We were on the brink of changing the world before we got stuck in this legal muck.
Michael Phillips, founder of a voice recognition software company called Vlingo, on being sued in 2008 for patent infringement.
At the time, Vlingo was in partnership discussions with Apple and Google but both stopped negotiations because of the suit.
While Vlingo was eventually exonerated, it cost the company $3 million in legal fees and they eventually agreed to be bought by the company that sued them.
The New York Times, The Patent, Used as a Sword.
In the smartphone industry, according to the article, ”as much as $20 billion was spent on patent litigation and patent purchases in the last two years — an amount equal to eight Mars rover missions.”
Two things came across my feed today. They’re unrelated to one another but demonstrate just how far apart people are who think about these things.
Patents first, via Slashdot:
“The most recent call for curtailing patents comes not just from an unexpected source, the St. Louis Fed, but also in its most basic form: total abolition of all patents. Via the Atlantic Monthly: a new working paper (PDF) from two members of the St. Louis Federal Reserve, Michele Boldrin and David Levine, in which they argue that while a weak patent system may mildly increase innovation with limited side-effects, such a system can never be contained and will inevitably lead to a stifling patent system such as that presently found in the U.S. They argue: ‘…strong patent systems retard innovation with many negative side-effects. … the political demand for stronger patent protection comes from old and stagnant industries and firms, not from new and innovative ones.”
And flip all of that entirely on its head and we have a former US copyright chief arguing that disruptive media technologies should require congressional approval before being allowed to come to market.
One of the reasons why we live in such an innovative society is that we’ve (for the most part) enabled a permissionless innovation society — one in which innovators no longer have to go through gatekeepers in order to bring innovation to market. This is a hugely valuable thing, and it’s why we get concerned about laws that further extend permission culture. However, according to the former Register of Copyrights, Ralph Oman, under copyright law, any new technology should have to apply to Congress for approval and a review to make sure they don’t upset the apple cart of copyright, before they’re allowed to exist. I’m not joking.
Oman’s opinion become known when he filed an amicus brief (PDF) in a case where television networks are suing Aereo, the Barry Diller-backed startup that creates a device that lets you stream TV to your networked screens.
While neither position is policy, and copyright and patents are two entirely different things, these two articles show the fierce legal battles going on between potential disruptors and the potentially disrupted.
U.S. Patent No. 8,171,128 — “Communicating a newsfeed of media content based on a member’s interactions in a social network environment” – Filed on August 11, 2006, and granted on May 1, 2012.
Facebook patents the News Feed, via ZDNet.
The question then becomes: will they use the patent offensively or defensively against other social networks that display news feeds in much the same way (eg., Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, etc.).
Reading the patent more closely, you’ll see Facebook discusses how to let users see certain status updates, pictures, links to videos, and even actions friends take. The social networking giant describes keeping a profile of each person on the social network in a database, identifying relationships between said users, generating “stories” based on the connections, and then creating a News Feed for each user.
Last but certainly not least, Facebook watches what actions the viewer takes in response to the stories (such as Liking, Sharing, or commenting), and then uses that information to serve more stories. It’s also noted that content can come from outside the social network and that users can change preference settings to filter in or out what stories they see.
[It] is threatening the rights of people in America, and effectively rights everywhere, because what happens in America tends to affect people all over the world. Even though the Sopa and Pipa acts were stopped by huge public outcry, it’s staggering how quickly the US government has come back with a new, different, threat to the rights of its citizens.
In an interview with The Guardian, Web godfather Tim Berners-Lee warns about a proposed US bill called the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act that would increase the government’s ability to enforce patents and copyright.
CISPA is the love child of the recently defeated SOPA and PIPA bills that attempted to do more or less the same.
The other day I talked about Insurgents vs Incumbents. This is the framework we use at [Union Square Ventures] to think about a lot of things. And in the world of patents, the advantage goes to the Incumbents who can hoard patents and use them to their advantage. The insurgent, three engineers in a walk up in Bushwick, can’t even afford the lawyer or the time to file a patent. So it is very encouraging to see an emerging incumbent, Twitter, do something like this. They are saying to the world that they do not intend to compete on the basis of patents and instead they will compete on the basis of product, feature set, user experience, etc, etc.
