Posts tagged patents

Who’s Suing Who
Yesterday we noted the case of a voice recognition startup called Vlingo that was sued for patent infringement and — even though exonerated — eventually had to sell itself to the very company that sued it.
The anecdote is from a long, frustrating and very important investigation by the New York Times into our very broken patent system.
Here, a visualization by the Times shows who’s suing who among the big players in the smartphone industry. If you select the image to enlarge it, you’ll see that just about everyone is suing everyone. Just follow the orange arrows as each “represents a lawsuit involving a mobile patent. In some cases, when multiple firms are plaintiffs or defendants, a single suit is represented with multiple arrows.”
Better, view the original and set aside the time to read the actual article.
It’s a highly readable and follows the how and why of current smartphone patent wars:

The number of patent lawsuits filed in United States district courts each year has almost tripled in the last two decades to 3,260 in 2010, the last year for which federal data is available. Microsoft has sued Motorola; Motorola has sued Apple and Research in Motion; Research in Motion has sued Visto, a mobile technology company; and in August, Google, through its Motorola unit, sued Apple, contending that Siri had infringed on its patents. (Google dropped the suit last week, leaving open the possibility of refiling at a later date.) All of those companies have also been sued numerous times by trolls.

And as you read, keep in mind that software patents are often “aspirational” rather than attached to a tangible product. That is, they describe broad concepts of an interface system, or a way to calculate payment, before they’ve ever been created. Another way to put it, they’re patents on ideas. In a weird analytical disconnect, Malcolm Gladwell once celebrated this practice in a New Yorker piece about a company called Intellectual Ventures.
"As a result," the Times notes about the current smartphone wars, “some patents are so broad that they allow patent holders to claim sweeping ownership of seemingly unrelated products built by others. Often, companies are sued for violating patents they never knew existed or never dreamed might apply to their creations, at a cost shouldered by consumers in the form of higher prices and fewer choices.” — Michael
Image: Partial screenshot, Fighters in a Patent War, by the New York Times.

Who’s Suing Who

Yesterday we noted the case of a voice recognition startup called Vlingo that was sued for patent infringement and — even though exonerated — eventually had to sell itself to the very company that sued it.

The anecdote is from a long, frustrating and very important investigation by the New York Times into our very broken patent system.

Here, a visualization by the Times shows who’s suing who among the big players in the smartphone industry. If you select the image to enlarge it, you’ll see that just about everyone is suing everyone. Just follow the orange arrows as each “represents a lawsuit involving a mobile patent. In some cases, when multiple firms are plaintiffs or defendants, a single suit is represented with multiple arrows.”

Better, view the original and set aside the time to read the actual article.

It’s a highly readable and follows the how and why of current smartphone patent wars:

The number of patent lawsuits filed in United States district courts each year has almost tripled in the last two decades to 3,260 in 2010, the last year for which federal data is available. Microsoft has sued Motorola; Motorola has sued Apple and Research in Motion; Research in Motion has sued Visto, a mobile technology company; and in August, Google, through its Motorola unit, sued Apple, contending that Siri had infringed on its patents. (Google dropped the suit last week, leaving open the possibility of refiling at a later date.) All of those companies have also been sued numerous times by trolls.

And as you read, keep in mind that software patents are often “aspirational” rather than attached to a tangible product. That is, they describe broad concepts of an interface system, or a way to calculate payment, before they’ve ever been created. Another way to put it, they’re patents on ideas. In a weird analytical disconnect, Malcolm Gladwell once celebrated this practice in a New Yorker piece about a company called Intellectual Ventures.

"As a result," the Times notes about the current smartphone wars, “some patents are so broad that they allow patent holders to claim sweeping ownership of seemingly unrelated products built by others. Often, companies are sued for violating patents they never knew existed or never dreamed might apply to their creations, at a cost shouldered by consumers in the form of higher prices and fewer choices.” — Michael

Image: Partial screenshot, Fighters in a Patent War, by the New York Times.

