Sep 28

Leahy-Smith America Invents Act Goes Into Action


On September 16, President Obama signed the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act. This Act is Congress’ attempt to revamp the patent system in the U.S. which has been criticized over the years for being costly, inefficient, and difficult to maneuver. The new Act is also aimed at reducing needless litigation over patent rights. This is being implemented with a switch from a first-to-invent system to a first-to-file system. This means that from now on the first person to file their patent with the USPTO will gain the patent rights. This encourages inventors to file for a patent as soon as they conceive of an invention, rather than sitting on the idea. This has the potential to reduce litigation which can often arise when parties both maintain they were the first-to-invent. The potential drawback is that it favors inventors who are familiar with the patenting process while leaving out smaller inventors who do not realize the urgent need to file. However, it greatly simplifies the overall process and streamlines the U.S. version with the patent systems of Europe and Japan.

Another important aim of the Act is to encourage innovation by small inventors who historically have been shut out of the patenting process because of its costliness. It can cost thousands of dollars and several years of paperwork to get a patent through the USPTO. Many small inventors simply do not have the time, resources, or patience for this process. In order to reduce the barriers to patenting for small inventors, the Act creates the category of “Micro-Entities.” This refers to inventors with 4 or less filed patents who do not have a median household income of 3 times the median according to the IRS for the previous year. These micro-entity inventors receive as much as 75% off of the usual fees associated with patent filing. The idea behind this is that new and small inventors are reluctant to file their patents and thus, either the invention goes unpatented and potentially unmarketed, or bigger inventors and companies are able to infiltrate the market for the new idea even though the small inventor may have thought of the product first. The drawback of this provision is that it might not be very far reaching since micro-entities have a fairly specific definition in the Act which may even leave out many small inventors. Additionally, many of the industries that rely heavily on patents, like pharmaceuticals and medical devices, really only have inventions coming out of years of R&D funding from major corporations or in connection with universities. These groups would presumably all be left unaffected by the micro-entity provision.

To read the entire act or to learn more about the implementation of Leahy-Smith America Invents go to uspto.gov or click on this link: Leahy-Smith America Invents Act.

Mar 28

Court Rejects Google Books Settlement


Last Tuesday, Judge Chin of the Southern District of New York threw out the Amended Settlement Agreement that Google had to agreed to with the Author’s Guild and the various other plaintiffs involved in the a lawsuit regarding Google Books. The suit was originally brought by publishers and authors who were concerned with the potential for mass copyright infringement by Google with its creation of Google Books. The lawsuit was originally brought in 2005 after Google set up Google Books by working with various University libraries to scan countless texts which would then be made available on the internet. Google has maintained that their goal with Google Book is to better catalog books with a special aim at reintroducing out-of-text books to the general public. The problem with the program is that the copyrights on many of these scanned works have not run out.

Google and its adversaries proposed a settlement in 2008 that would allow Google Books to continue to be developed but that would insure the rights of publishers and authors were not forgotten. Under this plan, Google would pay the groups for the rights to the books and the authors and publishers would receive a certain amount of money made on book sales through Google Books. The settlement contained a default inclusion clause, meaning that authors that wished to be excluded from Google Books would have to explicitly opt out.

Judge Chin ended up throwing out this settlement because he found it to be inadequate, mainly it how favorable it is to Google. He noted the fact that author’s must opt out and as well as how greatly it favors Google over its potential market competitors. It would have the effect of favoring Google over its competitors because if the settlement were to go through, Google would have legally recognized deals with any author to put their work on their website in the absence of an opt-out. Additionally, Google has a huge head start as it has been working on Google Books throughout the lawsuit and settlement. For more information and a copy of Judge Chin’s decision on the issue see the following article from CNET.

Mar 14

Penn Intellectual Property Group Copyright Symposium

Next Tuesday (March 22nd, 2011), the Penn Intellectual Property Group will be holding its annual symposium at Penn Law School. All are welcome to attend, so if you find yourself in the Philadelphia area, please stop by. This year the symposium will be on copyright law, and there will be panels on content licensing on the Internet, open source law, and copyright and author issues. The schedule for the symposium is as follows:
Keynote Speaker (4:30pm – 5:00pm)
Ken Richieri (New York Times)
Content Licensing and Distribution on the Web (5:00pm – 5:50pm)
Roger Cramer (Selverne & Company)
Bruce Rich (Weil Gotshal)
Jeff Farmer (Limewire)
Open Source and Derivative Work (5:50pm – 6:40pm)
Aaron Williamson (Software Freedom Law Center)
Van Lindberg (Hayes and Boone)
Jay Westermeier (Finnegan)
Copyright and Authors – Three Unique Perspectives (6:40pm – 7:30pm)
Nina Paley (author and cartoonist)
Michael Boni (Boni and Zack)
Marcia Paul (Davis Wright Tremaine)
The symposium has been approved for 3 hours of substantive C.L.E credit.

