EDITORIAL NOTE: Conversant IP has set up a website called Stand Up to the Demand, which helps those being sued for patent infringement to distinguish between a bogus claim of patent infringement and a legitimate licensing inquiry from a patent owner.
One thing you can say about patent trolls: They sure are cowboys! In fact, one of the biggest patent trolls of all time is a cowboy hat-wearing Texas lawyer by the name of Jay Mac Rust.
In 2012, Mr. Rust bought five patents from an inventor named Laurence Klein for exactly $1. He then set up 101 separate limited liability companies (LLCs), each with bizarre six letter names like IsaMai, BriPol, and HarNol. No one but Mr. Rust knows what those acronyms mean. But thousands of Mom and Pop small businesses — 16,465 to be exact — soon found out that they translate as “trouble.” Each of these businesses received a “demand letter” from one of Rust’s shell companies accusing them of patent infringement and demanding roughly $1,000 per employee if they wanted to avoid a minimum six-figure (and possibly seven-figure) lawsuit in U.S. federal court.
Every now and again, the Companies We Follow series returns to check up on Nikon’s innovations, and we learned some interesting things about Nikon’s current corporate focus. According to a myriad of patent applications filed at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Nikon is serious about expanding its intellectual property holdings in the area of lithography, especially immersion lithography, for the manufacture of semiconductors and other electronics. An X-ray device which is less affected by thermal expansion and a digital bulletin board for an online electronic album service are also discussed in recently filed Nikon patent applications.
Steve Sasson, inventor of the digital camera, receives National Medal of Science from President Obama on 11/17/2010.
Just about 40 years ago, a young electrical engineer working at the offices of Eastman Kodak in Rochester, NY, developed a product that would upend the entire world of photography. Since that time, the technology has exploded into consumer markets and has proliferated into our daily lives, from camera components included in smartphones to high-quality megapixel systems which provide professional-grade images. All of this came to be thanks to the development of light-sensitive semiconductor devices capable of storing and transmitting light exposure information to create a digital image.
Here at IPWatchdog, we like to return regularly to our Evolution of Technology series to detail the development of a popular consumer technology across the years. Today, with our recent focus on patents issued to companies developing digital photography products, we wanted to dive in a little more deeply to look at the history of development in this field of technology. The chronology of digital photography development comprises the establishment of the JPEG image standard and the development of liquid crystal display screens. It also closely follows the decline of a major American developer of imaging products and the subsequent shift in the entire photography market.
The word “forensic” comes from the Latin word “forensis” meaning “of or before the forum.” In ancient Rome, an accused criminal and the accusing victim would present their cases before a group in a public forum. In this very general sense it wasn’t unlike the modern U.S. legal system where plaintiffs and defendants present their cases in a public forum. Of course the rules and procedures of the presentation differ from those days. Also, parties are typically represented by lawyers trained in the intricacies of all of these rules and procedures.
After deliberation, one party would be declared a winner. The party with the best presentation skills, regardless of innocence or guilt, would often prevail. The modern system relies on attorneys representing the parties to make the arguments rather than the parties themselves, under the assumption that lawyers, trained in law and skilled at presenting complex information, will each present their client’s case in the best possible manner and that ultimately a just outcome will occur. I don’t want to say that the truth will prevail, not only because that’s a cliché, but because there’s often some amount of truth in the arguments of both parties. Rather, more often than not, justice will be served.
I believe that this model works very well. Not perfectly, but very well. With regard to highly technical cases, however, the percentages for justice being served go down because the issues become difficult for a judge or jury to grasp. Technical experts can throw around technical jargon, sometimes without realizing it and other times to purposely cause confusion. This is the reason that I believed, when I started out examining code for intellectual property litigation, that two things were required to improve the analysis of software for the legal system.
J&J is pretty active in terms of patenting, and our recent survey of patent applications filed with the USPTO showed us that the company is looking to usher in the next age of contact lenses. In a time when many people are talking about Google Glass and other wearable technologies, we were intrigued to find a large number of patent applications filed by J&J to protect methods of incorporating semiconductor components into contact lenses for digitizing vision care and correction. A surgical implant for hernia repair and cosmetic compositions which cause less skin irritation are also discussed below.
The New Jersey-based company and its various subsidiaries were the recipients of a large number of patent grants in the past few months, and we’re sharing some of our favorites below. Even more contact lens innovation is reflected in these recently issued patents, including contact lenses for stopping myopia progression or for providing more stability when worn on the eye. Anti-tumor topical compositions and disposable assay devices for the simpler completion of biochemical tests have also recently entered the intellectual property portfolio of this firm.
