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Patent troll on the verge of winning 1% of iPhone revenue (arstechnica.com)
183 points by kenjackson on June 7, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 120 comments

Have you guys looked at the patents in this case? They look thick and serious, but if you actually read the claims, you will soon realize that it's nothing but an obvious and straightforward procedure for deciding when and with whom to establish a VPN. None of these patents make sure that a VPN connection is more secure, more reliable, or in any way better.

Majority of the patent is explanation on how a VPN works, different mathematical explanations on how to generate random numbers, the theory behind secure communications. But none of that stuff is actually covered by the patent, so don't be impressed by it. What is covered is basically the straightforward and logical application of the explained VPN concepts, but the VPN concepts them selves are not patented.

I am not sure if the patent examiner of this patent was dazzled by the 50+ pages of VPN theory and just granted this thing. To me it's stunning! It's like filing a patent that in intricate detail explains how an automobile works and than sneaking in a claim that you invented that an automobile can be used to move personal belonging from place to place.

Okay, I'm looking at 6502135...

Claim 1 is a joke. How does this not apply to HTTPS? I would toss it and all its dependents.

Claim 13 is almost as obvious, but in this case I am not sure about the dependent claims. Some of them sound to me like they might be inventions.

Claim 10 seems stronger to me. Networking is not my field, so I am not at all sure there is not prior art, but at least it seems to contain an actual idea.

I'm not going to read the whole description, but a quick scan seems to support your contention that there is a lot of material here that is not referenced by the claims.

IANAL, but Including material that is not referenced by the claims, gives you the chance to submit amended claims at a later date if your original claims are invalidated.

Reminds me of http://www.google.com/patents/US20070258329 : "Method and apparatus for the exploitation of piezoelectric and other effects in carbon-based life forms."

Despite the huge prolegomena which would in fact work as a crash course in fringe geometry and pseudoscience, it turns out to be a patent for a golf club (I think.)

The point being, how does stuff like this even get past USPTO? Don't they employ people to weed out the nonsense?

It's possible that people employ weed to come up with this nonsense.

You mean they are just a little less baseless than the patent for 'rounded corners'?

Apple doesn’t have a patent for rounded corners.

They have a design patent for the ornamental design of the iPad. Just like Google has design patents for the ornamental design of a smiley face, a usb cable, a “computer icon” etc etc. Just like Samsung has a design patent for the ornamental design of a "Terminal for portable mobile communication”, which based on the images looks like a tablet.

In 1981 some company got a design patent for the ornamental design of a briefcase, with rounded corners.

Please stop talking shit.

D670,286 is, quite literally, a design patent on a rectangle with rounded corners (it's about the solid lines in the drawing). And they sued Samsung over it and Samsung was forced to make the rounded corners on the top and bottom of their phone different sizes. Despite the fact that multiple phones and tablets predated the iPad and iPhone and were rectangles with rounded corners.

They sued samsung over a number of combined similarities:

"Closely comparing Apple's patented design with Samsung's products reinforces the conclusion of substantial similarity. Samsung copied every major element of Apple's patented design:

* a flat, clear, black-colored, rectangular front surface with four evenly rounded corners [emphasis mine];

* an inset rectangular display screen centered on the front surface that leaves very narrow borders on either side of the display screen and substantial borders above and below the display screen; and

* a rounded, horizontal speaker slot centered on the front surface above the display screen,

* where the rectangular front surface is otherwise substantially free of ornamentation outside of an optional button area centrally located below the display."

And ALL of that already existed in the marketplace before the iPhone. Heck, the things that are claimed to be unique in what you quote above is an almost exact description of the LG Prada which came out before the iPhone.

Seriously, look at this a moment: http://i.imgur.com/iBD3A1z.jpg

Remove the phone answer/end keys from the bottom row, and it basically is the front of the iPhone. Re-read what you wrote above and look at that picture of the LG Prada. That design patent should have never been issued.

Its not about whether those individual attributes existed already.

Samsung blatantly copied apple product designs, from the physical appearance of the device, to the design of the packaging right down to the design of the chargers and cables.