Feb 14

MPAA Brings Copyright Case Against Hotfile


The Motion Picture Association of American filed a suit against Hotfile.com last Tuesday, February 8 for copyright infringement. Hotfile is a cyberlocker website in which users gain access through paid subscriptions. The MPAA alleges that not only does Hotfile aid users in uploading copyrighted information but that they encourage users to disseminate the uploads they have gotten through the site. The claim targets Hotfile instead of other file sharing websites because the MPAA believes Hotfile discourages personal filesharing by incentivizing popular files. Because Hotfile has membership fees, MPAA alleges that the website is also profiting from the infringement of its users.

Curiously, the MPAA did not also file claims against other online locker services like Rapidshare and Megaupload. This is because the MPAA does not contend that all file lockers are unlawful. The distinction is defined by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s safe harbor clause. The act protects Internet service providers that obey certain rules of sharing, but MPAA believes Hotfile is not following the rules, and instead is encouraging breaking the law. The case will bring online locker services and their legality under fire as they have become a more popular way for people to gain access to files, some copyrighted, on the Internet.

MPAA’s complaint against Hotfile

Feb 07

Google v. Bing(?)

In recent news, you may have heard that Google operated a sting to catch Microsoft’s search engine, Bing, copying Google’s search results on Internet Explorer and implementing them in Bing’s search results. To do this, Google created a specific webpage that would appear if words like “hiybbprqag” and “mbzrxpgjys” were typed into Bing. Bing is contesting the allegations of “copying” and says that it merely monitored users, a fair online practice according to Bing’s Harry Shum. Bing doesn’t deny that it monitors its users’ browsing online, rather the search engine argues that it oversees all of the internet activity across the web, not just when Internet Explorer users search through Google. This is called a clickstream, which Bing observes over time, tracking results of each user in the webpage’s URL. This search signal, and not Google signal, is an aggregation of all the different searches that users perform, including those on other sites like Yahoo. To Bing, it is irrelevant if Google is a popular search, because the intention is not to solely perform a Google search. Bing can also show that only about 9% of the specific searches for nonsensical words that Google performed were found using Bing. Where does this leave the case? Well, Google has adamantly stood by its original purpose for bringing these search results to light, the engineers behind Google search believe that it is plainly unfair for Bing to copy any of its search results.

Given the extent of copied material, it seems less likely that Google will pursue a challenge in court. Instead, Google may choose to use these facts to further emphasize its prominence among search engines, allowing it to propel its image among users who may not be dedicated Google searchers.

For a more in-depth analysis of this case, please visit http://searchengineland.com/bing-why-googles-wrong-in-its-accusations-63279.

Feb 03

Microsoft Continuing Its Fight with i4i

Microsoft is heading for the Supreme Court later this year in its ongoing battle with i4i, Inc., a Canadian technology company. The case started in 2009 when i4i sued Microsoft for infringing on its Patent No. 5,787,449 for Microsoft’s use of a method to make Microsoft Word products capable of processing or editing custom XML. Since the original filing, i4i has been successful against Microsoft in both the District Court and the Court of Appeals. The USPTO has refused to invalidate i4i’s patent and the courts have awarded i4i $290 million in damages and a permanent injunction against Microsoft. As Microsoft attempts to overturn the lower courts’ devastating decisions, the usually pro-patent company is finding some unlikely allies in the open source world.

Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Apache Software Foundation, usually critics of Microsoft for its vast portfolio of patents, have filed an amicus brief in support of Microsoft. Strange bedfellows: EFF, Apache back Microsoft in patent dispute. In the brief, the groups support Microsoft’s suggestions for alterations to the present patent system when it comes to software patents. For instance, Microsoft advocates for stricter standards that would lower the bar to invalidate patents. The current test to throw out a patent is that the infringer must show “clear and convincing” evidence that the patent is invalid. Microsoft instead believes the standard should be lowered to a “preponderance” of evidence.

In addition to the above mentioned amicus brief, several other big players filed an amicus brief for Microsoft this week. This newest group of unexpected Microsoft supporters includes RedHat, Verizon, and Google. The massive support from Microsoft’s former foes may convince the Supreme Court that the software patent system is broken, or at least in need of some careful tweaking. In addition to suggesting a lower standard to invalidate patents, Microsoft is also behind various other patent reform steps such as switching from a first to invent to a first to file standard. Admittedly, this will not affect their present case but reflects their attitude to the present patent system. Look for more on this case as potentially more parties get involved and to see how the Supreme Court handles the issue of software patents.

Jan 31

"Hope" Poster Dispute Settled

The dispute over the creation and use of the Obama “Hope” poster was recently settled.In Fairey v. AP, as previously mentioned on this blog, the Associated Press had accused the artist Shepard Fairey of infringing its copyright on a photograph of Barack Obama by creating the popular “Hope” posters that were frequently seen during the 2008 presidential election campaigns. Fairey claimed that the poster he designed was fair use.

