On March 21, Personalized Media Communications, LLC (PMC), owner of 98 patents covering networked equipment technologies, filed patent lawsuits in the Eastern District of Texas against major tech firms Netflix, Google, and Akamai. The lawsuits claim that the defendants infringed upon intellectual property that covers a major part of the adaptive streaming capabilities for each of the three businesses. In the lawsuits, PMC is asserting claims from six patents it has earned between 2010 and 2017, each titled Signal Processing Apparatus and Methods.
The Framework rolled out by Congress last week to fix Section 101 law in the United States will not improve the current 101 disaster. It codifies current exceptions and even adds an entirely new exception specifically intended to protect big tech monopolies. Congress is pitifully unserious about restoring our innovation engine. For more than 200 years, the U.S. patent system was the primary engine propelling the United States to lead the world in virtually every new technology. But over the last 15 years, activists in Congress, the courts and the administration pulverized this engine to benefit a few huge multinationals in exchange for political donations and favors. Today, the patent system is a complete failure causing technologies critical to our economy, job creation, global technological lead, and national security to flee the U.S. and go to China. In a brutal political irony, the Communist Chinese have a better property rights system than we do here in the U.S.
This week in other IP news, recently released data shows that worldwide revenues for music copyright exceeded $28 billion in 2017, up $2 billion over 2016; reports surface about the “reverse patent trolling” issue in China; Google retains Williams & Connolly for Supreme Court battle with Oracle despite Shanmugam exit; the Copyright Office holds roundtable discussions on detecting online copyright infringement; Twitter takes down a tweet from President Donald Trump after a copyright complaint; “KINKEDIN” trademark for computer dating site successfully opposed in the UK by LinkedIn; EU antitrust regulators are petitioned to look into Nokia patent licensing practices; and loss of patent exclusivity leads to major job cuts at Gilead Sciences.
In their latest letter weighing in on intellectual property issues, Senators Thom Tillis and Chris Coons have expressed their concerns about the effects of “serial” inter partes review (IPR) petitions on the U.S. patent system.In March, the senators sent a letter to Karyn Temple, Register of Copyrights, to ask a series of questions about the Copyright Office’s ability to handle the likely impact of Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corp. v. Wall-Street.com, LLC. Today’s letter was addressed to USPTO Director Andrei Iancu and similarly asked Iancu to respond to a list of five pointed questions about the Office’s willingness to take action on serial IP challenges.
Patents are often referred to as monopolies. But that is a fundamental misunderstanding of how patents work to enhance competition. The truth is that a patent is a natural anti-monopoly. In a functioning patent system, inventions become investible assets when they are patented, and the value of the invention increases as market demand increases. Because of the direct relationship between market demand and patent value, a patented invention can attract enough investment to compete with entrenched incumbents in the market for the invention. This effect introduces new competitors into the market who are protected against incumbents for a long enough period that they can survive after the patent expires. Thus, patents act to increase competition by introducing new competitors into the market and thereby create competitive markets. But perhaps even more important, some inventions deliver a strong dose of creative destruction to monopolistic incumbents who did not innovate fast enough, causing those companies to fail and clearing the market of dead weight, thus opening the market to innovative new companies. Patents are the ultimate anti-monopoly in a free market. But for this to work, the market must function undisturbed by crony laws and regulations. A patent must be a presumed valid “exclusive Right.”
The Senate has a busy schedule related to tech and innovation topics for the week of April 8, including hearings on prescription drug pricing, broadband Internet coverage maps developed by the U.S. government, free speech on social media and tech platforms, and clean energy innovations to address climate change. The Senate Environment Committee also has a business meeting this week to discuss a piece of legislation that would support innovation in direct air carbon capture. This week’s tech and innovation lineup at the House of Representatives is a bit lighter, although there are hearings looking at a proposed bill to restore net neutrality, as well as a review of the 2020 budget request for the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Elsewhere, the Brookings Institution hosts events on EU-U.S. digital data collaboration and the impact of automation on the future of work, and the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation explores funding issues for the National Institutes of Health and their impact on American biomedical innovation.
Text-based search engines, such as Google and Yahoo (remember Ask Jeeves?), were arguably the most important development leading to our now everyday reliance on the Internet. The concept is simple: type a word or string of words into that inviting text box and instruct your favorite search engine to scour the Internet. The search engine does its magic and quickly displays a list of results, typically hyperlinks to webpages containing information the search engine decided was most relevant to your search. As web technology has progressed, search engines have become smarter and more robust. All major search engines can now, in response to text input, spit out a combination of web pages, images, videos, new articles, and other types of files.Of course, IP owners and those interested in capitalizing on the IP rights of others have found many creative ways to leverage search engine technology to get their goods and services to the top of search engine result pages. These techniques have sparked an entire industry—search engine optimization—which has long been the subject of copyright and trademark litigation. Given that nearly all consumers now have camera-enabled mobile devices, search engine providers have invested heavily in “visual” search engine technology. Visual search engines run search queries on photograph or image input, instead of text input. For example, a tourist visiting the Washington Monument can snap a quick photo of the famous obelisk and upload it into the visual search engine. The visual search engine will then analyze (using, for example, AI or other complicated algorithms) various data points within the photograph to identify the target and then spit out relevant information such as the location, operating hours, history, nearby places of interest, and the like. Google (Google Lens), Microsoft (Bing Visual Search), and Pinterest are all leveraging this technology.Critically important for IP owners, visual search engines can be used by consumers to identify products and quickly comparison shop or identify related products. A golfer could snap a photograph of a golf shirt and ask the visual search engine to return results to find a better price on that shirt or to identify a matching hat or pair of pants. Similarly, a music listener could snap a photograph of an album cover and ask the visual search engine to return results for other music in the same genre that might be interesting to the listener. These are only a few examples of the powerful capabilities of visual search engine technology.