This is not speculation, it's fact.

I don't deny that most modern smartphones, including the iPhone, look vaguely similar to that LG. No way you would confuse them for the same product though.

Now look at this image: http://i.imgur.com/TmUj2.jpg

This isn't some case of "oh but Apple's design is obvious how can it not be the same?"

This is Samsung's business model.

Motorola RAZR (copied Samesung Blade) - even the name is a pun on the fact that its a copy (hint: razor blade)

Blackberry (copied as Samsung BlackJack) - again the even the name is a ridiculous rip off. This one went to court and funnily enough RIM won.

Samsung Innov8 (copied from Nokia N96)

In 2012 Samsung released their Chromebox, which copies the circular cover on the 2 year old MacMini. The MacMini has it there to allow RAM upgrades. The ChromeBox has no reason for it, besides copying the MacMini design.

In their advertising they have a history of either reproducing Apple ads (e.g. the way a phone and the earbuds are arranged). In one case, they literally photoshopped the iOS Google Maps app onto their own device.

Their "iRemote Control 4" is a ridiculously blatant copy of the iPhone 4

Do a quick search for "Dyson Samsung clone"

There is no question that Samsung copies it's competitors designs, packaging and advertising. Apple was granted a design patent and used that in its fight with Samsung.

Show me a case where Apple has used its design patent against a competitor that is not obviously trying to blatantly copy their devices?

I never said Samsung didn't copy Apple. I said the design patent was bullshit. You're setting up convenient strawmen to knock down.

You reaffirmed this by quoting that "They sued samsung over a number of combined similarities:" and then listing design features that the iPhone copied from the LG Prada.

Not exactly a 'design pattern' (I'll find and report those cases here too), but these two examples should suffice to show you their unethically greedy intentions:

1) Apple tries to sue a small German coffee shop over logo: http://gawker.com/5853402/apple-threatens-to-sue-tiny-german... (Now tell me honestly, does the logo of the 'fruit' apple really look similar at all to Apple's logo? I mean, that poor lady running the coffee shop was not even in electronics business, just serving some coffee! What did they think, the fruit apple is their property now? This is inhuman to do that to a small coffee shop in my opinion.

2) Apple sues Polish Grocery store over name "a.pl": http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2409669,00.asp - Apple said they are trying to use their 'reputation' by using a name similar to theirs. really? Come on, .pl is Poland's top level domain for god's sake. 'a' is the first letter of English alphabet. And they are in Grocery business! How would they snatch Apple's customers?

A company which can do the above, can sue anyone, for just anything. They have money, they are big. They're the electronics equivalent of Monsanto.

On the other hand, it's not that Apple doesn't copy blatantly. They stole Swiss railway's clock blatantly and 'exactly', without taking permission or paying. Finally Swiss railway sued and Apple had to pay $21 million for theft. Many, many other such examples.

The crux is, incremental evolution is the only way the industry learns and progresses. Suing others for getting inspiration (while doing the same yourself) is dangerous.

The most obvious example of trying to copy the design is the charge cable of the galaxy tab. Apple's charge cable was ridiculously and unnecessarily wide, as is evident by the fact that later on they switched to the new design of the lightning cable. Samsung made their cable plug also very wide, and very similar that I personally, on one occasion have grabbed an off brand white Samsung cable, tried to shove it into my iPad, and was rather surprised when it did not fit.

Rather then looking at weather or not Samsung copied apple, let's look at the motivations. Because I believe that imitating someones design because you think its the best and the most practical way to do something should be perfectly ok. However, it is wrong to copy a design of your competitors in the hopes that consumers will confuse your product for your competitors. For instance, I would call BS on Apple arguing that a black rounded rectangle with rounded corners is somehow their design. It's just the most obvious and straightforward way of making an glass touch tablet. But then look at the power / sync cord. Can you justify that choice? No, there is no practical reason to make your cord look like that other than to make your product look more like an iPad.

