Tag Archives: patents
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Pre-IPO Snap, with $25B valuation, paid $9M for 245 IBM patents

A soft market for patent licensing has not stopped the right patent portfolio from commanding a respectable price from the right buyer – at the right time.   

Snap, the corporate parent of Snapchat, reported recently in its S-1 pre-IPO filing that it had acquired a strategic patent portfolio from IBM, according to PatentVue, the data-focused IP blog.

In a well-researched post, PatentVue reports that approximately 245 of Snap’s 328 issued patents have been purchased from IBM.

“While the terms of its patent acquisition from IBM were not made ibmpublic,” says Maulin Shah, Managing Partner of Envision IP, “and with no mention of this patent transfer in the S-1, it appears that Snap may have paid roughly $9-10 million for the 245 patents and 207 pending US patent applications from IBM.

Excluding the patent applications, this means roughly $36-40k per patent.

Twitter acquired 945 patents from IBM in 2014 for a reported $36 million, in an effort to settle patent infringement claims brought against it by the technology giant. This comes out to approximately $38k per patent, again, excluding patent applications.

Similar Strategies

“Snap and Twitter’s patenting strategy at this point appear to be very similar,” concludes Shah, “with the vast majority of both portfolios predominately made up of acquired patents from IBM.”

The current IAM magazine features an article, “Big Blue’s new groove,” which examines IBM’s evolving patent strategy, and lists 34 patent and portfolio sales Big Blue has made between 2014 and 2016. Buyers include LinkedIn, Hulu, snap-ipo-riskRed Hat, Global Foundries and Lenovo. IAM subscribers can find the article here.

Snap, Snapchat’s parent, expects to raise approximately $3 billion from an initial public offering this spring. Despite a $25 billion valuation, Snap lost $514 million last year.

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and others all sought patent portfolios before they went public, in part to justify their valuation, and perhaps because they had the cash to justify the instant leverage provided by a meaningful portfolio.

Today, patents’ more abstract M&A or financial transaction value can be more meaningful that its direct licensing or revenue-generating value.

The PatentVue post, can be found here. The blog’s original coverage of Snap’s mobile messaging patent acquisition, here.

Image source: computerweekly.com; techcrunch.com

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Trade in counterfeit & pirated goods is $.5 trillion – 2.5% of all imports

“Fakes,” or counterfeit products, are a growing menace that deplete resources, threaten jobs and endanger lives. 

A report compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) says that imports of counterfeit and pirated goods are worth nearly half a trillion dollars a year, or around 2.5% of global imports. That is about the entire GDP of Austria, or of Ireland and the Czech Republic combined.

The U.S., Italian and French brands have been the hardest hit, and “many of the proceeds going to organised crime.” The 2016 report was co-authored by the EU’s Intellectual Property Office. China also is in the top 12 (see graph below).

Five-percent are Fakes

Trade in Counterfeit and Pirated Goods: Mapping the Economic Impact puts the value of imported fake goods worldwide at $461 billion in 2013, compared with total imports in world trade of $17.9 trillion.

Up to 5% of goods imported into the European Union are fakes, the report stated. Most originate in middle-income or emerging countries, with China the top producer.

“Transit points include economies with very weak governance and having a strong presence of organized crime or even terrorist networks (e.g. Afghanistan or Syria).”

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“Given the fundamental economic importance of IP, counterfeiting and piracy must be directly targeted as a threat to sustainable IP-based business models,” concludes the OECD report.

China may be making great strides in domestic patent protection (see China is Poised to Overtake the U.S. as the Leading Patent System) with low injunction hurdles and high respect for foreign-held rights, but as of 2013, it was responsible for almost two-thirds of global counterfeits, based on the percent of seizures documented.

Missing: Content and Invention Theft

Ironically, the Trade in Counterfeit and Pirated Goods: Mapping the Economic Impact, does not mention content sharing or copying, copyright violations, as a global threat.

It also does not address the economic impact of products being falsely sold as original that are infringing other businesses’ patents.

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For those interested, the 2017 OECD Global Anti-Corruption and Integrity Forum will be held this year in Paris, March 30-31. For more information go here.

 

Image source: OECD report

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‘Innocent’ IP theft is widely accepted and dangerously viral – Why?

So widespread is IP abuse that it no longer is regarded as a crime by many of the people committing it or authorities entrusted to preventing it. 

What has happened to change law-abiding citizens and honest businesses into serial patent, copyright and trademark infringers?

Start with geometric increases in information and speed. Putting enormous computing (and copying) power in the hands of billions of people and tens of thousands of businesses has made access seamless. What’s theirs often feels like mine, even when it is not.

26069006_sA heightened sense of entitlement is another factor. People want their Rolex or Gucci bag, or latest Adele song, and they want it now, for a fraction of the actual cost if not for free. (The same could be said of the latest mobile phone chip.)

Many businesses believe that even if they did not invent a particular product feature, they definitely could have, and why should they pay for it if no one is forcing them to. Besides, someone has to identify infringement and prove it in court. Good luck with that.

Unusual Bond

Consumers and companies have an unusual bond: they know that they can freely infringe without much fear of retribution. And you know what, they think — “everyone seems to be doing it lately.”

