Posts by Charles Duan

The Inspector General’s Patent Office Report Should Have Considered Patent Quality

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"The granting of improper and illegal patents defeats every object and purpose of patent laws. It serves to mislead and deceive the public, and to subject them to the annoyance of unjust and invalid claims. It throws distrust and discredit upon patented property, and injures the salable value of meritorious inventions.”

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No More Monkey Business: Court Rejects Monkey Selfie Copyright Case

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For us over at Public Knowledge, the monkey selfie case has been more fun than a barrel of, well, monkeys. The case started when a Celebes crested macaque stole a camera from a traveling British photographer and, in the course of monkeying around with the camera, took a particularly attractive picture of itself. The photographer said that he owned the copyright in the photo; the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals responded with a lawsuit on behalf of the monkey, claiming that the monkey was the true owner of the copyright.

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These Aren’t the Patent Remedies You’re Looking For (No, Really)

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Today is the release date of the new Star Wars sequel, and it’s also the due date for some amicus briefs in two big Supreme Court patent cases. And though the famed space opera has not much to do with patent law, the story of these two cases still shares a piece of the drama, the David versus Goliath battles, and the competing stories of power and force.

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What’s Going On with Patent Reform in Congress?

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So over at the Patent Reform Department of Public Knowledge, we’ve been busy with so many things this summer—the ClearCorrect v. ITC case, technology standards patents, Oracle v. Google (wait, that’s not really patents), writing science fiction—that we haven’t had much time to talk about what’s going on in Congress with patent reform. But trust me, there’s a lot going on over there too.

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Newegg Defeats a Patent Troll in Battle Royale over Encryption Technologies

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Online electronics retailer Newegg is having a sale tomorrow to celebrate its victory in its patent lawsuit against TQP Development. I’ll let other articles explain the background of the case, but the basics are that Newegg was sued by TQP, whom Newegg calls a “patent troll,” over several patents on encryption technologies. Last week the judge finally declared those patents invalid.

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The Supreme Court Case That Could Shut Down All Your Technology

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I don’t know about you, but I really love my computer. It stores all of my documents. It connects me to the world through the Internet. It reminds me about my appointments. It plays games and music. It does a million things at once, and barely ever complains, even when I toss it around on my couch or shove it into my messenger bag.

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A TSA Checkpoint for your Internet?

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If you’ve traveled internationally, you’ve probably had the fun and enjoyable experience of going through customs. The long lines, the drug-sniffing dogs, the agents searching your bags for fruits. It’s not terribly hard to find horror stories of going through customs. Now imagine that all your web page visits were subject to customs too.

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Patents for People, Not for Lawyers

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When was the last time that you wanted to learn about how some new technology works, and you went and read a patent? Not recently? Not ever? Not surprising. Patents are difficult documents to read—a survey found that 56% of nanotechnology scientists either don’t read them or have never found useful information in them.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Scientists and technologists write articles all the time that explain new inventions in clear, understandable ways. In fact, the patent law requires patents to be written in “full, clear, concise, and exact terms.” But as I’ll explain below, patent lawyers have strong motivations to actually make patents hard to read, keeping that knowledge from the public. Well, we’re called Public Knowledge, and we’re fighting that legal establishment and demanding clarity in patents, most recently in a filing submitted today to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

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Why Adam Carolla Should Keep Fighting a Patent Troll

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This morning, Ars Technica is running a story on an odd press release by the company Personal Audio LLC. As has been widely reported, Personal Audio is a company whose business is solely to sue other companies over a series of patents purported to cover all podcasting. They brought a patent lawsuit against Adam Corolla’s podcast about a year ago, and in response Carolla raised over $450,000 to fight back.

Now, as Ars reports, Personal Audio is trying to play up a sob story, claiming that they tried to settle the lawsuit, but Corolla refused to accept the settlement, choosing instead to continue fighting. Personal Audio’s press release suggests that Corolla “continues to raise unneeded money” and suspects that he is continuing “a lawsuit that he no longer needs to defend” for publicity reasons, in a seeming attempt to drum up sympathy for a patent assertion entity.

But there is a very good reason why Adam Corolla is fighting a fight he’s already won. Because he hasn’t actually won yet.