Nero and the burning of Rome by M. de Lipman, circa 1897.
Adam Carolla, one of the most popular podcasters in the U.S., is sued by a patent troll. The story goes viral. Across the country, state Attorneys General are using consumer protection laws to guard their small businesses from the predacious patent trolls. And here’s something previously unthinkable: the President of the United States, in the 2014 State of the Union address (“It’s the country’s most valuable political real estate,” noted one D.C. veteran), urged Congress to “pass a patent reform bill that allows our businesses to stay focused on innovation, not costly and needless litigation.”
The greatest long-term threat to the U.S. patent system does not come from its professional opponents – those large businesses and their political allies who stand to profit from enfeebled patent rights. A deeper harm is caused by unscrupulous patent trolls who use extortionist “demand letters” to victimize small businesses. This practice, we believe, is wrecking public confidence in the U.S. patent system – and by extension, profoundly weakening the heretofore bedrock belief in the great economic benefits conferred by patent-protected inventions.
Yet even as damage caused by demand letters spreads, most legitimate patent licensors whose businesses depend upon continued legislative and public trust stand idly by, doing little or nothing to address it. Well-insulated within the patent industry’s cozy professional bubble, we are, in effect, fiddling like a modern-day Nero while innovation’s Rome burns.
If you read the previous article in this series, Why Inventors Should Not Rely On Their Own Search, you know that before you file a provisional patent application, you should do a comprehensive search of the U.S. Patent Office and other U.S. and/or international databases. A patent agent/attorney will do this for their clients, or you can have a trusted confidant, (who won’t take your idea for their own), work with you to complete it.
Prepare yourself, you are very likely to find a similar product, and that is a good thing.
It’s a good thing because it means that someone else has also recognized that there is a problem which requires a solution. Ideally your solution, or some aspect of it, is either better than theirs, or distinctly different, which makes it possible to submit a provisional patent application for it.
At this point, you may think you know what the patentable element is, and are ready to file a provisional, but you’re not there yet, and here’s why.
Caterpillar Inc. (NYSE: CAT) is a global leader in the creation of heavy industrial equipment, including construction and mining vehicles, headquartered in Peoria, IL. Earlier this morning, Caterpillar released its latest quarterly earnings report, announcing third-quarter earnings of $1.72 a share, compared to $1.45 for the third quarter last year. Wall Street was expecting Caterpillar to announce earnings of approximately $1.32 per share. The full year expectation was revised by Caterpillar to between $6 and $6.50 per share.
This corporation is a leader in the heavy industrial sector, making it a good candidate for the Companies We Follow series. Innovation is strong at Caterpillar and seemingly increasing in scope over the past few months. Some patent applications which we’ve discussed below include technologies for removing environmental pollutants, including nitrogen oxides, from machinery exhaust gas. Another patent application discusses a drive assist system for starting a heavy vehicle while parked on a hill. Many improvements to Caterpillar’s hardware, including an enhanced metallurgy process for casting metal parts, are also featured.
IPWatchdog’s Companies We Follow series has examined the innovations released by Procter & Gamble before, and our recent survey of patent applications published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office showed a preponderance of technologies related to skin and hair care. A couple of patent applications we share below discuss novel methods of detecting biomarkers for dandruff in an attempt to treat the issue in patients. One hair care innovation involves a method of coloring hair to achieve the same color effect that creates such a striking appearance in peacocks.
How many patent applications has your company filed today?
Facebook filed at least one patent application today, Oracle filed about 3, Google filed about 5, Microsoft and Apple filed more than 8 each, IBM filed nearly 30 patent applications just today. These are the recent averages per workday anyways. Currently Facebook has more than 450 pending applications, Google has about 3500, Oracle has 3700, Apple has 7000, and Microsoft has 30,000 pending applications. I picked these names to come up with the averages because these names have software heavy portfolios, the type of patents that have been feeling some pressure from both the anti-patent circles and from the Supreme Court – as has been amply covered by IPWatchdog.
If you are a typical new economy small tech company with software and internet centric technology or products, the number of patent applications your company filed today is probably zero. Of course filing and prosecuting patent applications is not cheap and that’s part of the explanation. However it is worth noting that most of the successful companies with software-heavy products, including those in the list above, have been filing patent applications from their very early days. An excellent recent article at IPWatchdog revealed that even an overtly anti-patent company such as Twitter has been indeed filing patent applications from its very early days and have been accumulating a large portfolio through further acquisitions. The fact is that patent protection is a hallmark of a successful innovative business, whether the product is software or not. So, it is startling to see the difference in attitude of the small innovators and the already successful large innovators when it comes to protecting their inventions.