A third but not final reason is suspicion of IP rights and owners. Patents, copyrights, trademarks all are government-issued, lawyer-administered and business-owned rights. The average person will never own an IP right and believes that benefiting from them is for the privileged or wealthy. They are only partially right. No one – not the lawmakers, not federal agencies, not the police, the schools or businesses or community leaders – has done a very good job of explaining what’s in IP for them?

Fueling the Rise in IP Abuse

“When theft is no crime” in the March IAM magazine, the Intangible Investor looks at the rise in IP abuse and what is fueling it. IAM subscribers can go here for the full article.

Free riding comes in many shapes and sizes. It is economically a threat and constantly growing. It has become so much a part of American fabric that millions of people, businesses and community leaders are not even aware that it is taking place. IP theft may seem like a victimless crime, but data shows it is not.

The Department of Commerce’s 2016 update, Intellectual Property and the US Economyreports that IP-intensive industries supported 45.5 million jobs and contributed $6.6 trillion in value added, equivalent to free-riding-final-2-768x34638.2% of US gross domestic product. These impressive results for IP holders are far from guaranteed if IP protections can be easily ignored. On the down side counterfeits, patent infringement music file sharing are way up.

Re-writing the Rules

Whether they acknowledge it or not, some companies and individuals are attempting to rewrite the property rule-book, or, at least, ignore it as long as they can. The impact may not be that readily apparent at first, but it will eventually be widely felt: by musicians, authors, inventors, investors, small businesses, consumers and companies selling products from automobile brake parts to pharmaceuticals and luxury goods – along with their employees. 

Lack of awareness plays a role in ignoring IP rights, but there may be something deeper and more insidious going on: distrust of authority and frustration with government and laws. Some of this anger has been orchestrated by anti-patent lobbyists.

Routine acceptance of IP theft also reflects the growing antipathy towards so-called ‘elites’, which led to Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. Why IP holders don’t deserve exclusivity and land owners do is rooted in how the culture views IP rights and holders, as much as the difficulty accepting their value.

People need to be reminded that with IP rights, not every restriction is an obstacle.

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I will be announcing a non-profit organization in a few weeks dedicated to addressing the lack of IP awareness and increasing hostility to rights. Watch IP CloseUp for more information.

Image source: digitalguardian.com; theCenterforIPUnderstanding

 

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Inventor Kearns’ fight with Ford & other auto cos is 2016’s most read IP CloseUp post; 20,000+ visitors

An article summarizing inventor Robert Kearns’ epic battle against the automobile industry is this year’s most read IP CloseUp post with more than 21,000 visits.

The post summarizes the twelve-year patent suit mounted by Kearns, the inventor of the intermittent windshield wiper, against Ford and much of the automobile industry in the 1980s and 1990s, for stealing his invention.

“Kearns’ Son Still Fuming Over Wiper Blade Fight” generated 21,374 visits thus far in 2016, up from 6,928 in 2015. Total visits are over 30,000, which makes it the most read of almost 300 IPCU posts.

What about this story resonates with readers?

It could have something to do with the 2008 movie, Flash of Genius, that memorialized Kearns’ battle and depicted how it contributed to his mental breakdown and loss of his family.

Bittersweet Victory

Flash of Genius, starring Greg Kinnear as Robert Kearns and Alan Alda, as Gregory Lawson, his ambiguous attorney, opened to mixed but generally positive reviews (59% Tomato Meter; 55% Audience Score). It had a $20 million budget but grossed just $4.8 million at the box office. (Alda, of M*A*S*H fame, BTW, is a champion of understanding science 51yeitvgpaland innovation, and founded the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University.)

The movie has many fans. I suspect that when it it is streamed or runs on a movie channel curious viewers run to Google hopeful of learning more about the enigmatic Kearns and his dispute with auto giants. It pitted him as David to their Goliath. (Thanksgiving weekend alone, which is prime movie-watching time, there were more than 1,500 visits to the post on IPCU.)

Even though Kearns eventually won significant awards, $10.2 million from Ford, and a total of $30 million from Chrysler, it is easy to believe that the struggle, which cost him his family and affected his sanity, may not have been worth it.

Apparently, no one thought so except Kearns, a college professor, former cryptographer in WWII and officer at a U.S. agency that was the forerunner of the CIA. (See the link to his obituary on the original IP CloseUp post, above.)

High Search Ranking

The Kearns’ post’s popularity probably also has something to do with its high Google search ranking under Kearns’ iconic name. It’s the second item after a rather tepid Wikipedia entry.

Supporters of the film include Peter Travers, long-time film critic for Rolling Stone. He gave it three out of four stars, saying “Kinnear takes the star spot in Flash of Genius and rides it to glory… Kearns wasn’t a movie hero. His halting courtroom delivery lacked Hollywood histrionics. Kinnear plays him with blunt honesty, sagging under the weight of stress but maintaining a bulldog tenacity that would win the day. Was the battle worth it? Kearns’ conflict is readable in Kinnear’s every word and gesture. His performance is worth cheering”.