The case was particularly interesting because it nicely demonstrated the complexities of giving copyright protection to photographs. The issue is that a copyrighted work must be original, in the sense that the work must originate with the author of the work. This means that you cannot copyright facts, because facts are not independently created by the author; they are part of the state of the world. For example, the AP cannot copyright the fact that Obama was at the National Press Club or the fact that he was sitting in a certain seat, looking in a certain direction. Because a photograph necessarily encompasses facts such as these, courts are careful when it comes to photographs. See, e.g., Burrow-Giles Lithographic Co. v. Sarony, 111 U.S. 53 (1884) (giving copyright protection to photographs of Oscar Wilde).

One way to distinguish uncopyrightable facts from copyrightable original works is to identify the original contributions of a photographer. See Mannion v. Coors Brewing Co., 377 F. Supp. 2d 444 (S.D.N.Y. 2006). When creating a photograph, a photographer has many opportunities to be original; she can select the content, choose a camera angle, pose the subject, time the picture, frame the subject, and add lighting. Each of these elements of a photograph can be given copyright protection.

Why is any of this important to the Fairey v. AP case? Because if a court had decided that Fairey had only copied the fact that Obama was sitting in a certain spot, looking a certain way, then he was unlikely to be liable for copyright infringement. Similarly, if a court had decided that Fairey had taken only a few of the copyrighted elements of the AP photograph, it would have supported a finding of fair use and could also have made him not liable for infringement. Because the AP has settled the dispute with Shepard Fairey, these issues might go unanswered for a while.

Then again, the AP has not yet settled a related case against Obey Clothing, where a company was manufacturing T-shirts and other apparel that bore the “Hope” design. The details of giving copyright protection to photographs could become an issue for AP and Obey Clothing as that case progresses.

Source: Shepard Fairey and The A.P. Settle Legal Dispute [NYT]

Feb 15

Dispute over the name "iPad"

Fujitsu began selling a device named, “iPad,” in 2002 and is currently disputing the name of Apple’s newest gadget. The Japanese Company applied for a trademark for the name in 2003. Apple has until February 28th to announce whether it will oppose Fujitsu’s claims to the name “iPad.” To read more about the dispute, please visit: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/29/technology/companies/29name.html?scp=3&sq=patent&st=cse

Nov 08

Battle over Copyright Royalties of the Gershwin Brothers


Nearly a decade ago, George and Ira Gershwin, known as the Gershwin brothers, fought to have copyright extended to their songs. Now, after their deaths, the heirs of these songwriting brothers are disputing over how to divide the royalties, which have come from the copyrighting of this music. Since the American royalties were previously divided equally between the brothers, there is no dispute regarding them. However, in the EU copyright law differs from US copyright law. Since, Ira Gershwin outlived his brother by about 40 years, there arises a problem with European copyright law. In the EU, the copyright of a lyricist and a composer are distinct. Furthermore, these rights expire 70 years after the death of the lyricist or composer, and the music then enters the public domain. Thus, since technically George’s copyright earnings on his compositions expired in 2007 in the EU, there is a dispute. Since Ira’s copyright of his lyrics is still effective, his estate still gains royalties from the use of his songs. Thus, Ira’s heirs believe they deserve foreign royalties on his lyrics.

For more on this story, please go to: http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/arts/la-ca-gershwin1-2009nov01,0,6051370.story.

Oct 28

So What Exactly is Fair Use?

Eight months ago on this blog we discussed the case Fairey v. AP, in which Shepard Fairey claimed that his depiction of Barak Obama constituted a fair use of an Associated Press picture. But what exactly is “fair use”? Tim Wu, law professor at Columbia University, writing for Slate, breaks the concept down. Professor Wu writes about the way in which the fair use defense has been used in the past, and what policy considerations courts have weighed in deciding on whether a fair use defense is legitimate. As the case is still being litigated, we do not know if the fair use defense will save Fairy or not.

The fair use defense was used unsuccessfully in the Joel Tenebaum case. Tenebaum was sued by the RIAA for copyright infringement when he downloaded mp3 songs from KaZaA. The court ruled for the RIAA, saying that the fair use defense would not apply in this case. On his blog, Professor Charlie Nesson, who represented Joel Tenebaum, ponders who the word “fair” in fair use is supposed to refer to.

If fair use is to be judged from the industry’s perspective only, then the permission or lack of it from the copyright holder is all that counts … But if fair use is to be judged from the user’s perspective, then making use of a new, superior form of music product – downloadable, fully transferrable music files – while there was nothing comparable available on the market, can easily be seen as a fair use.

Please read Nesson’s blog for further discussion.

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