Apple Settles Burst Patent Suit for 'Only' $10 Million

from the legalized-extortion dept

Burst.com is a company that developed some streaming video technology in the 1990s but couldn't find enough people who were interested in buying it. After trying and failing to turn a profit as a legitimate software company, they discovered the joys of patent lawsuits. They wrested $60 million out of Microsoft and then turned their legal guns on Apple. Now Apple, too, has buckled, agreeing to pay Burst $10 million for a license to its patents. The thing that the media coverage of the patent seems not to convey is how spectacularly unoriginal Burst's patent claims are. As this great post explained way back in 2002, Burst's secret sauce is that there is no secret sauce. Burst's patent describes "faster than real time" streaming. There's simply nothing novel or innovative about this; it's perfectly obvious that if you've got a fat enough pipe, you can download video faster than you play it, buffering the difference. Buffering isn't a new "technology," it's a common-sense programming technique that has been used for decades. In a sensible patent system, Burst would have been laughed out of the patent office for claiming they invented such an obvious concept. But in the upside-down world of the USPTO, filing patents on incredibly obvious concepts can net you tens of millions of dollars.

It's not hard to understand why Apple would settle this despite the obviousness of Burst's patents. Research in Motion learned the hard way last year that it doesn't pay to challenge bad patents in court. Even the patent office itself admitted the patents were invalid, but RIM was still forced to pay a $612 million settlement. Comparatively speaking, Apple's $10 million settlement looks like a bargain. But it's important to remember that $10 million is still a huge amount of money for a handful of patents. And every time a bogus patent nets a company a multi-million dollar payout, it's going to prompt other companies to file hundreds more dubious patents, in the hopes of either reaping a windfall themselves or warding off the attacks of a future patent troll. And that, in turn, pushes up the salaries of patent lawyers, diverting thousands of bright and competent people away from more productive profession into a life of filing for and litigating bogus patents.



Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    GrammarMan, Nov 26th, 2007 @ 6:53am

    Well put conclusion! Your thoughts are always stimulating. By the way, second paragraph, third sentence: "even" is redundant -- remove one or the other so I can sleep tonight =)

     

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

  2.  
    identicon
    Haywood, Nov 26th, 2007 @ 7:51am

    I hope my patent for breathing in air comes throug

    I'll be able to sue anyone who can't hold their breath indefinitely.

     

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

  3.  
    identicon
    angry dude, Nov 26th, 2007 @ 8:23am

    Where is Mikey ?

    What ? Mike is on vacation ?

    Another idiot substituting ?

    But seriosly, dude, have you invented anything useful in your entire life ?
    Just try it once before passing all the BS on to the rest of clueless readership

    "Expert" my ass

     

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

  4.  
    identicon
    Eliot, Nov 26th, 2007 @ 8:41am

    Re: Where is Mikey ?

    Please, angry dude, tell us more, your insight is staggering.

    Seriously ... you call Tim an idiot, yet, you hardly make a move to elaborate on your claim that the article is 'BS' ... care to explain?

     

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

  5.  
    identicon
    Even Angrier Dude, Nov 26th, 2007 @ 8:47am

    Re: Where is Mikey ?

    What? Another moronic dipshit with nothing to say?

    Seriously, douche, since you feel Tim can only post if he has invented anything useful, what is your invention? What is your contribution that qualifies you to spew BS on a patent lawsuit post?

    Enlighten me, what BS are you referring to?

     

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  6.  
    identicon
    colg, Nov 26th, 2007 @ 8:49am

    "But seriosly, dude, have you invented anything useful in your entire life ?" (The Expert Ass)

    He doesn't have to. That's the point. Modern patents don't need to be innovative or even useful to be profitable. they just need to be "violated", therefore the best kind of patent to own might be one that is obvious.

    But you knew that...

     

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

  7.  
    identicon
    angry dude, Nov 26th, 2007 @ 9:21am

    imbecile

    "...therefore the best kind of patent to own might be one that is obvious"

    Just try to get one and succesfully litigate it against the likes of MShit and Apple...
    Good luck with that...

    If somebody f***** your tiny stinking brain out it's not my fault

     

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

  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 26th, 2007 @ 9:32am

    Re: imbecile

    "If somebody f***** your tiny stinking brain out it's not my fault"

    That sounds fun, but digresses from the topic.

