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Archive for the ‘IP’ Category

Cory Doctorow has been teaching an undergraduate course at the University of Southern California called ‘PWNED: Everyone on Campus is a Copyright Criminal’. The class was open to anyone on or off campus, and lectures were podcasted. The students edited a class blog and were expected to improve Wikipedia posts relevant to the class. For the end of semester, each student turned in a final project that related the course material to their lives and major areas of study.

In this post Cory highlights some of the projects. “From the class discussions and one-on-ones”, he writes,

I knew I had a really amazing bunch on my hands, but I was absolutely gobsmacked by the incredible quality of the final projects. From founding a record label to conducting public polls to writing guidelines for journalists to interviews and classroom materials, my students did me better than proud.

I encouraged my students to do work that would be of use to the world at large. I hate the idea of the usual college final paper, which the student doesn’t want to write, the prof doesn’t want to read and no one else wants to ever see. Instead, I challenged them to produce useful work that the world could benefit from, and they met and exceeded the challenge…

Worth reading in full. Wonderful stuff.

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More patent trolling

Online auction house eBay goes to the US Supreme Court on Wednesday to prevent one of its core services being shutdown over a patent dispute. It is up against small US technology firm MercExchange, which successfully argued in a lower court in 2003 that eBay had infringed two of its patents.

The dispute relates to eBay’s continued use of its popular “Buy it Now” tool. eBay argues that judges should be able to deny injunctions in patent cases and instead choose to fine the perpetrator.

The auction house says the current threat of firms having their services immediately closed down if they are found guilty of patent abuse is unfair.

It further adds that it leaves large technology companies such as itself open to victimisation and attack from small “patent trolls”, who use the threat of immediate shutdown orders to force out-of-court settlements for huge sums of money.

[link]

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Patent trolling

Lovely example — from Tech Review…

Have Patent, Will Sue
A company makes its money by enforcing long-uncontested patents.
By Associated PressAUSTIN, Texas (AP) — While most technology companies make money by developing software, building hardware or providing services, Forgent Networks Inc. has taken a different route: It produces threats and lawsuits that try to cash in on ideas.

Forgent and other companies with similar strategies — often called ”patent trolling” by critics — amass intellectual property portfolios and file suits against other businesses, accusing them of infringement.

With a skeleton crew of 30 employees and the help of a law firm, Forgent has built a business out of suing — or threatening to sue — companies, even though it offers no related products and does no development of the technology itself.

Though critics say such tactics curb innovation and drive up costs for consumers, Forgent CEO Dick Snyder insists he’s merely providing maximum value to shareholders.

”This country was built on innovation, and in the Constitution there is a provision in there to protect innovation through patenting,” said Snyder, a former executive at Hewlett-Packard Co. and Dell Inc. ”It’s the American way, and we’re just doing what we believe is the right thing to gain value from what we own.”

For Forgent and other companies, the business model is paying off.

In the quarter ended Oct. 31, 80 percent of Forgent’s revenue came from licensing deals on just one digital image patent it obtained years ago in an acquisition.

Elsewhere, Research in Motion Ltd., maker of the popular BlackBerry e-mail device, this month settled its long-running patent dispute with NTP Inc. for $612.5 million (euro503 million). The Supreme Court, meanwhile, is expected to consider a patent dispute between eBay Inc. and patent-holder MercExchange this year.

Forgent’s biggest earner — generating $108.4 million (euro89 million) in settlements and licensing fees in the past three years — has been U.S. Patent No. 4,698,672, issued in 1987 and obtained years ago in an acquisition. At the heart of the so-called 672 patent is something ubiquitous in the technology world: the JPEG format for digital pictures.

Though used in countless electronic gadgets and software programs since the 1980s, it wasn’t until two years ago that Forgent sued 44 companies, including some of the high-tech industry’s largest players. It claimed they were using the patented compression technique covered in the 672 without paying a licensing fee.

Thirteen companies have settled, including Yahoo! Inc. Over 50 others not involved in Forgent’s lawsuit have agreed to pay unspecified royalties for using the patent, including RIM, and Forgent has notified more than 1,000 other companies they may owe royalties.

Though a dollar figure wasn’t disclosed, RIM spokesman Mark Guibert said negotiations with Forgent resulted in a ”reasonable agreement.”

The trial for the remaining defendants — among them Apple Computer Inc., Dell, Hewlett-Packard, International Business Machines Corp. and Microsoft — is still pending in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco.

Dan Venglarik, an intellectual property attorney with Davis Munck Butrus in Dallas who is not involved in the case, said Forgent’s tactics have far-reaching impact. Many smaller companies especially will be more likely to settle than dispute Forgent’s claim because of the high costs of litigation, which could easily top $3 million (euro2.5 illion), he said.

”If the numbers make sense, companies are going to be inclined to settle to avoid the risk,” he said.

The issue has led some lawmakers to call for changes to the nation’s patent system.

