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Crowdfunding campaign against US patent on personalized content (unpatent.co)
109 points by izqui on Sept 20, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 50 comments



Wouldn't funding this be in the interest of mid-sized companies? Albeit it's not likely that they'll be targeted it seems like an awfully cheap insurance policy. By "they" I mean "a company".

Seeing as they are a potential target for the next six years they'd effectively pay 20000/6 which rounds up to four grand a year that has to be much cheaper than the legal fees they'd incur if they were targeted.

Split that cost with a few other companies and it hardly costs a thing in the relative scheme of things. Makes for a good PR opportunity as well: "We will not sit idly by when others are bullied into paying licensing fees on such a nonsensical patent, effectively robbing the cradle of new businesses"


Funding an attack on a patent is also a great way to solicit counter attacks. Patent trolls like to sue.


That's why backers are anonymous by default!


That's it! You nailed it


Related-ish: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12538224 Apple trying to patent a paper bag!


Apple is one of the companies that fill more stupid (obvious) patents in the world...

They have a freaking patent on converting different data types, patent US7886264B1 [1]

Even though Apple has never acted as a patent troll, it doesn't mean their patent portfolio isn't potentially harmful and it could be used as such some time soon to maximize profits.

It wouldn't be the first time a once very successful company makes good profits by charging licensing fees on things way far away of their product line. I'm looking at you Microsoft... [2]

[1]: https://patents.google.com/patent/US7886264B1 [2]: http://www.forbes.com/sites/ewanspence/2015/11/01/microsoft-...


Perhaps they are not a troll, in that they don't trawl. But look at the patents that they used in their dispute with Samsung. They have no problem using their ass-backwards patents agressively if one becomes a threat to them.


They have them for that reason, they are a war chest used to fight other patent claims. Large companies needs these, it's a sign of how broken the system is.


They were the aggressor against Samsung.


Remember patents don't patent ideas.

What is patented is not "a paper bag", but their particular method for constructing a paper bag.

Is their method obvious? Perhaps not.


Actually, patents do precisely claim commercial monopolies over ideas.


Even if the 'invalidating bad patents' idea sounds promising, I still think that in order to stop 'stupid patents', as described in their front page, the smartest move would be to fix this broken patents system so that no more stupid patents could be registered.


I completely agree with you, but there is way too much lobbying power protecting the status quo in the patent arena.

Not even a letter to Congress signed by very important SV players did anything... [1]

At Unpatent we believe that big changes can be made using technology when legislation is clearly falling behind.

[1]: http://www.unitedforpatentreform.com


Part of the problem (among many) is the patent office is funded by fees. So they naturally favor "approving" patents, because applications are their revenue source. Plus it cost businesses to invalidate a patent, but the patent office doesn't bear the cost of bad pattents.

https://www.uspto.gov/blog/director/entry/an_update_on_susta...


I think everyone agrees with you on that. However, I think most people (here) also understand that doing that will take some political heavy lifting. Something on the order of the affordable healthcare act.

If you figure out a way to fix the patent system so no more stupid patents can be registered I'd be all ears :-)


Nobody knows how long it will take and what it will take to fix the broken patent system. Meanwhile, real businesses are getting extorted.

The cost of unpatenting seems a lot lower than the gross extortion amount. And long-term it just might work as deterrent against patent trolls. Without politicians getting involved.


If we lived in a world where the government moves at a decent pace, that'd be an option. As we do not, you can either complain for decades or try to do something that actually fixes the bug.


^ This, a thousand times ^


I agree.

Donating here feels like funding the 'stupid patent' system.


Not donating feels like funding the patent trolls who are extracting $29 billion dollars a year from the American economy. You can choose to complain, or you can actually do something about the businesses that are being extorted and the billions of dollars wasted on trolls.


Can you buy patent troll insurance?

$500/month to protect against a 0.1% chance of being sued by a patent troll over a 7 year period gives $42 million in expected value to fight a bogus patent when it does come up. Adjust the numbers to whatever's realistic.

It seems more sustainable than asking strangers to fund patent lawsuits.


That is something we have definitely thought about, but when making the numbers with the actual probability of being sued (more like 1% each year if you are a mid-sized VC funded startup) and the average lawsuit cost of going to court against the troll ($3M over 2 years, in case the case goes to the end), it is very dangerous to setup without a proper actuarial model, charging $500/month to some companies might be too risky.

What we are focused on right now is on diminishing patent portfolios so the lawsuit probability goes down. We have a lot of things in the pipeline that will make it easier for companies to be protected using Unpatent, that don't necessarily involve backing individual campaigns.


It would be great to have more/better tools to fight patent trolls, so that the cost of litigation goes down. Has their been any research to break down where all the costs of defending oneself against a patent trolls go?


Absolutely! I cannot speak for other companies/defendants, but in our case our aim is to make it very cost effective to invalidate patents that may later be used to sue your company. Most fees in litigation and patent invalidation go to lawyers. We chose a kind of patent reexamination that can be automated, and we're working on the process. We have automated a great chunk of the process and paperwork already. That will bring costs down and democratize patent invalidation.


