Just over the mountain of Patent Eligibility Reform awaits The Thiefdom of Efficient Infringers. No other intellectual property criminal enjoys the legal immunities and protections that the patent thief enjoys. Other intellectual property criminals – the copyright infringers, the trademark infringers, and the trade secret thieves – all are subject to both civil and criminal liability, just like every other common criminal. But not the patent thieves. This one type of intellectual property criminal gets favored treatment and special protections under the law. Why is this?
Last week, U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers issued an order denying Cellspin Soft’s motion for recusal that sought the vacatur of a summary judgment that released Fitbit, Nike, Under Armour, and others from patent infringement liability. Judge Gonzalez Rogers wrote “in short, plaintiff’s attack on the integrity of the judiciary… not only demonstrates a measure of desperation, but is divorced from the law and the facts.”
Earlier this month, patent owner Cellspin Soft filed a motion for recusal under 28 U.S.C. § 455 seeking the vacatur of a summary judgment order entered in the Northern District of California by U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers releasing several defendants from infringement liability, including Fitbit. Cellspin Soft’s motion points to several financial interests between Judge Gonzalez Rogers and Fitbit’s parent company Google, including business relationships developed by Judge Gonzalez Rogers’ husband through McKinsey & Company, as requiring recusal under Section 455, a statute that was recently raised by a petition for writ denied last December by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Attorneys General of eight U.S. states on Tuesday announced they are suing Google for antitrust violations of the Sherman Act with respect to the tech company’s monopoly on digital advertising technology. The Attorneys General of California, Colorado, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Virginia joined the suit. In a 155-page complaint filed in the Eastern District of Virginia, the DOJ and Attorneys General explained that Google “has corrupted legitimate competition in the ad tech industry by engaging in a systematic campaign to seize control of the wide swath of high-tech tools used by publishers, advertisers, and brokers, to facilitate digital advertising.”
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) in a precedential decision today vacated a Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) finding that certain claims of Google, LLC’s U.S. Patent Application No. 14/628,093 were obvious. The CAFC opinion, authored by Chief Judge Moore, said the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s (USPTO’s) arguments on appeal “cannot sustain the Board’s decision below because they do not reflect the reasoning or findings the Board actually invoked.” Google’s patent application has to do with methods for filtering the results of an internet search query such that only age-appropriate results for a user are displayed. At issue were two prior art references: Parthasarathy, which “discloses methods of filtering search results by comparing a “search-query-intent score” to a predetermined safety threshold” and Rose, which is titled “System and Method for Improving the Ranking of Information Retrieval Results for Short Queries.”
The U.S. Supreme Court today invited the Solicitor General’s views in a copyright case that asks the High Court to grant a petition on the question of whether the Copyright Act’s preemption clause allows a business “to invoke traditional state-law contract remedies to enforce a promise not to copy and use its content?” The petition was brought by ML Genius Holdings (Genius), an online platform for transcribing and annotating song lyrics, against Google and LyricFind, which Genius claims breached its website Terms of Service by “stealing Genius’s work and placing the lyrics on its own competing site, drastically decreasing web traffic to Genius as a result.”
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) today issued a precedential decision in part reversing and in part affirming a district court’s dismissal of an inventor’s patent infringement suit against Google under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure12(b)(6). Judge Hughes dissented in part from the majority’s opinion, which was authored by Judge Stoll, explaining that he would have found all of the challenged claims patent ineligible.
The debate over patent reform is heating up again. Last month, Google published a blog post on patent reform, purportedly aimed at promoting American innovation. In it, Google decried the rising tide of “wasteful patent litigation,” railed against the disfavored practice of “forum shopping” and advocated for pending legislation aimed at making it easier for large companies to challenge the validity of patents owned by smaller rivals — all in the name of promoting a patent system that “incentivizes and rewards the most original and creative innovators.”