Stephen Holden of The New York Times called the film “a meticulously constructed mechanism, one that wants to convey the same mixture of idealism, obsession and paranoia found in whistle-blower movies like Silkwood and The Insider,” thought it “has the tone and texture of a well-made but forgettable television movie”.

Lead actor Greg Kinnear, who in the lead role is more likable than Kearns was, won the Boston Film Festival Best Actor Award for his portrayal.

kearns-familyThe Kearns story strikes a chord deep in everyone. It is a quintessentially American tale of the forward-thinking little guy against diverse array of nay-sayers, his family included. Kearns’ sincerity as an engineer who craved recognition for his work more than his financial security is not lost on audiences, who see Flash of Genius, weaknesses aside, as an emotional and somewhat cautionary tale that is difficult to forget.

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Whether it was ego, anger, greed, or a combination, that ultimately motivated Kearns to go as far as he did for as long, the inventor’s greatest accomplishment may not be the valuable device he created, which no doubt helped save lives, but his perseverance and drive to prove that it was stolen from him.

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Whether or not Kearns was selfish or unbalanced, patent holders have benefited from his trail-blazing determination and refusal to take settlement money when he needed it most.

Stacked Deck

The environment for inventors and innovative small businesses today who wish to license their rights is not much different from when Kearns fought his epic battles. In fact, the obstacles may be worse.

With “efficient” patent infringement the preferred strategy of many the leading technology companies today, and higher validity and patentability hurdles established by the Patent Trial and Appeal board and the courts, the deck continues to be stacked against IP holders – even those with the capital, time and patent quality to succeed.

[Note: A company that employs “efficient” infringement believes that it is highly unlikely it will be caught using an invention it is not entitled to, and if it does, it is unlikely that it will have to pay much. For them, choosing not to take a license unless forced to by the courts is in their view a prudent business decision, ethics aside.]

Flash of Genius is available from Amazon, iTunes and other sources, to stream, rent or buy. Recently, it became available to Netflix subscribers for free. The official movie trailer can be seen here.

For those interested in the topic of Kearns and independent inventing, the long and thoughtful 1993 New Yorker magazine article by John Seabrook on which the movie is based is not to be missed. It is available for free by going here.

To read the original Kearns post on IP CloseUp, go here.

Image source: allesantiago.wordpress.com; amazon.com

 

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Gov’t study of economic impact of patent infringement is needed ASAP, experts say

There are abundant statistics on the cost of counterfeit goods, copyright infringement and even the negative impact of patent “trolls,” but nothing on the estimated extent of U.S. patent infringement and the cost in lost jobs, failed businesses and unpaid taxes. 

Global trade in counterfeits or fake goods, such as fashion, automobile parts and pharmaceuticals, has reached $600 billion annually, or about 5%-7% of GDP.  

The U.S. economy alone loses $58 billion each year to copyright infringement (2011 estimate) — crimes that affect creative works. That includes $16 billion in the loss of revenue to copyright owners and $3 billion in lost tax revenue.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) reports that the U.S. economy loses $12.5 billion in total output annually as a consequence of music theft and that sound recording piracy leads to the loss of 71,060 U.S. jobs, as well as losses in tax income.

Statistics on the cost of counterfeits and copyright infringement are conducted fairly regularly. There is even biased research on the cost of non-practicing entities. (Claims of $29 billion in damage from “trolls” are wildly inflammatory, says a former USPTO commissioner, which despite having been debunked are still cited by academics and reporters.)

Surprisingly, there are no estimates of the extent of patent infringement in the U.S., and the cost in lost jobs, failed businesses, unpaid taxes and other economic impact.

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“There have been no studies that I am aware of devoted to quantifying the amount of patent infringement in the United States,” said Gene Quinn, patent attorney and publisher of IP Watchdog told IP CloseUp.

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“”It would be extremely helpful to get some kind of quantification of the amount of harm that befalls innovators through the concerted and calculated ‘efficient’ infrdataingement business practices of those who use technology and simply refuse to pay for their ongoing, and frequently willful, patent infringement.”

Tip of the Iceberg?

Patent damages paid may be the tip of the infringement iceberg. The real damage may be below the waterline.

To provide some context, 15 leading technology companies paid patent litigation damages of more than $4 billion over as 12-year period from 1996-2008.

That’s just a little over a dozen companies who had to pay damages. The figure presumably does not include settlements, licenses, and all of the times they and thousands of other businesses paid nothing for the inventions that they used.

The Impact of Undetected Infringement 

  • Today, with more issued U.S. patents, and much greater difficulty securing a license or winning a patent law suit, the amount of patent infringement that actually takes place but remains unidentified could exceed a trillion dollars.
  • There is no known government, academic or privately commissioned study of the extent of patent infringement in the U.S., and the cost in lost jobs, failed businesses and economic loss.

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“It is not enough just to be aware that there is harm caused by undetected patent infringement,” said Paul R. Michel, Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (ret.). “The government needs to conduct a proper empirical study ASAP to determine its scope and impact.”

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Image source: ltrdigitalgroup.com

 

 

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Can small businesses afford weaker U.S. patents?

Can businesses and entrepreneurs compete with weaker U.S. patents in an innovation-driven global economy?