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Public Knowledge Statement on Termination of Patent Reform Bill

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“It is unfortunate that, after over a year of negotiations and discussions, the Patent Transparency and Improvements Act has been pulled from the docket. Although ‘companies on both sides of the issue’ could not come to agreement, the real loser here is the American consumer. Patent abuse raises costs on consumer products, keeps innovators from bringing products to markets, and blocks all individuals from fully accessing the wealth of technology. Without the bipartisan, White House-supported, widely agreed-upon reforms that were pending before the Senate, consumers will continue to pay a tax for an outmoded, misused patent system.”

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Uncovering the Patent Troll Secrets: Public Knowledge’s Comments to the FTC

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Our comments filed with the FTC today support an investigation into the secretive world of patent trolls.


For a patent reformer like me, this is an exciting time. Every part of government wants to get involved. The House of Representatives just passed a momentous patent litigation reform bill, the Supreme Court is taking on three major patent cases, and the White House is moving forward with its executive actions. These efforts are all critical, as they target the well-known abusive practices that patent trolls take advantage of to harm startups, small businesses, and the public.

But even with all this going on, there is a looming question: do we really know everything that is going on? Many patent trolls are shady figures, hiding behind shell corporations and sending out mysterious but threatening demand letters. Who knows what abuses might be going on in the shadows.

Enter the Federal Trade Commission. As an agency tasked with consumer protection, the FTC has powers to conduct investigations, and on September 27, the FTC announced it would use this power to investigate patent trolls.

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Fuzzy Patent Fences Make Bad Invention Neighbors: PK’s Comments on Patent Clarity at the USPTO

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Public Knowledge takes its fight for clear patents to the Patent Office.


If it’s not clear by now, I really don’t like unclear patents. I have blogged about how Intellectual Ventures applied for a patent on Microsoft’s Clippy, showed the Supreme Court how a 350-word patent claim was merely 16 lines of computer code, and filed a brief arguing that vague patents are impeding innovation.

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If You Can’t See the Edges, It Isn’t Property: PK’s Amicus Brief in Nautilus v. Biosig

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Public Knowledge files an amicus brief with EFF, to attack patents with fuzzy boundaries that impede innovation.


Imagine you are buying a house, and find out that the next-door neighbor owns all the property that is in a “spaced relationship” apart from the fence. How are you supposed to know what is yours and what is your neighbor’s? If you build a shed a foot away from the fence, is it yours or the neighbor’s?

Of course, this is a ridiculous situation. When we draw property boundaries, we draw lines, not blurry clouds that force others to guess what is inside and what is outside.

But this is not the case for patents. Although patents are supposed to specify the boundaries of what infringes and what does not—just like your house’s title deed does—courts regularly allow fuzzy language like “spaced relationship” to be used in defining those patent boundaries. Indeed, the words “spaced relationship” came straight from the patent that is at issue in the case Nautilus v. Biosig Instruments, which was considered acceptable by the appeals court, and is now before the Supreme Court for consideration.

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An Abstract Idea in Patent Clothing: Public Knowledge’s Amicus Brief in WildTangent v. Ultramercial

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Public Knowledge urges the Supreme Court to look beyond complicated patent language and invalidate patents on simple, abstract ideas.


Today, Public Knowledge filed an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to review an important case on software patents, WildTangent v. Ultramercial. The basic question in this case is whether a patent to a simple, abstract idea can be valid simply by tacking on enough legal and technical language to that idea, even if that extraneous language has no real meaning.

The patent in question is U.S. Patent No. 7,346,545. That patent basically describes a simple idea familiar to anyone who has watched videos on the Internet: the idea of taking a video available for purchase, and showing it for free in exchange for viewing an advertisement first.

If you’re thinking that this idea is too simple to be patented, you’re right. The specific legal concept, as the Supreme Court has said, is the “abstract idea,” which includes things like methods of financial hedging and algorithms for converting decimal to binary numbers. Abstract ideas, like laws of nature and physical phenomena, cannot be patented, because they are the “basic tools of scientific and technological work,” and “monopolization of those tools through the grant of a patent might tend to impede innovation more than it would tend to promote it”—so said our highest court last year, in Mayo Collaborative Services v. Prometheus Laboratories.

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NSA: Spying Is Fine, But Trademark Infringement Crosses the Line

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The NSA is misusing an obscure trademark-like law to suppress online content critical of the NSA.


This is a story about the National Security Agency, trademark law, online content takedowns, and more irony upon irony than I could have come up with in fiction.

As we all know, the NSA has been under fire for the last few months, over its broad national spying campaign. The NSA is of the position that its surveillance programs do not constitute a breach of Americans’ interests in privacy—they are perfectly happy to listen to us talk. But when it comes to people criticizing the NSA, suddenly the NSA doesn’t want to listen to anyone talking about them.