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) today vacated and remanded three decisions of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) that had found Google failed to prove the relevant claims of IPA Technologies, Inc.’s patents to be unpatentable. The CAFC found that the PTAB “failed to resolve fundamental testimonial conflicts in concluding that the relied-upon reference was not prior art.” The patents in question are U.S. Patent Nos. 6,851,115 (“the ’115 patent”) and 7,069,560 (“the ’560 patent”). They cover “a software-based architecture . . . for supporting cooperative task completion by flexible, dynamic configurations of autonomous electronic agents.” Specifically, the patents disclose that “[c]ommunications and cooperation between agents are brokered by one or more facilitators” and that “[t]he facilitators employ strategic reasoning for generating a goal satisfaction plan to fulfill arbitrarily complex goals by users and service requesting agents.” The patents list David L. Martin and Adam J. Cheyer as inventors.
On April 28, Google published a blog by their general counsel, Halimah DeLaine Prado, about the crisis condition of the U.S. patent system. Prado portrays Google as a strong supporter of the patent system, citing their history in initiatives to spur new inventions and technologies. For example, Google was a key player in 2013 in starting the Open Patent Non-Assertion Pledge (to not sue on open-source software). Google was also instrumental in the beginnings of the License On Transfer network (which helps members who have been sued by “patent trolls”). Google has provided technical support for the Prior Art Archive. Prado notes that Google has 42,000 patents, which she says they license at “fair value,” and sell to grow the portfolios of other companies, all in the interest of small businesses.
On April 28, Google’s General Counsel Halimah DeLaine Prado authored a post published on Google’s official blog to voice concerns felt by one of the world’s richest corporations that the U.S. patent system is currently in a state of growing crisis. The post offers several suggestions, each sanctioned by Google, as to steps that can be taken in all three branches of the U.S. federal government to address patent quality, abusive litigation and forum shopping. Unfortunately, the proposed reforms would help very little, if at all, toward improving certainty and clarity in patent rights in a way that would actually improve American innovation by supporting small startups and individual inventors in our country. Indeed, any informed observer of the U.S. patent system would recognize that Google’s proposed reforms would instead do a great deal to advance Google’s own business interests ahead of those startups and individual inventors who need the patent system to work in order to survive.
The operators of a number of Lime Fresh Mexican Grill franchises have filed a lawsuit in the Northern District of California on behalf of a nationwide class of restaurants claiming that Google, LLC has engaged in deceptive practices and misappropriation of their goodwill and tradenames by directing consumers to Google-operated pages for online ordering and delivery. The complaint explains that Google changed the way it displays restaurant search results in 2019, confusing customers into ordering through Google-designed ordering buttons and pages, thereby robbing the restaurants of direct online orders. Instead, customers are fooled into ordering through delivery service providers Google has contracted with, which charge exorbitant fees to the restaurants, says the complaint.
A new crime drama, The Billion Dollar Code, is a fascinating breakthrough mini-series that illustrates the legal challenges of inventions and inventors in a world where technology giants can refuse to acknowledge the source of ideas they do not control. The popular four-part Netflix mini-series achieves uncanny success not only in depicting an epic legal battle but doing it over four plus hours in German with subtitles and an abundance of algorithm detail and trial preparation. It is reminiscent of Chernobyl, HBO’s award-winning series that turned the complex series of events and failures, both technical and human, leading to a nuclear core meltdown into award-winning entertainment.
“Fair Use” is a flexible defense to claims of copyright infringement. It is a doctrine that evolves as technology and the way in which people use copyrighted works advance. As an exception to the general law prohibiting copying others’ works, it permits copying for a limited and “transformative” purpose, such as commentary, criticism, teaching, news reporting, scholarship, or research. Naturally, the way courts analyze the “fair use” defense must adapt as technology advances and the way in which creative content is developed evolves. Earlier this year, for example, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on a landmark fair use case involving the “copying” of an Application Programming Interface (API).
The Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights held a hearing yesterday titled “Big Data, Big Questions: Implications for Competition and Consumers,” in which both Republican and Democratic senators pushed representatives of Facebook and Google to answer difficult questions about their platforms’ impact on everything from competitive marketplaces to teenagers’ body image. The hearing is one in a series that aims to conduct a bipartisan review of America’s competition issues, according to Subcommittee Chair, Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).