Tag Archives: Flash of Genius

IP CloseUp visits were up 81% in 2016, breaking previous record

It was the second record-breaking year in a row for IP CloseUp readership, with 43,946 visits in 2016, an 81% increase from 24,273 in 2015. The previous record increase was 31% in 2015, up from 2014.

The most popular51yeitvgpal post was “Kearns’ son still fuming over wiper blade suit,” with 21,652 views. Other popular posts included “For Samsung charity begins at home, Marshall, TX,” coming in with 5,464.

The Kearns article, detailing his 12-year patent suit with Ford and other auto companies, has generated 31,081 hits since it was originally posted in 2011.

Renewed interest in the Kearns biopic detailing the inventor’s patent suit, “Flash of Genius,” starring Greg Kinnear and Alan Alda, likely stimulated interest in the topic, as well as new obstacles to patent licensing.

 

Image source: amazon.com; hippajournal.com

 

Reporter: Patent system failed heart valve inventor

One of the biggest obstacle to inventors today may the system created to protect them. Research cardiologist Tory Norred thinks so.  

In a recent post on IP Watchdog, excerpted below, I summarize how investigative reporter Scott Eden skewers the U.S. patent system in the July-August Popular Mechanics article, “How the U.S. Patent System Got So Screwed Up.”

Eden, an award-winning reporter, whose credits include the Wall Street Journal, ESPN and TheStreet, examines the devastating impact of recent changes to the patent system by focusing on an inventor who got caught up in it.

The NPR-style article tells the story of Tory Norred, a fellow in the cardiology program at the University of Missouri cardiologist, who in 1998, came up with the idea for a collapsible prosthetic aortic valve that could be fished up through an artery with a catheter, and implanted in the hearts of patients who suffered from failing aortic valves. Unlike previous valves, Norred’s stent disperses the force needed to hold it in place against the aorta’s walls, requiring no sutures.

gallery-1466458424-pmx07116-patentoffice15In November 2002 he received U.S. Patent No. 6,482,228, “Percutaneous Aortic Valve Replacement.” Norred knew that he was onto something important, but that was not the beginning of success, it was the start of a nightmare that led to repeated frustration.

“That’s my valve!”

Norred spent the next four years talking to venture capitalists, medical products companies and even a Stanford University consultant, in an effort to finance his invention. Despite many quality meetings, no one was interested in providing capital or product development – including the product-development people he signed non-disclosure agreements with at Medtronic, Edwards Lifesciences, Johnson & Johnson, and Guidant.

“By September 2003,” writes Eden, “Norred had all but given up on his dream when he and a colleague were strolling the exhibition hall at an important cardiology congress held annually in Washington, D.C. They came upon a booth occupied by a California startup called CoreValve. With increasing alarm, Norred studied the materials at the booth. He turned to his colleague: ‘That’s my valve!'”

The rest of the story is not unfamiliar: CoreVale basically ignored him, and Norred settled into private practice. Then, in 2009, Norred saw the news online: CoreValve had sold itself to Medtronic for $775 million in cash and future payments.

In fact, collapsible prosthetic valves fished up through an artery with a catheter and implanted in the aorta are well on their way to becoming the standard method of replacing worn-out heart valves. Thee annual market has already surpassed $1.5 billion and is expected to grow.

Immediate Suspicion

The remainder of “How the U.S. Patent System Got So Screwed Up,” is devoted to the slow decline of the patents system over the past decade, and how a handful of patent “trolls” have been used as the reason to systematically dismantle much of the patent system. The same system that was the envy of the free-world and spawned many breakthrough inventions, as well as successful businesses that employ millions.

“Norred wasn’t a troll,” continues the article, “and the decision to sue did not come easily for him. His lawyer told him that the cost to litigate could exceed half a million dollars. Norred did not have half a million dollars. He considered letting it drop and moving on with his life, but in the end he couldn’t. ‘It’s gallery-1466458804-pmx07116-patentoffice17hard to give up on something you’ve worked so hard on,’ he said.”

“Whenever an independent inventor sues for infringement today, an immediate suspicion attaches to the case,” states Eden. “The anti-patent feeling is such that to assert one is to become stigmatized as a troll or, worse, a con artist or a quack. But there’s another way to look at these litigants. It could be that an inventor-plaintiff is a modern-day Bob Kearns, the Michigan engineer who spent decades fighting the global automobile manufacturing industry over the intermittent windshield wiper. They made a movie about it called Flash of Genius.

