition and protection that the courts have not yet faced (MoS is the first label to make this type of claim), and it could wind up being a real game changer for the industries involved. If MoS wins, this could strike a major blow to the business model of Spotify and other music streaming services that allow users to create playlists, as playlists are becoming an increasingly prevalent and important form of music consumption. If MoS loses, the compilation sales business model for MoS may prove unsustainable—will people continue buying the compilation albums when they can just recreate the same playlist for free on Spotify? Additionally, MoS’ claim could be the catalyst for similar claims to be brought in US courts. Through these cases, law and technology continue to shape the ways in which we view art and originality. In today’s world, where will the court draw the line of what is and is not art in the sense of copyright? To find out, we’ll just have to stay tuned.

Nortel Patent Failure Returns to Haunt Google

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Last week on October 31st, a nightmare scenario that Google hoped to avoid came to pass. Attorneys for Rockstar Consortium filed suit in the Eastern District of Texas against Google and seven handheld device makers that employ Google's Android operating system on their devices. The suit alleges infringement of seven patents all titled “Associative Search Engine.” The patents, 6,098,065; 7,236,969; 7,469,245; 7,672,970; 7,895,178; 7,895,183; and 7,933,883, were filed from 1997 to 2007. Rockstar Consortium was founded in 2011 and is jointly owned by Apple, Microsoft, Blackberry, Sony, and Ericsson. The consortium was founded to bid on the patent portfolio of Canadian telecom company Nortel, which was liquidated at auction in 2011 when the company went bankrupt. At the time, Google attempted to purchase the patents, likely to avoid just such a lawsuit, but their top bid of $4.4 billion was exceeded by Rockstar, which purchased the patents for $4.5 billion. Google’s failure to land the patents may now be costly for them as well as Android device makers. Rockstar is part of an emerging new trend in the “patent troll” movement where large corporations assign or give their patents to small companies, for the purpose of reverse engineering existing products and for extracting licensing fees and damages from alleged patent infringers. This model allows a company with few employees–Rockstar has only about two dozen employees, including ten reverse engineering experts–to obtain license fees from potentially hundreds of tech companies. A small consortium like Rockstar has another advantage in a fight against a tech company like Google, they have no products or business of their own. They cannot be counter sued for infringement because they have no business that would infringe. The crux of the situation is that companies like Apple and Microsoft can inject capital into a Rockstar type partnership, which will then purchase patents and use them to attack Apple and Microsoft competitors while leaving Microsoft and Apple above the fray. The companies backing Rockstar are likely seeking to put a damper on the rabid growth of the Android platform. However, with the talk of legislation to control patent trolls, the Obama administration’s concern over standards essential patents, and the Justice Department’s comments on Rockstar committing to fair terms for standards essential patent licenses, it will be difficult to predict the outcome of this suit. If Rockstar sees success here, this may become the new battlefront between tech companies in the aftermath of the monstrously expensive Apple v. Samsung case.

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November 8th, 2013 at 2:25 pm

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