    ""...therefore the best kind of patent to own might be one that is obvious"

    Just try to get one and succesfully litigate it against the likes of MShit and Apple...
    Good luck with that..."

    Considering the number of people that have managed to do so in the last year I'd say my chances are pretty damn good. Better than the lottery.

     

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

  9.  
    identicon
    angry dude, Nov 26th, 2007 @ 9:40am

    Re: Re: imbecile

    Parent game is not for imbeciles like you

    Better play the lottery dude, seriously

     

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

  10.  
    identicon
    4-80-sicks, Nov 26th, 2007 @ 9:53am

    Sounds like somebody "invented" something and they're having a hard time getting a payout...

     

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

  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 26th, 2007 @ 10:50am

    Re:

    He posted his invention once and its junk science BS. He won't do so again unless he's feeling generous and wants to give us all something to chuckle about.

     

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

  12.  
    identicon
    Paul, Nov 26th, 2007 @ 12:24pm

    I've often wondered if notices such as; "Note: These files are intended to be downloaded, not streamed. To use them, do not click on the links to open them directly -- download them with your browser and save them." [SICP videos] - seen mostly at educational institutions - are put there because of these patents or others like them (e.g. the Acacia patents).

     

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

  13.  
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    Le Blue Dude, Nov 26th, 2007 @ 2:06pm

    Huh

    The patent system should have a panel of experts reviewing patents to see if there is prior art. Not a panel of lawyers.

    Patents are useful. But stupid patents are not.

    Lawyers can not be expected to understand the subtleties of physics, or Software engineering, or biology...

    You know there is prior art on DNA, but someone patented genes that are linked to breast cancer, for example. See? A biologist would laugh that out of the building.

    So, I belive that patents are useful... buuut that they need to be reveiwed to see if there really is prior art, and if there is, they should not be paitentable.

     

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

  14.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 26th, 2007 @ 4:58pm

    Re: Re:

    Hey I found it.
    As posted by angry dude at

    http://techdirt.com/articles/20070614/130621.shtml

    we have his invention:

    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/281402/a_peek_into_the_future/

    Stick with it to the 0:50 mark will you will laugh out loud as you remember posters you made for science projects in 4th grade

     

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

  15.  
    identicon
    Fatech, Nov 28th, 2007 @ 11:09am

    Patented Inventions

    Let's get the facts right. It was the very same software companies that bullied the USPTO into allowing software to be patented in the first place. They were happy with software patents when they were doing the sueing. Now, when some little guy comes up with a great idea before they do, they cry foul.

    Take a look at some of the crap patents cranked out by Microsoft, Apple and others. They have thousands of engineers filing hundreds of patents every day at the very same patent office they want to re-write.

    The facts are, companies the size of Microsoft and Apple don't really need patents other than to trade between themselves in order to keep the little guy out. Burst, NTP,
    etc, alll little guys driven out of business by the big boys who cared less about their patents. Then, as an example, Burst.com hires some patent attorney who takes half, they spend years in court, beat the 20:1 odds and get paid (half to the attorney, half again to taxes) 2-3 million from a 10 million settlement. Now, subtract their cost over the years and call them A troll.

    Moreover, it cost very little for these software companies to copyright their software - Copy their software and you can go to jail for theft (note the FBI warning).
    Patents, on the other hand, can cost well over 100 thousand dollars and may never issue as a patent - Copy someone's patent and nothing happens. The patent holder must sue for his protection - Legal fees alone can run well over 10 million dollars.

    Now you tell me who needs protection and who's the thief.

     

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

  16.  
    identicon
    Stan, Nov 28th, 2007 @ 11:50am

    Not Burst's Invention

    According to another post, Burst settled cheap after Apple found one of their own patents that transmitted faster than real time. That patent was invented by Richard Helferich and filed in 1987 as patent number RE37618.

    It's likely Apple paid Burst nuisance value (I.e. Less than the cost fighting in court for the next 5 years.

    For what it's worth...

     

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

  17.  
    identicon
    Fred Plumber, Oct 19th, 2010 @ 5:00am

    Well....

    I suppose the old saying is true, “If you can’t innovate, litigate!”

     

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


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