Greater Uncertainty

Inter partes reviews (IPRs) were supposed to clear up much of the uncertainty surrounding patents that are thought to be infringed, by determining which, if any, of their claims are valid in the first place. But IPRs also have had an unfortunate side effect. IPR tribunals make it easier for sophisticated defendants to kill patents held by legitimate inventors.

“The IPR isn’t an effort to figure out whether an inventor invented something,” says Ron Epstein, the former Intel attorney. “It has turned into a process where you use every i-dot and t-cross in the law to try to blow up patents… There isn’t a patent that doesn’t have some potential area of ambiguity.”

Go here to read, “How the U.S. Patent System Got So Screwed Up.”

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Popular Mechanics was first published in 1902. It is known as the monthly bible of the independent inventor. 

In 2011, two of Scott Eden’s pieces received “Best in Business” awards from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers (one for investigative reporting and one for feature writing). Eden is former staff reporter for TheStreet and Dow Jones Newswires.

Image source: popularmechanics.com

Six Years of Talks Fail in Ford Patent Dispute

Flash(back) of Genius?

Ford Motor Company was sued twice in one week by businesses that say it is infringing their hands-free inventions, including the company’s popular SYNC voice-command technology

If it looks like we are having a flashback to the Kearns intermittent windshield wiper debacle, popularized in the 2008 movie, Flash of Genius, you may be right. However, this time there is a contemporary twist: a successful backer.

Eagle Harbor Holdings LLC and its subsidiary and exclusive licensee, MediusTech, LLC have filed a federal lawsuit against Ford Motor Company, accusing the carmaker of infringing on seven of their patents by selling Ford’s SYNC voice-command based interface that lets drivers seamlessly connect their car and mobile phone and other devices. (Eagle Harbor announcement.)

Eagle Harbor says that Ford cut off talks in 2008 after six years of discussion.

Wayne State (Michigan) University Law Prof Katherine E. White was quoted in the press as saying “Injunctions have become very difficult to get now for companies that don’t make anything. Big companies can afford to pay the damages later. What they can’t afford is to stop producing.”

The new twist: Eagle Harbor is backed by the Northwater Intellectual Property Fund, an investor in i4i, a Canadian company that was awarded $290 million in patent dispute against Microsoft that was upheld on June 10 by the United States Supreme Court.  Susman Godfrey is representing the plaintiffs in the in the matter.

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Many of you will recall that Ford agreed to pay $10.2 million to Robert Kearns, who invented intermittent windshield wipers, in a highly publicized 1990 case. The matter was the subject of  “Flash of Genius” a modest critical success starring Greg Kinnear about Kearn’s painful two decade-long battle with the auto industry. Kearns later also received $30 million from Chrysler.

Also last  week, reports Patent Connections, Ford was sued by Kar Enterprises, LLC who filed a complaint for patent infringement against Ford Motor Company for alleged infringement of patents US 7,959,177 (issued 6/14/2011) and US 7,757,803 (issued 7/20/2010) regarding a “Motor vehicle operator identification and maximum speed limiter.” The lawsuit specifically identifies Ford’s MyKey® technology as the offending product.

About a year ago, Ford settled a longstanding case brought by a Florida company, Paice, that accused the company of infringing on a 1994 patent for hybrid technology. Ford agreed to license the Paice technology, but the terms were not released publicly. Paice also had sued Toyota, which agreed to license 23 patented technologies.

Popular Mechanics ranked SYNCH number four on its list of “Top 10 Most Brilliant Gadgets for 2007.”  “SYNC” is a registered trademark of Ford Motor Company. Normally Ford does not apply the brand of its suppliers to the parts or systems the suppliers manufacture for Ford. However, the vehicle interior badges for cars equipped with the SYNC system include both the SYNC and Microsoft brands.

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The reporting on the SYNCH suit in The New York Times by an auto industry reporter Neil Bunkley was surprisingly solid. (As many of you well aware, when it comes to IP coverage the mainstream business press is not always fully up to speed the issues or aware of the various agenda of the participants it sources.) Matters of this nature often play out as a simple “troll” tale, a business attempting to extort money from a real innovator.

However, reporter Bunkley, who writes the Wheels blog for the The Times and has worked for The Detroit News, did a fine job resisting the simple story for what appears to be the correct one.

Illustration source: blog.dialaphone.co.uk


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