Lawyer Brags About The 'Obvious' Downloading Patent He Forced Apple To Buy

from the ugh dept

Another day, another ridiculous patent situation. Back in the summer of 2005, Apple was sued for the iTunes interface. Apparently, some guy had patented a "Computer control system and user interface for media playing devices," and accused Apple of "stealing" the idea. Earlier this year, Apple settled the case, realizing it was cheaper to just pay up than bother fighting it (which is why patent trolling often works). Now, jeff gladnick points us to a press release from the lawyer who wrote the patent and sued Apple bragging about both the patent and the settlement -- and basically pointing out that the patent had nothing to do with the actual invention.

Apparently, the settlement wasn't just a licensing deal. They sold the actual patent to Apple, and the lawyer believes that Apple can now use it to sue everyone else, claiming it's a "billion dollar patent." Of course, there's no evidence that Apple actually plans to use the patent against anyone else at this point. He also goes on to brag about how brilliant he was in the way he wrote up the patent, noting that it was really just supposed to be for a computerized system to let someone select a genre of songs to play on an electronic piano, but he was smart enough to write the patent to be so ridiculously broad that it eventually covered all sorts of music and movie downloading. In fact, he carelessly tosses out the word "obvious" to explain how he took the concept of music downloading for the patent and "realized that downloading movies was an obvious variation." That's a pretty poor choice of words on the part of a patent lawyer who should realize that obvious ideas aren't patentable -- especially if they're obvious to the lawyer, rather than the inventor who is actually the "skilled practitioner." In the meantime, though, the patent is apparently no longer in the hands of this guy, and hopefully Apple recognizes the wisdom of just sitting on it -- but it's another victory for a patent holder who did nothing related to the innovation at hand, but forced the actual innovator to pay up. These stories are all about taking money away from the companies that actually innovate, and giving it to lawyers who can stretch a patent to cover a ridiculously broad range of technologies. It's not clear how that helps "To promote the progress of science and useful arts."


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  1.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 1st, 2006 @ 10:11am

    Can't apple sue him for fraud now?

    If he has openly admitted that the patent was obvious, then isnt that an admission that he fraudently obtained the patent?

    Also, he "sold" it to apple under fraudulent circumstances.

    I think Apple should sue him for it, just to set a positive legal precedent.

     

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  2.  
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    Petréa Mitchell, Dec 1st, 2006 @ 10:20am

    Unfortunately, no

    IANAL, but it seems to me that unless and until the court system rules that patent to be invalid, he sold Apple a real patent that is in fact a potential gold mine.

     

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  3.  
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    Sanguine Dream, Dec 1st, 2006 @ 10:36am

    Angry...

    This just makes me angry...

     

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  4.  
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    Mike Brown, Dec 1st, 2006 @ 10:43am

    Not obvious...

    realized that downloading movies was an obvious variation." That's a pretty poor choice of words on the part of a patent lawyer who should realize that obvious ideas aren't patentable
    You've missed the point here - he said that he had realized something was an obvious variation on the inventor's invention , not that the invention itself was obvious. Therefore the variation is not independently patentable as a separate invention - but that says nothing about the patentability of the underlying invention.
    especially if they're obvious to the lawyer, rather than the inventor who is actually the "skilled practitioner."
    If a variation on the invention is suggested by the lawyer in the course of preparing a patent application, the variations are often obvious - if it were not so, I would find myself in competition with my clients as to who the inventor is. It's not an unusual situation, and I've made many such suggestions. I think what the lawyer here was saying is that his client invented a system for organizing content by genre, which is (presumably) novel, and in preparing the application the lawyer said, "wouldn't this work for movies?" In fact, there was a recent court case which held that patent attorneys are never to be considered inventors when they suggest variations to a client, for just that reason.

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 1st, 2006 @ 10:46am

    Where is the link to this press release? The link provided goes to a Macworld article. The Macworld article quotes the lawyer as having said that he wrote the patent to include "obvious variations" of the patents basic ideas. He's not saying the patent itself is obvious, at least not in the links provided.

     

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  6.  
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    Joe, Dec 1st, 2006 @ 11:47am

    total bs

    what a slimeball -

    "Computer control system and user interface for media playing devices"

    are you f-ing kidding me?

     

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  7.  
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    Mike (profile), Dec 1st, 2006 @ 11:53am

    Re:

    Where is the link to this press release? The link provided goes to a Macworld article.

    Macworld was just reprinting the press release (without admitting it was a press release). You can see the same thing here, which clearly is a press release and is the identical text.

     

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  8.  
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    Matt Bennett, Dec 1st, 2006 @ 12:09pm

    Kinda like a car salesman who sells you a lemon for twice the price, he sux.

    But, on the other hand, he is right to brag.....he did his job well. And he doesn't care if it's found to be obvious now or not, he's sold it. I'm sure any liability for it being invalid was part of the settlement.

     

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  9.  
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    Rob Tsai, Dec 1st, 2006 @ 2:02pm

    Great report.

    I wrote about our absurd patent system when Netflix sued Blockbuster for violating its patent on renting DVDs over the Internet.

    http://zenrob.typepad.com/zenrob/2006/09/thats_lame_netf.html

    Rob

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 1st, 2006 @ 3:29pm

    The press release does basically say the same thing, so I would agree with what I said before (and with Mike Brown). He's not saying the patent is obvious, but that he added value to the patent by including some obvious variations on the patent idea.

     

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  11.  
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    foobar, Dec 2nd, 2006 @ 7:24am

    Its obvious that lawyers are bottom feeders. Its also obvious that existing patent law, as well as copyright law, needs re-evalution due to recent, unpatented innovations.

     

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  12.  
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    nbmonger, Dec 7th, 2006 @ 8:39pm

    The patent has value -- that is why Apple bought i

    Apple had plenty of high priced lawyers look at this patent and in the end the decision was made to settle and buy the patent outright.

    Claims 1 and 11 (see US 5,5864,868) are both interesting and may provide Apple an opportunity to license or restrict competition.
    www.patentmonkey.com

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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