Oprah Sued For Patent Infringement Over Her Book Club

from the just-as-Thomas-Jefferson-intended dept

Joe Mullin is back to let us know about the latest patent insanity, starting with a post about a whole bunch of patent infringement lawsuits based on patents held by Scott Harris. You may recall Harris because he was a lawyer for a big law firm, but was quietly filing patents on the side, and then apparently working out deals whereby other companies licensed those patents to be used in infringement lawsuits against big companies -- including companies represented by the very same firm Harris worked for. Not surprisingly, he lost his job and was sued. A few months back, the lawsuit was settled and Harris's patents have, miraculously, been showing up in a bunch of recent patent lawsuits.

But the real stunner in the latest set of lawsuits is that one of the patents is being used to sue Oprah. Yes, that Oprah. Apparently, Harris is claiming that his patent on enhancing the touch and feel of the internet is violated by Oprah's book club. Yes. Her book club. Violates a patent (according to the patent holder). Now, my critics will be the first to point out that I'm no patent attorney, but reading over the patent, it certainly appears to be a patent on displaying a book online. How is that possibly patentable material? Wouldn't it be great if this got Oprah looking into the ridiculous state of the patent system in the US these days, and how it's often being used in such bogus ways? While it probably won't happen, it certainly could help dispel the old myths of the patent system as promoting innovation and finally get the issue in front of the public in a way that they would realize just how damaging the system has become and how widely it's abused.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Ima Fish, Jan 6th, 2009 @ 12:45pm

    Why hasn't Amazon been sued for this? The patent seems to cover Amazon's "look inside" feature.

     

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  2.  
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    Lonnie E. Holder, Jan 6th, 2009 @ 12:54pm

    More complicated than that...

    Mike:

    The essence of the patent seems to be that it limits how many pages of a book may be requested and read. Other than that, it separately claims "tips" in conjunction with requested pages and limits resolution of the portions that cannot be read and increases resolution of portions that can be read.

    I also agree with Fishy. It seems like Amazon would potentially infringe this patent, if valid.

     

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  3.  
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    jmzrbnsn (profile), Jan 6th, 2009 @ 1:26pm

    Kill Scott Harris...

    So that's what that means in the LCD Sound System song Losing my Edge... thanks Techdirt.

     

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  4.  
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    cschmidg, Jan 6th, 2009 @ 2:42pm

    In the street like a dog

    Oprah may be one of the grandest bags of wind to ever grace TV but even an idiot can see that this is ridiculous. Then again, I also said that about McDonald's coffee and several other disgustingly idiotic suits. Just so there is no confusion regarding Oprah, I think she is a douche bag of epic proportion. Get it?

     

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  5.  
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    Michael, Jan 6th, 2009 @ 2:46pm

    Isn't part of the problem that there are too many arm-chair patent attorneys around?
    Wouldn't it be great if this got Oprah looking into the ridiculous state of the patent system in the US these days, and how it's often being used in such bogus ways?
    Can't see how marketing the problem to bon-bon munching TV gazers is going to solve it, unless the USPTO has daytime tele piped into their offices.

     

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  6.  
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    Stephen, Jan 6th, 2009 @ 4:05pm

    Can't see how marketing the problem to bon-bon munching TV gazers is going to solve it, unless the USPTO has daytime tele piped into their offices.

    Because it debunks the popular myth that is the foundation of the patent system to a large group of people. It points out in a rather glaring way how ridiculous the patent lawsuits are. I would love to see a "1 hr" episode on this guy and his history. Oprah can marshal a surprising amount of people. We want more education, not less.

     

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  7.  
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    Michael, Jan 6th, 2009 @ 4:21pm

    More education to the right students, correct? Points well taken.

     

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  8.  
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    mslade, Jan 6th, 2009 @ 5:00pm

    Re:

    You're underestimating Oprah's pull. I don't watch her show, read her books, etc.... but a lot of people to, and if you think they can be summed up as "bon-bon munching TV gazers" you're a mite ignorant.

     

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  9.  
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    None, Jan 6th, 2009 @ 5:16pm

    Hmmm, i don't think it matters what kind of audience she has, but just the shear size of it, and she has a very impressive sized audience, and i suspect they'd happily follow her where ever she leads, and that for anyone who gets on her bad side is a very, very bad thing.