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.”

Bipolar Thoughts on Copyright and Patents

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.

Via Techdirt:

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.

Patent Trolls File 41% of all Software Patent Cases
In June, a Boston University study estimated that US direct costs in 2011 “of actions taken by so-called ‘patent trolls’ totalled $29 billion.”
Image: Detail, The High Cost of IP Lawsuits, via CEO.com

Patent Trolls File 41% of all Software Patent Cases

In June, a Boston University study estimated that US direct costs in 2011 “of actions taken by so-called ‘patent trolls’ totalled $29 billion.”

Image: Detail, The High Cost of IP Lawsuits, via CEO.com

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.).

Via ZDNet:

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

The Facebook Follow

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.”

Patent Troll Wants Your WiFi

Via Patent Examiner:

Delaware company Innovatio IP Ventures, LLC is scaling up its patent litigation assault against businesses that offer wireless Internet to customers, filing six infringement lawsuits this month against individual branches of some of the country’s largest hotel chains. It’s a new tack for the company, which began filing patent claims in March against coffee shops and restaurant chains, including Caribou Coffee, Cosí and Panera Bread Co., and department stores.

Contemplating the company’s approach – suing the users of the technology rather than its manufacturers – a logical question emerges: Will the onslaught reach the front doors of average, WiFi-using, American households?

When asked, Innovatio legal counsel responded that the company is not planning on going after individual WiFi users in their households “at this stage.” 

Instead, they are casting their patent net far and wide, asking for one-time licensing settlements of $2,300 to $5,000 from businesses such as cafes and hotels that offer their clients wireless Internet access, according to Patent Examiner.

As Patent Examiner explains, “By demanding a few thousand dollars, Innovatio ensures that, for many small business owners, taking up a legal defense won’t make financial sense.” 

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.

Google Patents Censorship Of ‘Annoying’ Content

There goes the Internet.

Via Conceivably Tech:

We could not help bringing you news that Google received a patent for “detecting and rejecting annoying documents.”…

…Needless to say, the patent especially refers to advertising and those rather invasive and disturbing blinking ads that exploit the entire range of color pairs that are found displeasing to the human eye: “The embodiments described herein enable Flash and animated image documents (e.g., advertisements). Some of these types of ads are annoying.” However Google notes that ads are just an “illustrative example” and the idea could be applied to “content pages (e.g., web pages), search results, emails, applications, IM messages, audio content or files, video content or files, other files, other data or applications that may reside on one or several (e.g., a network) of computer systems, or other definable concepts or content.”

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure?

The patent via the US Patent Office.

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.

Via Slashdot:

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.

Paul Allen Wants His Links Back

You know how just about every site has related links at the end of an article, or related products after an item? Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen wants a piece of that action.

Via paidContent:

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen has refiled his patent lawsuit against 11 big internet companies and e-retailers, and the new complaint details just how broad Allen’s claim to basic internet functionality is. In a 35-page amended complaint [PDF] filed Tuesday, Allen’s lawyers detail how certain functions that are widely used in digital media—acts as simple as suggesting related links, offering various forms of “alerts,” or making suggestions of related products for purchase—stand accused of infringing the four patents Allen has used in this lawsuit.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Interval Licensing, a patent-holding company set up to file lawsuits based on patents that were originally filed in the 1990s by Interval Research, a laboratory funded by Allen that closed its doors in 2000. Eleven companies stand accused of infringing Paul Allen’s patent rights: AOL, Apple, eBay, Facebook, Google, Netflix, Office Depot, OfficeMax, Staples, Yahoo, and YouTube…

…To call the accused features “widely used” web publishing functions would be an understatement. If patent claims on such basic ideas are found to be valid, there are surely hundreds of other potential defendants that could be sued by Interval Licensing. Paul Allen would be essentially a tax collector for the internet.

Allen and his lawyers are asking for damages, as well as an injunction that either shuts down the services or forces the defendants to pay Allen an ongoing royalty to continue using them.