"Most fees in litigation and patent invalidation go to lawyers."

That is what I had figured... as an aside, I have been hearing complaints about young lawyers not being able to earn very much due to over saturation of the market- but it still sure costs a bunch to higher one of them! I would think if the market was so over-saturated, lawyers would lower their prices to better compete. (Of course, the various specialties may still have variances based on expertise). The over saturation thing must be a myth being spread by old lawyers trying to protect their earnings by discouraging new competition :)


Completely agree. I think lawyers are one of the biggest lobbies ever. They really care about their profession and making sure that they stay relevant. Some lawyers try hard to make simple things look extremely hard just so you have to blindlessly trust them. And you obviously pay a premium for that. Anyway there are awesome lawyers out there that actually help businesses, but they are the less


If you have no insurance, nobody will have a large incentive to sue you, specifically. If you have insurance, suddenly there’s a big reason to single you out for a lawsuit, since the insurance company is liable to pay if you lose.


That's assuming the insurance covers liability and not just legal fees.

Insurance that covers only legal fees should have the opposite effect.


What we love about the crowdfunding is that it raises awareness about the issue. You have to actively back the campaign. But we're thinking about other, more passive methods as well.


I'm glad that they are doing this to raise awareness about the problem, and it seems like a good idea to request prior art on this page.

And, it looks to have a great team behind it: https://unpatent.co/about

So, I'm curious, is Lee Cheng going to be the one going after Marc and his group, and is the $20k just to try to help pay his court expenses? Because, it seems like it's going to be a lot more expensive than that. I'm asking because there isn't much information about how the money will be used on the campaign page, and I think more would give if this were clearer.

Good luck to Unpatent in this! I think this is an inventive way to help start to solve this problem.

Something else that people could do is write to their representatives about it. These patent problems are solvable with law that penalizes organizations that try to blackmail organizations with patents that are overly broad.

http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/

http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_c...


Thanks a lot!

We spend the crowdfunded money on the ex parte reexam PTO fees + lawyer fees (for preparing the filing) + rewarding the prior art searchers. As we're doing an ex parte, it's pretty cheap compared to an inter partes. The IPR one would be >$100k, while ex parte's minimum costs are about $16k. Ex parte has less success probabilities than an inter parte, but the fact that it's so cheap helps scaling the process so we can get rid of stupid patents at a good pace :)


Patent noob here, but wouldn't this violate the basic "you can patent implementations but not ideas" rule?

Did they actually patent all possible methods and apparatuses to select products based on personal information? Or was the patent for one concrete method and apparatus that did so and just formulated intentionally vague?


The U.S. Patent Office will grant a patent for basically anything. https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20100819/12015210689.shtml


Thanks for the info.

So basically, the harder I make it to validate my patent, the higher is the likelihood that it will be granted? That's crazy.

This might also explain though why so many patents are written in such an incomprehensible way.


This patent is almost surely invalid under Alice v. CLS Bank, but nevertheless, the patent office granted it so the troll is using to extort companies.


Sorry if dumb question, but isn't that patent expired? " Legal status: Expired - Lifetime" https://patents.google.com/patent/US8738435


"The patent has just expired, but the troll still has 6 years to ask anyone for the licensing fees or the damages that they incurred during the term of the patent — which is 20 years."


Exactly. Some patent trolls wait near the end of the lifetime of their patent to start asserting them.


Oh ok, thanks!


Am I missing something? This patent is specific to automated insurance marketing. The unpatent.co campaign seems to imply that is some kind of catch all patent that covers all automated decision making. I don't see the link.


A lot of patents affect a huge, broad space different that the one they are supposed to cover. These guys filed the first application in '96, then started other broader applications linking that first application so it counts as its priority date.


If i read this correctly, this should expire in 4 years anyway, I know it's a lot of time in tech, but might be around the same time that trial completes?


6 years! It's a lot of time if you keep in mind that some trolls wait until patents are expired in order to ask for all the infringement fees during the whole term of the patent. They sued a lot of businesses already, more to come during these years for sure.


OT, but I like the use of Semantic UI on that site. Nice and clean design.


Thanks Billy!


It was amazing. I didn't have to scroll all over the place to find what it was about - no massive hero banner that conveys zero useful information either[1]. It just presents the info as readable text.

This shouldn't be a thing that needs to be praised, but sadly it's increasingly rare on new sites.

1. The main site has as banner, but it doesn't necessitate scrolling a full page to get to anything meaningful.


Thanks a lot! Instead of focusing on looking amazing, we first thought about making people understand us and then we added great design. It's a very legalese, complex concept to explain people, so we spent a lot of time on this!


Thank you, we have worked really hard on making it as informative as possible and not letting pure asthetic get in the way


Is there any reason why an unpatent campaign is limited to 30 days? Wouldn't it be better if campaigns expired only after their funding threshold was achieved?


We're pretty open about that and gathering feedback to build a timeline that makes sense. We are thinking about moving between stages only if they're successful instead of just looking at some arbitrary number of days.




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