Legal Issues

by Mike Masnick

Patent Office Agrees To Review JPEG Patents, Just As Another Company Pays Up

from the took-'em-long-enough dept

Among the companies that demonstrate just how much our patent system does not encourage innovation, Forgent may be near the top of the list. The patent in question had absolutely nothing to do with the eventual creation of JPEG image compression, and Forgent found this patent collecting dust in the corner after purchasing assets from another company. They made a bit of a stretch and said it covered JPEG compression and started suing everyone. Back in November, though, we noted that a group had dug up some prior art which they hoped would invalidate the patent. That didn't stop Forgent, of course, who quickly pressured Yahoo! into licensing the patent. This week, they got JASC to settle a lawsuit over the patent -- but that may have been a bit premature. Based on that prior art submission from last November, the USPTO has now agreed to reconsider the patent. Obviously, there's a lengthy process to go through before any conclusion is made -- but this situation demonstrates all of the problems with the patent system in one simple case study. You have a patent that obviously had nothing to do with the actual innovation, but was simply applied retroactively as a "lottery ticket" to take money from those who actually did innovate. You have companies who actually are innovating, who are feeling pressured to pay up a license fee, just to avoid the pain of litigation. You have prior art that has to be dug up by others, rather than the patent examiners. You have a patent review process that will take years to conclude one way or the other, during which, money will keep flowing away from actual innovators to a company that has done nothing to help drive innovation (and to lawyers). So, for all the companies who paid up, can they get their money back if the patent is found invalid? Can they sue the patent office for causing all of these problems for fraudulently granting a bogus patent?

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Bits, Feb 2nd, 2006 @ 1:27pm

    Someone Ought to

    Someone ought to sue the patent office. I mean the consumers are the ones who ultamately pay in higher prices software or services.

    If the patent office invalidates a patent they should be held liable for any damages it causes the company, but even then the taxpayers loose out since the patent office is a goverment organization. What would be better is to put into law stipulations that if a company has nothing to do with a product (software or hardware) development and merely holds a pantent on an idea, and that seems like what most of these are, that the entity which brought the product to market cannot be held liable for patent infringments unless the original patenting entity is currently, or has actually brought/or is in the process of brining that "product" to market.

    The spirit of this would be to prevent people from patenting ideas and sitting on the patent until someone else does the hard work of bringing the idea to fruition.

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

  2. identicon
    Ben, Feb 2nd, 2006 @ 1:55pm

    Re: Someone Ought to

    Excellent plan, i wish someone from the Gov't would actually read what you typed. unfortunately i seriously dought that will happen.

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

  3. identicon
    A Funny Guy / The Poison Pen, Feb 2nd, 2006 @ 2:13pm

    Re: Someone Ought to

    Ben - This has been forwarded to quite a few political fugures where I am certain that it will end up in file 13 as i really don't think they give a shit....

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

  4. identicon
    Derek, Feb 2nd, 2006 @ 2:28pm

    If pigs could fly...

    The world is full of if's and but's and more obviously bodies that can't do there job...

    I believe the patent system is just out of date, it runs on old laws that have eventually gone out dated by those working the loop holes, something seriously needs to be done about it and the loop holes plug, but as stated those who can will probably never want to, as there the ones that earn from the current system.

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

  5. identicon
    greenspam, Feb 2nd, 2006 @ 3:48pm

    What's the Alternative?

    OK, you said patent system is junk... but how would you replace it?

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

  6. identicon
    zcat, Feb 2nd, 2006 @ 4:02pm

    Re: What's the Alternative?

    Don't replace it. There's nothing that needs to take the place of software patents. They never should have existed in the first place.

    Patents are supposed to be for inventions. Not maths. Not software. Not business methods. Stop issuing patents on things that were always (and by any sane reading of the law, still are) supposed to be unpatentable. And immediately cancel all existing 'software' patents as wrongfully issued. What the patent office giveth, the patent office can taketh away.

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

  7. icon
    bjc (profile), Feb 2nd, 2006 @ 4:31pm

    No Subject Given

    I think the patent office should require all patent holders to demonstrate a physical, working invention before they issue a patent.

    Ideas, methods, formulas, and daydreams should never be patentable, only actual tangible goods.

    Copyright law and trade secret legislation covers the source code and real work that goes into software. If someone comes along who can do it better, cheaper and faster they should be allowed to.

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

  8. identicon
    bnice, Feb 2nd, 2006 @ 5:30pm

    No Subject Given

    Forgent's website is one of the weakest I've ever seen, and they are claiming they innovated .jpg compression? Come on. Morals are obviously a thing of the past. I seriously think the patent office should investigate claims like these, turn them around and fine the pursuing company for being so obnoxiously greedy and turning a system that's worked for the past 60 or 70 years into a sleazefest.

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

  9. identicon
    nonuser, Feb 2nd, 2006 @ 5:44pm

    in this case

    the problem seems to be that the standards committee on JPEG accepted on faith that the companies contributing to the standard weren't going to suddenly turn around and demand royalties when people started to use it. The folks at Compression Labs almost certainly went along with the idea that an open standard would galvanize the entire industry and more than make up for any loss of profits from patent licensing. And most likely, their scientists were just one of many small groups worldwide that jointly invented the techology (discrete cosine transforms and so forth), in the usual partly collaborative/partly competitive manner these things get created. However, time passes, people and companies move on, and sometimes the assets end up in the hands of legal speculators who never created any value for anyone except themselves.

    I think the law should be changed to prevent this kind of sudden change of heart, many years after the fact, to demand licensing on expensive terms of widely used technologies. In some cases, the patent holders might not have been aware of ongoing infringement but this is certainly not one of them. Also, lawmakers need to take into account the speculative nature of many patent holdings.

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

  10. identicon
    zcat, Feb 2nd, 2006 @ 8:32pm

    Re: in this case

    OK, here's a stop-gap measure that would at least stop screwups like this from happening;

    There are a limited number of recognised 'open standards bodies' - Have the patent office agree on a list they recognise, and update it as appropriate.

    Any technology that becomes part of a registered and recognised standard is automatically patent-free, by the following legal theory.. if the patent holder themselves contributed it they must knowingly waive any patent rights. If anyone else held patent rights and didn't speak up and assert their rights when the standard was being openly discussed, they forfeit the right to assert the patent(s) completely.

    But still, a better solution would be for the patent office to recognise that patent law quite explicitly says SOFTWARE (as such) CAN'T BE PATENTED and stop issuing or recognising illegal patents!

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

  11. identicon
    Disgusted, Feb 3rd, 2006 @ 1:32am

    If there was a special place in Hell for people li

    ...I'd become religious.

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

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