USV is committed to support this initiative. We are instructing the startup lawyers we work with to insert the patent hack language in our standard forms. We are reaching out to our friends in the startup world including other VCs, accelerator programs, and the startup lawyer universe to suggest that they to insert the patent hack into their standard forms. And we will recommend to our existing portfolio companies that they adopt it as well. Of course, entrepreneurs and their companies will have to be the ultimate determinator of whether they want this provision in their inventions assignments agreement. If an entrepreneur we invest in does not want this provision, we will certainly support that decision. But we will want to have a conversation about why they would want to do that.
Fred Wilson, Principal, Union Square Ventures. The Twitter “Patent Hack”.
Background: Yesterday Twitter announced its Innovator’s Patent Agreement whereby it will put patents in control of its designers and engineers. The goal is make sure that patents are only used defensively against potential lawsuits. As Adam Messinger, Twitter’s vice-president of engineering writes:
Typically, engineers and designers sign an agreement with their company that irrevocably gives that company any patents filed related to the employee’s work. The company then has control over the patents and can use them however they want, which may include selling them to others who can also use them however they want. With the IPA, employees can be assured that their patents will be used only as a shield rather than as a weapon.
An important move, to be sure. M-CAM, a global asset management firm, reports that there are “over 30,000 patents that describe key aspects of social networking, ecommerce, and data management” with companies spending $83 billion each year defending themselves against them.
Twitter’s IPA move is the company’s attempt to reinvent how patents are used (for defense only) and we hope others are inspired to do the same. It’s great to see major tech players like Union Square Ventures looking to bake the concept into all the startups it works with — Michael
Last week while writing about Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement that Facebook is implementing “frictionless” sharing, we noted that Nik Cubrilovic, a software developer, discovered that Facebook’s cookies are more or less persistent.
That is, even when logging out of Facebook, Facebook’s cookies are still tracking you around the Web.
In the hub-bub that followed, Facebook changed the cookie behavior, and a company spokesperson told ZDNet, “Facebook does not track users across the web.”
Maybe not just yet.
As Michael Arrington writes on his new blog, the company just filed a patent application to do just that.
Or in Facebook’s words, they’d like to patent “a method… for tracking information about the activities of users of a social networking system while on another domain.”
The first thing you need to know about the U.S. patent system is that it has a backlog of more than 700,000 patents.
The second thing you need to know is that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has been so neglected for so many years — literally robbed of funds by Congress, which re-appropriated portions of the agency’s budget for other purposes — that the organization tasked with protecting America’s technological and scientific assets labors with too few staff and a “20-year old technology infrastructure that does not even remotely enable it to take advantage of modern information technology.”
And the most important thing you need to know about the U.S. patent system is that the America Invents Act just passed by Congress doesn’t fix any of this. Nor does it touch the larger issue of whether or not it’s wise to allow inventors to patent business processes and software and then sue the hell out of each other in a cage match that is essentially a tax on innovation.
1. A computer-implemented method of automatic face recognition, comprising: (a) generating one or more names based on one or more articles; (b) obtaining one or more images purporting to correspond to the one or more names; (c) selecting one or more face images from the one or more images; (d) associating the one or more face images with the one or more names; and (e) removing incorrectly associated face images using intra-model, inter-model, and spectral analysis.
Google patent application for technology that recognizes the most recent celebrity pictures. No more typing in Brad, Angelina, Lady Gaga or Newt Gringrich and wondering whether the photo is new or old.
On Thursday, the USPTO published Google’s patent application for Automatically Mining Person Models of Celebrities for Visual Search Applications, in which the search giant describes how it used spectral analysis to construct a database of ‘highly accurate biometric models’ to allow it to recognize the faces of 30,000 celebrities wherever they might appear. Included in the patent drawings is Plot 104 of ‘141 images in Barack Obama’s face model’, which Google notes is much less ‘polluted’ than Plot 102 of ‘71 images in Britney Spears’ face model.’ Watch out, celebrity stalkers — there’s a new kid in town!”
Newt Gingrich… we amuse ourselves.