An event featuring a broad range of IP thought-leaders on October 26 in Silicon Valley will attempt to find out.

“Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Patenting in the U.S. – Implications for the future of U.S. Competitiveness” is the topic of a presentation and networking session being held at H-P World Headquarters in Palo Alto on Wednesday October 26 at from 6:00 to 8:imgres30.

The event is open to the public and limited seating is available on a first come basis. There is a $40 charge to cover food and refreshments.

Speakers include Professor Carl J. Schramm, The Hon. Judge Randall Rader (Ret.) David J. Kappos, former USPTO Commissioner and former head of intellectual property at IBM, and Professor Adam Mossoff of George Mason University School of Law where he co-founded the Center for the Protection of Intellectual Property. Robert Aronoff is the organizer. The International IP Commercialization Center is the sponsor.

For the full list of speakers go here. To register go here.

Image source:iipcc.org

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Accenture upsets blockchain believers with patent filing

Consulting giant Accenture has rattled the cage of the fintech community by filing a patent for an “editable” blockchain that would allow a central administrator to edit or delete information stored in a permissioned blockchain system.

Business Insider cites a Financial Times report that states a permissioned system is governed by a central administrator using agreed upon rules. This differs from permissionless systems, like those used by blockchain pioneers such as Bitcoin, which have no central authority. A key feature of permissionless systems is that the records they contain cannot be changed.

Accenture unveiled a prototype of the blockchain on Tuesday developed jointly by Accenture and Giuseppe Anteniese, a Stevens Institute of Technology professor.

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Undermining Immutability?

“An editable system goes against one of blockchain technology’s key principals — immutability” reports Business Insider. The move is controversial to many because blockchain was conceived as an immutable, tamper-proof ledger, which eliminated the need for a centralized authority.

Accenture insists that immutability is not necessary in permissioned systems because everything is overseen by a single governing authority, and argues that the need for it in a permissionless system is part of the reason banks have been slow to create viable use cases with blockchain technology.

Business Insider thinks the success of Accenture’s system will depend on “whether or not financial services firms intend to use blockchain for use cases that require flexibility. Should they decide to implement the technology in more straightforward capacities, like managing their customers’ personal details, Accenture’s functionality would not likely be especially useful.”

Patent Application

There is no indication why a mere patent application — not a publication, notice of allowance, grant or successfully adjudicated right —  has reached this level of media coverage. Of late, blockchain-related patent filings, as well as issuances, have received significant coverage, prompting some to question where blockchain is headed.

Image source: businessinsider.com; bitcoinmagazine.com

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Will blockchain technology fuel a new patent war or prevent one?

The race is on to gain control of a new technology that has the power to reinvent banking and make transactions and other agreements between parties cheaper, safer and easier to complete.

Like disruptive inventions that preceded it, blockchain has businesses, large and small, jockeying for leadership. This means that patents are likely to play a significant role.

Blockchain is a shared database of transactions and other information, which is open to all and controlled by no one. It also can function as an autonomous semi-private network.

Blockchain began life as the trading infrastructure that permits secure recording of payments for bitcoin, the fledgling crypto-currency. But in the right hands the technology is capable of much more. A blockchain can handle complex transactions, even entire contracts.

IP Windfall?

It is no surprise that competition is building for patents that go beyond bitcoin and cover inventions that support a distributed public ledger. Call it blockchain 2.0. The race among a variety of disparate players is not likely to be a repeat of the smartphone wars, but it does have the potential to create an IP licensing windfall for early movers, leaving some volume users to pay unanticipated royalties.

The shared nature of blockchain (see diagrams below) makes it unlikely that any one or two players will explicitly control the technology. However, that will not prevent some patent holders from trying to profit.

The blockchain is a public database that by-passes money-based payments by recording all transactions screen-shot-2016-03-04-at-42158-pmdigitally. It forms the core of bitcoin and other crypto-currencies by maintaining a decentralized record of all transactions. Proponents say it has the potential to disrupt financial services by making payments and the settling of securities transactions, in particular, far cheaper. Reuters reports that financial institutions alone are expected to invest $1B this year and next in developing blockchain.

Some companies, like IBM, are hoping for a more open system, in the vein of Linux, while others, mostly software developers and some banks data carriers, are looking to have an IP leg up on the competition and to keep the technology at least somewhat proprietary. This would give non-financial and other players a chance to profit from licensing and encourage more investment.

Mysterious Origins

The story of blockchain and its early promotion as the technology underlying bitcoin is fascinating if not mysterious. It appears to start with Craig Wright, who claims to be the pseudonymous creator of bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto. Wright, an Australian, recently announced that he has filed 50 blockchain technology and crypto-currency related patents in the UK. Why the UK? That’s another question. And why has Wright announced his applications rather that wait to for them to issue or publish?

Where there are bitcoins and other crypto-currencies, reports, CoinDesk, an industry publication, there are patents, which could be worth far more than the currency if found to be valid and infringed. However, these patents will be difficult to prove valid. The USPTO and most courts (after the Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in Alice) are now taking the position that most software is not inventive, and merely automates previously established inventions.