Last year’s Patent Reform Act, sponsored by Reps. Lamar Smith and Howard Berman includes changes that seek to cut down on lawsuits by people who take out patents on products, methods or ideas just so they can sue a company for infringement if it eventually produces something similar.

A draft proposal remains under review by a congressional subcommittee chaired by Smith, a spokeswoman for his office said.

Forgent’s legal attacks haven’t come without a fight.

The New York-based Public Patent Foundation Inc. recently won a request to have the validity of the 672 reviewed by the U.S. Patent Office, a process that could take years. The group claims Forgent’s patent was incorrectly granted and should be revoked.

”I think it’s stupid that this type of policy is legal and profitable,” said Dan Ravicher, the group’s executive director.

Forgent dates to the mid-1980s, when it was VTEL Corp., a maker and designer of videoconferencing equipment. VTEL performed a series of acquisitions, culminating in 1997 with Compression Labs Inc., which created and owned the 672 patent.

In 2001, the company was renamed Forgent, and executives decided to focus on intellectual property.

”At that juncture we really decided it was best from a shareholder perspective to at least for the foreseeable future, focus ourselves around being a patent company,” Snyder said.

Forgent’s earnings, largely dependent on revenue from the 672, have fluctuated wildly over the years. The company’s stock has ranged from $1.10 to $3.27 a share in the last year and recently posted a second quarter loss of $500,000 (euro410,340).

Forgent, which has about 30 other technology patents waiting in the wings, is already moving ahead with its next potential profit generator: U.S. Patent No. 6,285,746, which relates to how digital video recorders to allow playback during recording.

EchoStar Communications Corp., Motorola Inc., TiVo Inc. and 12 other companies have been named as defendants in the case. A federal judge has set a mediation date for next month in U.S. District Court in Marshall, Texas.

On the Net:

http://www.forgent.com

http://www.pubpat.org

See also.

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Full text available (pdf) here. I was struck by this passage:

Suddenly, in the past few years, the trend toward concentration has reversed – and the tide is now running strongly in the other direction. Partly this is due to a remarkable decline in the cost of high-quality digital recording equipment. In 1980, the equipment necessary to make a high-quality album cost aprx. $50,000; today, a laptop and less than $1000 of software can do better. Partly it is due to the malleability of those digital recordings, enabling them to be modified, edited, recombined. And partly it is due to the increased availability of software (like Final Cut Pro) that enables such modifications, and the declining amounts of skills necessary to operate that software.The net effect has been extraordinary. A rich stew of examples may be found in Henry Jenkins’ forthcoming book, Convergence Culture. Here are a few: Last year Shane Faleux, along with over 100 unpaid collaborators, produced an amateur 40-minute film, Star Wars Revelations. (To be honest, in my judgment the acting is so-so, but the special effects are very impressive.) Released for free on the web, more than 1 million people downloaded it. During the first week in which they were available on Amazon, DVDs of the extremely low-budget amateur parody, George Lucas in Love, outsold those of The Phantom Menace. A 2003 Star Wars Fan Film Contest, run by AtomFilms, attracted 250 entries. Hundreds of amateur filmmakers are now using Fisher-Price Pixelvision cameras to make avant-guard movies, making a virtue of their grainy images. Other examples are explicated in Yochai Benkler’s, The Wealth of Networks. He describes, for instance, the increasingly rich art form known as “machinima,” in which characters and stories are created within computer games, recorded, and then distributed on the Internet as short films. Many more examples can be found in the music industry. For instance, thousands of amateur musical webcasts are now available through Live365.com, offering an enormous variety of both mainstream and esoteric fare. The data from the 2005 Pew survey that John Horrigan summarized in his presentation here today is consistent with these anecdotes. One of the central findings of the Pew Study, for those of you who could not attend, is that broadband Internet users produce and share content at a high rate, not merely consume it.

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BlackBerry blackmail

March 06, 2006
RSI treatment industry hails BlackBerry settlement
The BlackBerry saga, which discomfited CTOs and confounded legions of compulsive thumb typists, is finally over — now little more than a memorial to the contemptible state of intellectual property law in the U.S. With a court-ordered shutdown of Research in Motion’s U.S. business a very real possibility, the BlackBerry maker on Friday struck an 11th-hour deal with NTP, settling its long-running dispute with the patent holding company. For a one-time payment of $612.5 million, NTP agreed to drop its patent infringement claims against RIM and permit the company to continue its BlackBerry-related business without interruption. That’s a high price to pay for any patents — especially largely discredited ones (see “RIM to NTP: Appease you we tried, now screwed you all will be.“) — but perhaps a reasonable investment to bring these pitiable shenanigans to an end. “It’s a lot of money for patents that will not survive, for sure, but that doesn’t do us any good if there’s a court that doesn’t wait,” RIM Chairman and co-Chief Executive Jim Balsillie said during a conference call after the announcement. “No question, we took one for the team here. It wasn’t a good feeling to write this kind of check.”
Link: http://blogs.siliconvalley.com/gmsv/2006/03/the_blackberry_.html

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