People Concerned About Paul Allen's Ridiculous Patent Claims Gets USPTO To Begin Re-Exams Of His Patents

from the about-time dept

Last year, we covered Paul Allen's ridiculous patent lawsuit against a ton of tech companies. He claimed that all of these companies violated four incredibly broad patents he held:
  • 6,263,507: "Browser for use in navigating a body of information, with particular application to browsing information represented by audio data."
  • 6,034,652 & 6,788,314 (really the same patent, involving continuations): "Attention manager for occupying the peripheral attention of a person in the vicinity of a display device"
  • 6,757,682: "Alerting users to items of current interest"
The details looked really silly, and the broad daylight continues to make them look silly. A bunch of folks who were concerned about this lawsuit (including various other developers and individuals) have chipped in -- and some of these completely volunteer efforts have prompted the USPTO to begin investigating the validity of these patents in the first place.

Of course, if the USPTO were doing its job properly, it wouldn't be approving so many bogus patents that just come back to haunt actual innovators.


Reader Comments (rss)

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  •  
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    Drak, Jun 3rd, 2011 @ 4:02am

    Wow, read through some of that patent information and it sounds like a teenager trying to tell you what they did last night...very vague and open with no real detail.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 3rd, 2011 @ 4:32am

    Perfectly Simple Fix

    "if the USPTO were doing its job properly" -- The USPTO is focused on passing as many patents as it can as fast as possible. It has decided not to bother with the inconvenient business of determining whether a proposed patent is novel and non-obvious. Congress can pass as many laws as it likes on that subject and those laws will make no difference whatsoever to the behavior of the USPTO. The junk patent problem will be with us for as long as it is profitable to own a junk patent. Illegal shenanigans to get junk patents issued will go on and on.

    The reason why owning a junk patent is profitable is because it allows the running of an extortion racket. The answer is simple -- take away the racket. Repeal the part of the law which makes patent infringement illegal. Being able to threaten penalties for infringement is the foundation of the racket. Remove the offense, then the threat is gone, then the racket is gone, then the junk patents just become so much waste paper.

    Count up the vast sums in economic losses caused by all this useless litigation, borne by legitimate businesses. What do you think that does to their competitiveness? Wouldn't they be better off moving to some place where the patent trolls cannot cost them so much? Some place where there is a spot of selective enforcement going on. Some place where being politically well connected means you do not lose lawsuits. Some place like China maybe?

    Have you noticed how manufacturing industry seems to be going down and down in USA? Yet it is going up and up in China and places like it. Check out the latest unemployment figures in USA. When do you think the pollies might wake up?

     

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      Wiggs (profile), Jun 3rd, 2011 @ 5:24am

      Re: Perfectly Simple Fix

      Wake up? That implies they're just asleep.

      I'm pretty sure they're brain-dead.

       

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      6, Jun 3rd, 2011 @ 11:30am

      Re: Perfectly Simple Fix

      "The reason why owning a junk patent is profitable is because it allows the running of an extortion racket. The answer is simple -- take away the racket. Repeal the part of the law which makes patent infringement illegal. Being able to threaten penalties for infringement is the foundation of the racket. Remove the offense, then the threat is gone, then the racket is gone, then the junk patents just become so much waste paper"

      wouldn't that kind of take away the entire purpose of having "legitimate" patents as well?

      O wait, yes it would.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Jun 3rd, 2011 @ 11:59pm

        Re: Re: Perfectly Simple Fix

        There are very few "legitimate" patents. Patents are supposed to be to "promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts". To do that they have to get used. In other words, the patent has to contribute to progress. That is, it needs to be useful to engineers at the product design stage. That is just not happening, therefore patents are useless for their Constitutionally intended purpose.

        Why is it not happening? (1) The pernicious "willful infringement" doctrine means that in any sensibly-run company engineers are absolutely forbidden to read patents, other than their own. (2) The strange engineer-hostile language used in patents, means that engineers do not understand a patent, even if they do read it. (3) Engineers are busy, they do not have time to read patents. Re-invention is quicker. Reading a textbook gives an engineer more useful information in a shorter time. (4) Patents are poorly organized, it is almost impossible to find a relevant one to address some particular engineering problem.

        So the number of actual legitimate patents is vanishingly tiny. So the benefit of the patent system is vanishingly tiny, but the cost is huge and getting even larger. If something costs more than its benefit, then stop doing it.

        Reforming the system by eliminating infringement will greatly cut the cost by stopping a vast amount of unnecessary litigation and the useless creation of defensive patents. With no threat of infringement, then junk patents can be safely ignored. If there are any useful patents left, then they might produce an actual benefit by being used. However, there is still no certainty that benefits would exceed costs. We can but try it.