However, not everyone agrees. Two Hogan Lovells attorneys say that “Viewed as providing an improved computer data structure, [our] proposed bitcoin method claim should be precisely the type of improvement to computer functionality that is still patentable under Alice.”

Blockchain patent applications have generated an unusual amount of publicity. Whether these patents will issue or if they are capable of sustaining validity upon PTAB and district court scrutiny is unclear. Business Insider obtained a copy of the US patent, filed on May 10, for a passcode blockchain that Verizon has apparently been working on for three years.

“There is quite a bit of excitement about having digital rights on a blockchain-type system. It could allow for pay-per-usage, for example, while smart contracts — the contractual clauses that form part of a transaction — could provide automatic payment distributions, according to a Moody’s Investors Service report.

“A blockchain of digital rights for consumer products — music and news articles, among others — could ensure that artists or authors are paid immediately once a consumer reads an article or listens to a song, with funds proportionally distributed as per contractual clauses.”

Goldman Sachs is among the big banks excited about the blockchain. Thirty banks have now signed up to the R3 or R3CEV partnership. R3, based out of New York, is trying to establish industry-wide standards and protocols for using the technology, as well as exploring potential use cases.

Business Insider’s coverage of blockchain is very useful for getting a handle on how it works and may be applied. Go here for a stream of articles with useful diagrams, including the triptych in this post.

Establishing Blockchain Standards

Establishing standards for blockchain will also be difficult.

R3 CEV, a startup working in blockchain which launched in September 2015, reports the Wall Street Journal, named the project Concord for the harmony it hopeblockchains to build among more than 60 banks participating in the project. The consortium originally started with nine multinational banks. The group currently includes Barclays PLC, Goldman Sachs Group Inc., and J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.

“Perhaps the most important difference between Concord and bitcoin and ethereum is the way transactions are recorded. With bitcoin and ethereum, every transaction is recorded, verified and disclosed immediately in their public, distributed ledgers. With Concord, while the transaction is verified via a distributed ledger, it isn’t publicly disclosed. The details are shared only by the parties involved.

“Figuring out the best way to use blockchain-based tools in the financial-services industry has become a hot topic. A number of firms, including Digital Asset Holdings, HyperLedger Project, Ripple, Microsoft’s Azure, and others are all working on products to take advantage of the new technology.”

A number of companies of various types and sizes have filed blockchain or related crypto-currency patents. The emphasis on patent applications, as most people in the IP world know, is more style than substance. CoinDesk reports eight companies filing and Quatrz comments on ten Bank of America’s patent applications publishing on December 17.

Leading patent recipient IBM is taking a more holistic approach to blockchain, integrating it under a recently announced new business unit, Industry Platforms, that includes cloud computing and artificial intelligence, and that will work closely with the financial services and other industries.

Industry Platforms will have company-wide responsibility for blockchain research and development, according to CoinDesk, in addition to helping foster open technology standards with the stated goal of accelerating market adoption. Project-based innovation leveraging open source technology has had great success in avoiding litigation in the core technology generated by these projects.

The new unit represents the next phase in IBM’s blockchain initiative, building on past activities that have resulted in a range of prototypes, and play a leading role in the Linux Foundation-led HyperLedger Project. In parallel and with the support of R3, HyperLedger is the largest and most organized Blockchain initiative.

“Truth Telling” Design

“Blockchain’s design prevents the owner of a currency token from committing fraud by spending it twice,” reports Bloomberg Business Week. “The first spend is recorded for all to see, so no one would ever accept a second spend.

alaindelorme-murmuration03“The truth-telling feature of blockchain makes it enormously useful to banks, which have been among the first to start testing it. Microsoft launched blockchain as a service last year. Smaller companies are building dozens of apps on blockchain, such as one for musicians to track and collect royalties on their works.”

“The poetic vision of a blockchain society is a flock of starlings at dusk: decentralized yet perfectly coordinated. Blockchainers like to show video clips of murmurations—those enormous clouds of birds that pivot and wheel, climb and dive, split and merge with amazing grace. Blockchain, in this vision, could replace gobs of bankers, accountants, and lawyers, as well as escrow accounts, insurance, and everything else that society invented pre-21st century to verify payments and the performance of contracts.”

Benefits for IP Holders 

The promise of blockchain to streamline important, voluminous tasks is uniquely important to IP holders. It could provide an opportunity to copyright and other IP dependent businesses and individuals (patent holders, too) to track and receive incremental payments that in the past were difficult to comprehend; blockchain could serve to minimize disputes in ways that the courts and PTAB have not.

Right now, no one really knows what blockchain has wrought or what it is capable of, but there is a strong feeling that the distributed public ledger technology can be a catalyst for new ways of doing business, and that IP rights will play a role. There are a lot of businesses pulling for blockchain to succeed, and hoping that it will be will be readily shared.

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UPDATE:

A Goldman Sachs patent application, published by the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) on Sept. 8, 2016, was originally filed in March 2015. It outlines a distributed ledger that can process financial transactions in the foreign exchange market, reports Quartz. It’s Goldman’s first blockchain-related patent.