This week in Other Barks & Bites: the Supreme Court asks for the U.S. Solicitor General’s view on whether patents that claim a method of medically treating a patient automatically satisfy Section 101; a jury gives Qualcomm a win in its ongoing patent battle with Apple; the World Intellectual Property Office announces record-breaking totals for international patent applications and cybersquatting actions; Cisco avoids a nearly $60 million damages award at the Federal Circuit; McDonald’s appeals its loss in the EU over its Big Mac trademark; Tesla files trade secret lawsuits against former employees; Peloton faces a copyright suit from music publishers who are seeking $150 million; and Google gets another billion-dollar-plus fine from antitrust regulators in the EU.
Apple made headlines with its recent decision to close its stores in Frisco and my home town of Plano, Texas. The rumor is that Apple was afraid of the dreaded “patent troll.” However, Apple is not afraid of patent trolls. They are afraid of inventors. Whenever you hear the term patent troll, think of inventors. Inventors like my friend Bob Short, who solved an important technical problem in 1998 with his invention—a protocol that encrypts real-time audio and video transmissions. Apple wanted his technology for their FaceTime app, so they took it. Bob’s company, VirnetX, has spent six years trying to stop them and make them pay. Meanwhile Apple, Google, and other tech titans have spread propaganda and paid lawyers, academics, lobbyists, and politicians to destroy the U.S. patent system.
USPTO Director Andrei Iancu participated in a fireside chat, titled “The Crossroads of Technology and Innovation,” hosted by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) at its sixth annual Innovation Policy Day on Tuesday, March 12 at SXSW in Austin, Texas. Sitting with Director Iancu was host Michael Hayes, Sr. Manager of Government Affairs for the CTA. The chat was quite short and briefly touched on topics such as celebrating the 10 millionth-issued patent, the preparedness of the patent system for the future, artificial intelligence and patent eligibility, and the availability of patenting for all peoples. Then, in what some may consider to be an unscrupulous move, Hayes introduced the narrative of patent trolls.
On the afternoon of Wednesday, March 13, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Intellectual Property held an oversight hearing of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office featuring testimony from and questioning of USPTO Director Andrei Iancu. While this hearing was relatively short by Congressional standards, the Senate IP Subcommittee explored recent changes instituted during Iancu’s tenure as USPTO Director and also got into the debate on pharmaceutical patents—a topic that has been front and center for both houses of Congress in recent weeks.
Representative Steve Stivers (R-OH) and Representative Bill Foster (D-IL) introduced the Support Technology & Research for Our Nation’s Growth and Economic Resilience (STRONGER) Patents Act, which would in part restore injunctive relief as a remedy for patent infringement, in the U.S. House of Representatives in March of last year. While there has been much talk about closed-door discussions taking place on Capitol Hill recently around fixing Section 101 law, the House has not yet re-introduced the STRONGER Patents Act, and has thus far been focused on other issues this term. But Rep. Stivers seems confident that the Act has a chance this term, and says that this could be the consensus legislation the House needs. Read below for more on Rep. Stivers’ thoughts about patent reform in the 116th Congress, where the America Invents Act went wrong, and how we ensure the U.S. patent system is restored to number one.
Mozilla, Mapbox, Medium, Patreon, Etsy, and Wikimedia have filed an amicus brief in support of Google in its case against Oracle at the U.S Supreme Court. The platforms disagree with the Federal Circuit’s March 27, 2018, ruling that Google’s use of Oracle’s Java application programming interface (API packages) was not fair as a matter of law, reversing the district court’s decision on the matter. The brief is the latest of 14 that have been filed in the last week in support of granting the petition.
This week in Other Barks & Bites: the Chinese and U.S. governments hash out intellectual property issues; a prominent New York City politician joins the effort to break the patent on Gilead’s Truvada; Qualcomm tells the ITC that Apple’s design around undermines the agency’s finding that an exclusion order shouldn’t be entered against infringing iPhones; the Fortnite copyright cases take a new turn; Babybel loses the trademark on its red wax cheese coating in the UK; Fisker & Paykel and ResMed settle their worldwide patent dispute; Facebook could face major FTC fines for payments from children playing video games on the platform; and reports indicate that Pinterest is pursuing an initial public offering.
The Federal Circuit recently elected not to decide en banc “whether servers are a regular and established place of business, such that venue is proper under 35 U.S.C. § 1400(b). In re: Google LLC, No. 2018-152 (Fed. Cir. Feb. 5, 2019) (Before Prost, Chief Judge, Newman, Lourie, Dyk, Moore, O’Malley, Reyna, Wallach, Taranto, Chen, Hughes, and Stoll, Circuit Judges) (Dissent by Reyna, Circuit Judge, joined by Newman and Lourie, Circuit Judges). SEVEN Networks, LLC’s (SEVEN) patent infringement suit against Google arose in the Eastern District of Texas. SEVEN alleged Google’s servers, stored in a third-party ISP’s facility, where the allegedly infringing activities occurred, were a regular and established place of business, such that venue is proper under 35 U.S.C. § 1400(b). The district court denied Google’s motion to dismiss for improper venue. As a result, Google petitioned the Federal Circuit for a writ of mandamus directing the district court to dismiss or transfer the case for improper venue. On appeal, the panel majority found mandamus relief inappropriate because “it is not known if the district court’s ruling involves the kind of broad and fundamental legal questions relevant to § 1400(b),” and “it would be appropriate to allow the issue to percolate in the district courts so as to more clearly define the importance, scope, and nature of the issue for us to review.”