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Legal Issues

by Mike Masnick

Taking Down Lemelson's Legacy

from the onward dept

Yesterday we wrote about the questions surrounding Jerome Lemelson's legacy as an inventor. Many who have been sued by his lawyers claim that he's nothing more than a patent hoarder, who continually manipulated the system to squeeze money out of companies that were actually doing something. It turns out that was just part one of a two part story. Lemelson's legal team didn't necessarily go after makers of machine vision technology, but went directly after their customers. One of the machine vision companies, Cognex, was sick of its customers being sued, and against the advice of many, the CEO of that company went after the Lemelson Foundation and won. The article is a little misleading. It suggests he was crazy to do so (it literally quotes Lemelson's lawyer as saying the guy is "certifiably insane." However, that's not true. Lemelson's lawyers were bullying Cognex's customers, and that makes it more difficult for Cognex to do business. So it was a perfectly rational decision. The case is still being appealed, but hasn't received that much attention. This is too bad, as the issue of patent hoarding is being too easily brushed aside, when it's having a serious impact on many companies' ability to innovate and bring products to market.

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  • identicon
    nonuser, 23 Aug 2005 @ 6:36pm

    community review through the *entire* patent lifec

    The Lemelson machine vision patent was a well-documented case of a submarine filing, where the "inventor" filed revisions every few years as technology progressed (from the real inventors and innovators). In other words, people at the patent office were asleep. That particular abuse has been mostly been dealt with, I think.

    We've heard proposals for community review on patents pending. What I'd like to propose is peer review on patents already granted as well as those pending. Make the inventing company or individual file a plan on how the invention will be developed and rolled out for the betterment of society (using capitalistic logic is OK here), and have that plan be reviewed by a a board of peers. Furthermore, written reports, documentation on prototypes or finished products, revised plans and email or in-person cross examination should be done every three years or so to ensure that nobody is "squatting" on an important piece of technology. The review board should be empowered to reduce the term of the patent, or require licensing at reasonable terms, at any point during the patent lifecycle if the inventor's plans and progress aren't fully satisfactory.

    As Jeff Bezos suggested (as a way of deflecting criticism from the infamous one-click patent), many patents shouldn't be granted a full 20 year term. This is also something that should be part of each granted patent's periodic review - is this patent really deserving of 20 year protection? If not, it should be released into the public domain. Maybe the original examiners didn't fully understand the scope of the patent, or how it might be considered obvious to specialists in that line of work.

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

  • identicon
    Mousky, 23 Aug 2005 @ 8:10pm

    No Subject Given

    It is unlikely, at least in the short-term, that American politicians will do anything about IP issues. So long as industry lobby groups continue to argue that stronger IP legislation (as in the favor of IP holders) is required to maintain an economic advantage on the global stage, politicians will continue to erode what little public benefit IP legislation provided.

    Remember that copyright was extended to prevent early Disney material from entering the public domain. Unfortunately, the side-effect from this is that anything from the Steamboat Willie era will not enter the public domain. I guess it was fine for Disney to base much of their IP on material that was in the public domain, but it is not fine for anyone else in the foreseable future from releasing their own adaptations of Disney movies, etc. It doesn't help that the politicians have been changing the rules over the past 40 years.

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

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