Image source: Goldman Sachs Global Research; businessinsider.com; mnn.com (Alain Delorme)

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Taylor Swift assists recording artists, Apple Music, and (even) herself

Taylor Swift, a pop star with sufficient power to move mountains, succeeded in moving an equally resolute object last year: Apple Music’s position on paying royalties to recording artists. 

A year later it is unclear if was the musicians, Apple, or Swift who benefited the most.

A Wall Street Journal op-ed last week reminded us that there are more important things to cover other than Kardashian/West war of words that the combatants and media are jointly milking.

In Support of Taylor Swift, Economist, Hong Kong based op-ed writer David Feith says,”Never mind the feud with Kanye West, the pop star has waged more important fights defending the value of intellectual property.”

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The Top Earner

Forbes ranks Swift as the number one celebrity artist in 2016 with $170M in earnings. According to the magazine she is in the top 100 of self-made women and power women.

Swift has sought to champion the IP rights of recording artists by using her star power to assure that they (not she) are paid. That’s admirable, for sure, as the streaming services, Pandora, Spotify and YouTube, to name a few, have built valuable businesses without paying their fare share of artists royalties. (YouTube has been valued by Bank of America at $80 billion.)

But maybe Swift was at least somewhat motivated by dollars, not sense.

After outing Apple Music for refusing to pay artist royalties in a now infamous tumblr post, Swift wound up receiving not one but two spots from the company, promoting their new streaming service. I guess they were more interested in thanking her for the exposure than punishing her for the dis. Both ads went viral generating huge attention for Apple Music and her. Good timing, I guess.

Here is the latest Taylor Swift Apple Music ad, which generated more hits than most TV series (via Fortune).

Below is the original tumblr piece in which Swift challenged Apple – and the stream industry – to change their music rights policy. Swift won more than the argument, and so did Apple. The argument is well-stated:

 Free-riders come in many shapes and sizes

“This may be the ‘information wants to be free’ era, when online content is glibly swiped by millions who would never dream of shoplifting,” said WSJ’s Feith, “but Ms. Swift has a deep appreciation for the profit motive and the fruits it bestows on society.

“Ms. Swift’s most ambitious [IP] crusade may be in China,” writes WSJ’s Feith, “where she has launched branded clothing lines with special anti-piracy mechanisms to combat rampant counterfeiting on e-commerce sites like Alibaba’s Taobao.”

Swift has been known to trademark not song or titles, but phrases from songs which can be used to build her brands and fashion portfolio.

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I hope that Taylor Swift invents something soon, so she can bring her loyal following and keen business instincts to patents and patent holders. They sure could use them. 

Image source: appadvice.com 

 

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“All Prior Art” algorithm won’t stop bad patents or actors

Stopping new inventions dead in their tracks by making them “automatically” unpatentable might sound like a good idea to some.

However, programming a computer to disclose an endless combination of dubious inventions is more effective at stopping bad patents in theory, not practice.

At least that is what three experienced patent attorneys told me recently. Publishing millions of pieces of supposed prior art will not stop bad patents (really, unpatentable inventions)  from being issued or make legitimate invention-ownership less difficult to discern.

More Style than Substance

All Prior Art is a project that attempts to “algorithmically create and publicly publish millions of pieces of possible new prior art, thereby making the disclosed concepts unpatentable.”  All Prior Art is trying to take highly obvious ideas out-of-play. Unfortunately, preventing patents from being granted, even those that do not deserve to be, is not a simple fix.

In order to be admissible, prior art must be enabling; i.e. the disclosure must describe how the invention can be produced — not something that All Prior Art addresses.

Cf2sxeUWEAE864bThe brainchild of Alexander Reben is a self-described engineer and artist with a background in robotics and applied math.  Mr. Reben’s random configurations have been described to me as “a mishmash of questionably inventive ideas.” Even if there are millions of combinations, it is highly unlikely that they will serve to invalidate a perspective patent, let alone one that an NPE may be enforcing.

All Prior Art may be more style than substance. Sure, inventions that do not meet the appropriate tests of novelty should be prevented from issuing or invalidated if they are enforced (or, maybe, even if they are not). Even if this scheme were to work, it would weaken the prospects of many inventors, universities and SMEs, and dissuade investment in innovation.

Missing Description

The theory behind Mr. Reben’s invention is that if a computer can spew out enough combinations of prior art — i.e. publish millions of pieces of data that describe inventions — the subject matter disclosures will preempt patent issuance. It’s just not that simple.

The problem is that for any prior art reference to serve as an invalidating disclosure, it has to be enabling. And the fact that no human being has come up with the combination is a pretty good argument against enablement.

The means it must be described so that a “person of ordinary skill in the field of the invention can practice the subject matter based on the reference, without undue experimentation.” (Sanofi-Synthelabo v. Apotex, Inc., 550 F.3d 1075, 1082 (Fed. Cir. 2008).

When it comes to All Prior Art’s prior art, the “description” is missing, according to Bloomberg BNA’s Tony Dutra.