Matthew Green, a cryptography professor at Johns Hopkins, wrote a post on his personal blog about the NSA’s activities in undermining Internet cryptography. He then received a call from his academic dean, directing him to remove the blog post from university servers.

The university told Ars Technica that it had ordered the removal of the blog post because the university had been informed that the post “contained a link or links to classified material and also used the NSA logo.”

What’s wrong with using the NSA logo?

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So What Does Intellectual Ventures Invent Exactly?

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A new patent application filed by Intellectual Ventures demonstrates how even simple ideas can be obscured in a patent through fancy language.


Image by "Kimli" CC BY-NC 2.0; from http://www.flickr.com/photos/kimli/2627659036/sizes/o/in/photostream/ There’s a little report by the Institute for Policy Innovation entitled “Intellectual Ventures Invents Things.” It claims that Intellectual Ventures is not a patent troll, based on one patent application it filed last year.

And believe it or not, the patent application is a spinoff of Clippy of Microsoft Office fame.

The patent application is entitled “Autogenerating Video from Text,” and is Patent Application No. 2013/0188887. The application lists ten inventors, two of which are Nathan Myhrvold (CEO of IV) and Bill Gates.

So what exactly do they claim to have invented?

Here’s the full text of Claim 397 (the first claim, because they chopped out the first 396):

397. A system for converting user-selected printed text to a synthesized image sequence, comprising:

processing electronics configured to receive an image of text over a network, to translate the text of the image of text into a machine readable format, and, in response to receiving the image, to generate model information based on the text translated into the machine readable format.

Wow, that sounds fancy! Let’s break it down a little.

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The ITC Should Consider the Public Interest in Patent Decisions

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Note: This post was co-written with Rashmi Rangnath, Director of Global Knowledge Initiative, and Staff Attorney

The Administration overturned a decision to ban imports of technology products that infringe patents. This reaffirms the principle that an automatic ban on product importation is not in the public interest.


The public interest has to be a central concern in decisions about technology policy. The Obama Administration, through the United States Trade Representative (USTR), reaffirmed this principle this past Saturday when it overruled a recent International Trade Commission (ITC) decision to ban imports of certain Apple products including the iPhone 4.

The ITC is a specialized court that decides patent infringement cases. If the ITC finds that a product infringes a patent in certain circumstances, then the ITC will, as a matter of course, ban importation of that product. This is exactly what happened as part of the Apple /Samsung litigation: the ITC ordered a ban of the iPhone 4 and other Apple products on the ground that they violated patents owned by Samsung and relating to CDMA encoding and decoding (CDMA is a cell phone network technology used mostly by Verizon and Sprint in the US.)

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If Taxpayers Pay for It, Taxpayers Should Have Access to It

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Myriad Genetics is using patents to suppress taxpayer funded medical technologies, just as journal publishers used copyrights to suppress taxpayer funded medical research.


When our tax dollars go to funding potentially lifesaving medical technology research, we rightly have an expectation that the fruits of that research will be available to us as taxpayers. And it should concern us when companies, in the interest of making their own profits, raise the costs of and limit access to those technologies.

Recently, Senator Leahy asked Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health, to uphold these principles in a major patent dispute. Myriad Genetics developed a test for certain genetic indicators of breast cancer, known as BRCA1 and BRCA2. Myriad holds patents to these genes, and continues to refuse to allow others to test for them despite a rebuke from the Supreme Court.

Because of this, women are forced to pay undue sums for what some have called an inferior test, and are unable to obtain a second opinion before making life-changing decisions. Because Myriad’s research was funded by NIH and because of Myriad’s adamant refusal to allow competition in the market, Senator Leahy asks that NIH use its authority, known as the “march-in rights,” to force Myriad to license its patents on reasonable terms.

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Public Knowledge’s New Patent Reform Project

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Public Knowledge wants your input on how to improve the patent system.


I’m excited to announce Public Knowledge’s new Patent Reform Project. The Patent Reform Project will connect with both small and large stakeholders to develop policies that advance innovation and technology. To that end, we want to know what you think of the patent system: what works and what doesn’t work, and how it can be improved.

Why Are Patents Important?

Just a few decades ago, patents were hardly on the mind of the average person. Patents were the province of large manufacturers and businesses, and patent disputes were called the “sport of kings”—expensive and remote, with little direct effect on the ordinary consumer.

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