by Mike Masnick
Mon, Aug 31st 2009 12:23pm
by Mike Masnick
Tue, Nov 25th 2008 3:11am
from the until-it-needs-money...? dept
It involves getting a bunch of tech companies to pay up, so that this new company, RPX Corp., can buy up a bunch of patents "for defensive purposes only." The company insists it won't sue anyone with these patents. But, of course, the whole thing makes you wonder. For the companies that buy into RPX's deal (or IV's for that matter), they end up spending a bunch of money for a rather weak form of insurance that protects them in the very rare case where they might be able to use a patent in either firm's portfolio to maybe, possibly protect itself against an infringement lawsuit. It won't stop others from suing, of course. And, if RPX is serious about not suing for infringement, then why won't other firms just free ride? They get the benefit of those patents not being in litigious hands, but without having to pay. The whole situation just shows how ridiculous the patent litigation world is these days, that a bunch of companies feel the need to fund other companies to buy up patents just so they're not sued. That's not quite "promoting the progress."
by Timothy Lee
Fri, May 23rd 2008 10:35am
from the subject-matter-test-please dept
James Bessen and Michael Meurer, authors of an important new book on the patent system, have a great post on the problems created specifically by software patents. They argue that the most serious problem with software patents is that they tend to cover abstract concepts rather than specific physical devices or processes. As a result, the boundaries of software patents tend to be uncertain, leading to a lot of litigation. In many areas of patent law, the "enablement" rule (which says that patent applications have to describe an invention in enough detail to "enable" someone to replicate it) helps to ensure more precise definition of patent boundaries. But the patent office only requires a general description of an "invention's" functionality to get a software patent. As a result, there tends to be a lot of uncertainty about what a software patent covers, and uncertainty inevitably spawns litigation.
Bessen and Meurer don't offer a strong recommendation on the best way to solve the problems with software patents, but they tentatively endorse a "subject matter test" -- that is, reinstating the ban on software patents -- as one part of a solution to the problem. However, they worry that a subject matter restriction won't entirely solve the problem because applicants might resort to creative drafting to evade it. I'm not sure it's so hard to draw a line to exclude software patents. Ben Klemens has suggested a standard that strikes me as pretty serviceable: mathematical algorithms are not patentable, and coupling an algorithm with "insignificant postsolution activity" does not transform an unpatentable mathematical algorithm into a patentable machine. In particular, the mere act of loading software onto an ordinary general-purpose computer cannot transform an unpatentable algorithm into a patentable machine. Although this standard might not invalidate all problematic software patents, it would invalidate most of the really harmful ones. To take one example, NTP's infamous wireless email patents almost certainly wouldn't pass muster under Klemens's test because the "invention" in question consisted of running certain email-processing algorithms on generic computer hardware. If you took away the software component, you'd be left with an unpatentable collection of generic computers and generic wireless links. I'm sure there would be some hard cases that Klemens's test wouldn't deal with precisely, but it's certainly more precise than the tests the Federal Circuit is using now.
by Mike Masnick
Mon, Apr 7th 2008 2:40pm
from the it's-profitable dept
This sort of thing was inevitable, but it's still problematic. With Facebook generating so much publicity lately, and potentially gearing up for an IPO, it doesn't want these types of lawsuits hanging over it. So it's worth more to just settle and pay up, even if the claim itself is bogus. Yet, all this really does is encourage more similar lawsuits from companies that lost in the marketplace whining about competitors who did a better job executing. While some may say the ConnectU case is different because Zuckerberg worked with ConnectU for a few months, that hardly changes the basic facts of the case. This wasn't a new idea, and it's unlikely that ConnectU had done anything remarkably different than other competitors out there. In fact, it seems clear that it did not, since the site never went anywhere. Yet, because it's cheaper for Facebook to pay out and keep this quiet, ConnectU's founders get paid for failing in the marketplace. That's a bad precedent no matter how you look at it.