“The virtually infinite number of combinations will generate over 99 percent dreck,” chides Mr. Dutra. “But, like the ‘infinite monkey theorem’ that predicts a monkey hitting typewriter keys at random for an indefinite time will almost surely, eventually type a given text, Reben believes his project will generate at least some combinations that someone, someday might try to patent. It’s that someone [Reben] aims to stop.”

Patent the Universe

NPLThe tech media, notably the DailyDot, encouraged by with the idea of that patents can be neutered, has taken an ill-conceived idea and made it worse with a misleading, inaccurate headline: “One man is trying to single-handedly create every patent imaginable.”

A sister website All The Claims is attempting to achieve a similar objective, but with the use of claims and a more verbose alternative.

“Hard to Take Seriously”

“Bruce, this approach is hard to take this seriously, especially with an admission that most of the inventions generated will be nonsensical,” one patent attorney wrote to me. “Pertinent excerpts from the Patent Office Examiner guidelines illustrate that:

‘In determining that quantum of prior art disclosure which is necessary to declare an applicant’s invention ‘not novel’ or ‘anticipated’ within section 102, the stated test is whether a reference contains an ‘enabling disclosure’… .’”

“To be invalidating prior art as to make a meaningful contribution,” a former USPTO examiner, inventor and Fortune 100 Chief Patent Counsel told me. “If utility is missing, it will not be seen at invalidating. Prior to be taken seriously by an examiner or in litigation needs novelty and utility, or specific application.”

“There are billions of combinations, but so what? There needs to be novelty and utility to qualify as prior art. This scheme might be well intended bu ti hurts the little guy more than the big tech player. I doubt that courts will take it seriously or that automated generation of inventions will have a meaningful impact.”

Trivial Variations

“Is Mr. Reben really attempting to automate the generation of trivial, random variations of existing stuff?” asked another patent attorney. “It is already difficult to patent trivial variations, as they are ‘obvious’.  The term ‘automated generation of patentable’ is kind of an oxymoron. This approach  should be titled ‘automated generation of trivial variations of existing inventions’.”

Non-Patents

So for now, at least, bad patents (really, non-patents) will continue to be issued by the USPTO and other major patent offices in large numbers because they lack the resources to prevent them.

Inter Partes Reviews and other mechanisms will continue to try to eliminate or to help fix erroneously issued patents, and litigation will remain the only reliable, albeit, costly way to determine if a patent is valid and infringed.

If it were easy to solve patent problems algorithmically with a PC, mathematicians would be higher paid than patent attorneys. That’s not likely to happen anytime soon.

Image source: ttconsultants.com

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“Building an Innovation Economy” is focus of latest Hoover IP² event

IP², an initiative of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, last week hosted a more than 60 IP scholars, economists and practitioners to hear and challenge research about “Building and Innovation Economy – The Mechanics of the Patent System.” 

Hoover IP2 is a working group on intellectual property, innovation and prosperity. Its goals are to build a network of scholars from a variety of academic disciplines, to undertake research based on evidence and reason, and to disseminate the research results. Conferences, such as this, that include economists, legal experts, political scientists, and practitioners and that present original research, help achieve these goals.

Lively Discourse

Presenters, discussants and moderators participated in the sessions, to which I was invited to attend, in a room with two tiers of circular seating. The setting encourages discourse, as well as abundant audience questions in the true spirit of peer-review.

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Presenting participants included:  Jay P. Kesan (University of Illinois College of Law), F. Scott Kieff (ITC Commissioner, formerly of George Washington University School of Law and a former Senior Hoover Fellow), Colleen Chien (Santa Clara University College of Law) and Bo Heiden (the Center for IP Studies in Gothenburg, Sweden), James Pooley (former World IP Organization head), Damon Mateo (formerly IP executive with H-P and PARC), and IP2 Steering Committee Chair, Stephen Haber (Stanford School of Humanities and Sciences and a Hoover Fellow).

For the agenda and presenters, go here.

Audience participants included Irv Rappaport (formerly Chief Patent Counsel at Apple and National Semiconductor, and an expert witness), Ron Laurie (a director of WiLAN and former partner in the Palo Alto office of Paul Weiss), Suzanne Harrison (The Gathering 2.0) and Dr. Ron Katznelson (an inventor, patent analyst and scholar).

Sharing Ideas

Lively discussion and cordial debate ensued. Opinions were divided on some topics, such as patent assertion entities (PAEs) and the value of standards essential patents (SEPs). However, all of those present had an opportunity to have their perspective heard and responded to.

Hoover IP²’s goals are to:

  • ip2-logo130Build a dense network of scholars, from a variety of academic disciplines, who are engaged in research on the US patent system
  • Analyze the implications that may be drawn from those research results
  • Publish the resulting scholarship in peer-reviewed venues
  • Disseminate that scholarship to the larger public

More the this lively interaction is needed, and Pfizer and Qualcomm are to be commended for their lead support. For more information about Hoover IP² or past programs, go here.

Image source: hooverip2.org

 

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The impact of higher patent licensing hurdles may not be fully understood

Most patent holders would agree that licensing patents for revenue has gone from bad to awful — from difficult less than a decade ago, to virtually impossible today.* 

Determining if the courts and lawmakers have facilitated improvements or simply over-corrected for weaknesses in the patent system largely depends on whom you ask, and when.