     

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  10.  
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    lostalaska, Jan 6th, 2009 @ 5:55pm

    On one hand it would be freaking awesome if Oprah were to cover the patent system and how bunk it is, I don't really see that fitting in with her "demographics", but if more people were aware of the issue, even if it was a glossed over simplified version of it I don't see how that would not help. These sorts of things need some traction to get the ball rolling before you can hope for any kind of significant change. If there was a way to get the patent system discussion wedged into pop culture fine... if that's what it takes...

    I invoke the name of O-P-R-A-H, bring forth the patentacolypse!

    On the other hand I hate daytime talk shows...

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 6th, 2009 @ 6:04pm

    Scott Harris

    Why doesn't he get a real job ?
    I wonder, does his mother know what he does for a living ....

     

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  12.  
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    Michael, Jan 6th, 2009 @ 10:33pm

    It's a 'mite ignorant' to suppose that demographics and targeting don't matter - if they didn't, Neilson would have been in the tank long ago, and Google wouldn't be far behind.

    It doesn't take much effort to find that Oprah's audience is predominantly female, white, and over the age of 55. I suspect they cross educational demographics fairly equally. The sample likely controls an extraordinary amount of household spending, and the promotion on the show probably reflects that. A quick perusal of the associated website and 'book club' certainly do, and the content most closely associated with complex policy issues are near puff-pieces on politicians and celebrity charity efforts. The latter is certainly meritorious, but I wonder if 'Brangelina' are really going to take up the fight against patent abuse.

     

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  13.  
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    ramster, Jan 7th, 2009 @ 6:57am

    jmzrbnsn: I'm pretty sure that the line you're referring to in "losing my edge" is "Gil Scott Heron"

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gil_Scott-Heron

    It kinda makes more sense given the context of the song.

     

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  14.  
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    kevjohn, Jan 7th, 2009 @ 7:29am

    If you cannot defeateth them...

    joineth them!
    That's it, I'm going to add a late resolution to my list for 2009: get something patented. The more ludicrous, the better!

     

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  15.  
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    Xanthir, FCD, Jan 8th, 2009 @ 8:08am

    Re: In the street like a dog

    [...] even an idiot can see that this is ridiculous. Then again, I also said that about McDonald's coffee and several other disgustingly idiotic suits.

    I have a compulsion to respond to this. It's a sickness, really.

    The McDonald's suit was COMPLETELY VALID. That McDonald's was heating their coffee substantially hotter than safety regulations allow, and they'd been cited on it before, so there's no possibility of ignorance. Had their coffee been at the highest allowed temperature, the lady would have received a mild scalding. Painful and a bit embarrassing, but a reasonable penalty for doing something as stupid as opening your coffee in your lap while you're driving.

    However, because their coffee was much hotter than the highest allowed safe temperature, the woman suffered third-degree burns to her calves and genitals. Those are the bad kind, people, the kind where skin *dies* and you have to get grafts. Skin grafts to her genitals. That was enormously painful and produced a huge hospital bill.

    Had McDonald's been following safety regulations, there wouldn't have been an issue. Had she still sued, we all could have safely laughed at her. But that's not how it went down. McDonald's knowingly heated their coffee to excessive temperatures (so that it would still be hot when customers arrived at their office) with full knowledge that they were violating safety regulations, and a woman was severely injured as a direct result.

    The lawsuit was valid. Tell your friends.

     

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  16.  
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    chris (profile), Jan 8th, 2009 @ 12:57pm

    Re: Scott Harris

    Why doesn't he get a real job ?
    I wonder, does his mother know what he does for a living ....


    no, she still thinks he sells crack cocaine to kindergartners. he doesn't want her to be disappointed when she finds out what he really does.

     

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  17.  
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    Matthew Villasenor, Apr 27th, 2009 @ 5:31pm

    I love you oprah winfrey I have your 6 disc cd collection of your show.
    e-mail me oprah I would love to here from you
    holla girl
    Matthew Villasenor
    age 26
    Norfolk,Virginia

     

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


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