        What about the honest inventors living off their licensing fees, you may ask. That is an extinct species, as far as science has been able to determine. There is no economic loss from disadvantaging an extinct species.

         

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    Dex, Jun 3rd, 2011 @ 7:22am

    Patently Obvious

     

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    DogBreath, Jun 3rd, 2011 @ 8:51am

    I hope Paul Allen gets countersued over this...

    by the person or company who holds the patent on:

    Being a patent troll who sues people for over broad and fairly obvious methodology... including but not limited to "on the internet"

     

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    Mike42 (profile), Jun 3rd, 2011 @ 10:17am

    No news

    I seem to recall the USPTO investigating some other obvious and overbroad patents, only to declare them perfectly fine later, and adding more validity to the trolls clams. And don't forget, declaring them invalid will be the USPTO admitting a mistake. How likely do you think it is that the USPTO will find the patents invalid?

     

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    6, Jun 3rd, 2011 @ 11:27am

    "Of course, if the USPTO were doing its job properly, it wouldn't be approving so many bogus patents that just come back to haunt actual innovators."

    Says the big man who has all the time in the world to look over these patents if he so chooses. Examiners get a couple of days at most bucko. They're the first line of defense, so to speak, not the end all beat all final say on the matter of the validity of a certain patent.

     

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      Mike Masnick (profile), Jun 3rd, 2011 @ 11:34pm

      Re:

      Says the big man who has all the time in the world to look over these patents if he so chooses. Examiners get a couple of days at most bucko.

      Um. That seems to support my position, not yours. If anything, that suggests how ridiculous the patent system is.

      They're the first line of defense, so to speak, not the end all beat all final say on the matter of the validity of a certain patent

      If that were the case, then we wouldn't have the "assumption of validity" for any of the patents you guys approve in that mad dash over there.

       

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    Christopher2 (profile), Jun 3rd, 2011 @ 12:28pm

    The best thing that we could do is to GET RID of patents on anything but an actual complete product and copyrights on an actual complete product as well.

    I.E. Windows 7 would be able to have a patent and copyright on it, but NOT on any .dll's, etc. in it.

     

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      aikiwolfie, Jun 4th, 2011 @ 10:37am

      Re:

      That would be an absolute nightmare scenario. Think about it for a minute. What is so different about I.E. that sets it apart from Firefox or Chrome? They all do the same job. Some better than others. But they all serve the same end purpose.

      Software should not be patentable. At best I'd settle for copyrights. Copyrights work fine for books and audio and films. I don't see anything special about software that warrants a patent.

      Thank god I don't live in America.

       

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    DannyB (profile), Jun 4th, 2011 @ 11:11am

    Let's try changing the PTO's incentives

    To file a patent you have to pay a fee.

    Make the fee very high if the PTO rejects the patent for any valid reason. (Novelty, prior art, non patentable subject matter, etc)

    Make the fee very low if the PTO grants a patent.

    This will both speed up the process of rejecting patents, and will significantly increase the percentage of rejected patents.

    This will also give the PTO incentive to crowd source the finding of prior art, etc. In fact the PTO could pay a bounty to anyone who can show grounds that lead to rejecting the patent application. (eg, it will create jobs)

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Jun 4th, 2011 @ 8:17pm

      Re: Let's try changing the PTO's incentives

      The fees are already high regardless of whether or not a patent is granted, and they continue to escalate at an alarming pace to try and keep up with the costs of running the USPTO since Congress keeps diverting money from the USPTO's coffers to pursue its own pet projects.

      Just a few weeks ago Congress informed the USPTO that its avaiable funds for the remainder of this year were being cut so that money could be diverted elsewhere. Small wonder that a backlog exists.

      Moreover, if a patent does issue, Uncle Sam comes around three times during its term and demands ever increasing fees with each subsequent visit. Yes, this does serve to cull out the "coal" from the "diamond", but it leaves me troubled that someone has played by the rules, only to find out later that the rules have been changed.

      The process used to be a true "quid pro quo". Since the early to mid 80's the system has been turned on its head an for all intents and purposes is a "quid, quid, quid, quid" system, and we all know who is on the paying end of the "quid".

       

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      Lasse, Jun 5th, 2011 @ 4:07am

      Re: Let's try changing the PTO's incentives

      soooo... this means that you want cash-heavy companies can continue harming innovation? Better to have almost zero costs and a huge que of applications that is processed by some Kafkaesque administration. Would cool off the system and make it more *democratic*

       

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    patent litigation, Jun 6th, 2011 @ 4:50pm

    fire with fire

    Reexamination is one of the best ways to fight back against patent trolls, or is at least a good first step.

     

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