While obvious to some, the fairness of the U.S. patent system is no longer apparent to all.

In 1996, the days of the first tech bubble, there was some uncertainty regarding patent validity. Patent licensing was not easy back then, but it was viable and still could be conducted on a business basis. Out-licenses could be negotiated without first filing suit, and significant damages awards were occasionally paid, although not as frequently has some would have us believe. The threat of an injunction that would freeze product sales was still a very potent weapon for those considering enforcement.

Things became very difficult in 2006 (high uncertainty), when injunctions became virtually impossible to obtain and NPEs, the businesses that tended to enforce the best patents most frequently, were characterized as a virulent strain of a disease that needed to be eradicated. Lost in defendants’ anger is that those who enforce valid patents may actually facilitate innovation and competition, and play a positive role in job creation.

Weighing In

Weighing in on whether the over-corrected patent pendulum has finally started to swing back towards the middle are Brian Hinman, Chief IP Executive at Philips, and Ashley Keller, Managing Director at Gerchen Keller Capital. In Balancing Act, in the May Intangible Investor simple-pendulum-suspensionin IAM, they speculate on what it will take to move the patent pendulum more toward the middle where it belongs.

In 2016, with the emergence of an extreme degree of uncertainty, patent licensing became virtually impossible. (Degree of uncertainty licensing can be compared to degree of difficulty” in a gymnastics competition, although their are no bonus points for successfully enforcing an infringed patent.) Of no help was the rise of preemptive, defensive litigation (declaratory judgments), forcing many patent holders to sue first and (maybe) talk later.

Factors responsible for patents’ loss of reliability include the American Invents Act (AIA) which permitted Inter Partes Reviews (IPRs), litigation-like, post-issuance examinations of patents that invalidated many invention rights filed under previous guidelines and slow enforcement. A number of  district court, Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) and United States Supreme Court cases have gone against patent holders wishing to license for revenue, including the Alice decision, which rendered many software patents and business methods invalid.

Another major set-back is Non-Practicing Entities or NPEs, also known as patent “trolls” or owners who do not commercialize or sell products but hope to generate ROI through royalty payments. All NPEs have been lumped together and have been universally demonized as “black hats” who are the primary source of all that ails the U.S. patent system and that wish to enforce questionable rights and shake down otherwise innocent companies wishing to avoid costly disputes.

However, many of the largest corporations engage similar practices themselves (aka privateers), while decrying other NPE’s.  As a result of the actions of anti-patent proponents — many large patent holders themselves — patents have become even more uncertain, and litigation longer and more costly. NPEs continue to be held responsible for the need for more anti-patent legislation, and have become a sort of obsession for some businesses and lawmakers wishing to re-frame the discussion and absolve many tech companies of serial theft.

According to Patent Progress, “a project of the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA)” that endeavors to limit patents reach, there are six bills currently before Congress that still endeavor to reel-in or otherwise weaken patents and deter enforcement.

Only one piece of patent legislation, the STRONG Act, which is before the Senate, attempts to roll back some of so-called improvements introduced over the past several years, much of which in retrospect looks like an overreaction to a much smaller problem.

Fourteen bills were introduced in the 113th Congress (2013–14) alone to deal with one or more aspects of the patent troll issue. For a list of these and other bills, go here. Computer and Communications Industry Association members include Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Red Hat and Samsung.

More and Higher Hurdles

The diagram below, “Patent Licensing: Higher Hurdles for Protecting New Ideas,” is a graphic reminder of the progressive number and nature of impediments added since 1996 that discourage the licensing of U.S. patents. It was prepared by Brody Berman Associates for a client who has given permission for it to be shared. Key court decisions diminishing patent value and creating more uncertainty can be seen in a second slide below.

case2Patent TimeLine

“Risk-Adjusted Theft”

For technology companies the era of the licensing discussion is all but over. Uncertainty has never been greater, nor has hostility to owners offering an invention for license, no matter how good the patents or fair the terms. This leaves no alternative but to litigate.

“Efficient” infringement, a term we are hearing more of lately, is really a kind of risk-adjusted theft. Simply put, the deck is all but stacked against patent licensors (who are now forced to sue) because it is more economically viable today for most businesses to steal what they use than pay for it.

The courts, lawmakers and media will need to start soon if the damage that has been done to patent licensing is to be reversed. The Supreme Court decisions below speak volumes for the imbalance and how far patents have to go to bet back to the middle. It is not so much that Alice made software unpatentable as it rendered most existing business methods and many software patents invalid under the narrower guidelines that the Court established.

If proponents of fewer and lower hurdles feel the system has over-corrected and is doing damage, they had better turn up the volume. The courts, legislators and even most patent holders do not appear to be listening.

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*My gratitude to Irv Rappaport who assisted in writing this article. Irv has served as the head of IP departments at Apple, National Semiconductor and Medtronic, and was a consultant to Intel responsible for suggesting the Intel Inside® campaign. He has served as an expert witness more than 70 cases and is named more than 20 U.S. patents. He also served as a USPTO patent examiner and a U.S. Army officer.

Image source: Brody Berman Associates; tutorvista.com

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