They do say that imitation is the sincerest from of flattery, and I do tend to believe it, as long as the motivation is right. A company can look at the fact that iPads are doing really well in the market and tell it's designers and engineers: "Let's get a few of those iPads, play with them, figure out why people love them, and than make better one our selves, incorporating some of the features that we thing people really love about the iPad." I think that's what ASUS did with their Transformer line. They observed that a lot of people liked the simple and clean look of the iPad, and they made it even cleaner by removing all buttons. They also decided that people really want a option to have a keyboard on a tablet, as evidenced by the abundance of the keyboard cases for the iPad, so they added that function as well.

On the other hand, Samsung told its engineers: "Here is an iPad, copy it! No, don't bother figuring out why people like it, use those ideas, build on them, and maybe come up with something better. Just copy it. You see that idiotic, unnecessarily wide connector that only made any kind of sense when it was first installed in the original iPod, and not even then really. Copy that too."

So, to finish my thought, yes Apple is a bit bitchy when people copy their stuff. In case of most manufacturers I think they are wrong. In case of Samsung, I can see it, they copied Apple, and they did it for all the wrong reasons.

I think the complete unabashed copying is specifically why Apple sued Samsung.

Companies have been getting design patents on generic looking devices for years, this one just got a lot of attention because it actually ended up in court. If Samsung's devices were simply the same shape as the iPad but weren't otherwise so similar, Apple would have had no case to argue, (and probably never filed the lawsuit) and no one would care about this patent.

For reference, the 30 pin connector wasn't actually on the first iPod - it was introduced with the 3rd gen. Previously they used a full sized Firewire 400 (1394A) port on top next to the headphone port.

Apple was not saying that Samsung had a similar design, they were saying that Samsung had the SAME design. Which was nicely proved when even Samsung's lawyers couldn't tell the difference.

> Remove the phone answer/end keys from the bottom row, and it basically is the front of the iPhone

That's not how designs work. A design is violated if you copy multiple elements, giving an overall impression that is substantially similar. If I copy just the buttons from a dress, or just the cut, or just the colour - no infringement. If I copy all of them, then I have infringed.

As people said above, all of those things, except one or two, were already there in their entirety (in their combined form, like LG Prada) in the market before Apple released their first iPhone.

But you have to take a look at the entire product as a whole. No consumer would confuse the LG Prada with Apple iPhone. LG has a physical keyboard, much sharper edges, 3 physical buttons on the front, different software layout, etc. Even though LG has claimed that Apple copied there designs, the general look an feel of the iPhone was fixed in 2005, long before the LG released the Prada.

Also, I think that a grate confusion stems from USPTO using the word "patent" to describe design patents. Design patents are not like utility patents. Utility patents are interpreted broadly. Design patents are usually interpreted very specifically. Meaning, for instance, that apple would not be able to enforce it's design patent against the Prada (if it had come out subsequent to iPhone), or most of the Android phones, including the Galaxy line. But you have to admit that the Galaxy Tab looks remarkably like the iPad. I am not saying that that alone should have permitted apple to sue Samsung. But when you take the entire product as a whole, including the packaging, the charger, the ridiculous and unnecessarily wide charging cable, and the look of the device, you can see where Apple had a point.

Samsung blatantly copied, and for all the wrong reasons.

Samsung is a bad example because like you said, they actually did copy a lot more than the rounded corners. The patent though is incredibly broad, and regardless of who else has such broad patents nobody should. https://www.google.com/patents/USD670286

So, the fact that they sued Samsung on a 'number of combined similarities', doesn't take away the fact that they quite literally have a patent for a rectangle with rounded corners. So probably it was not me who was talking shit.

Who has a patent for rounded corners?

Apple. They have a design patent on a rectangle with rounded corners.


It seems that patent examiners have way too much power and way too little understanding of what are they doing. Shouldn't there be some procedure to throw away such invalid patents?

At some point, the patent trolls will force software companies like Apple, Google, and IBM to admit to themselves that software patents themselves have no value and cause more bad than good.

So we need more of these patent trolls to win substantially more and more revenue from these companies, until the pain is so great that the big companies do something about it.

In this case I don't think this is a patent troll. They are an NPE but they aren't trying to bully small companies to settle out of court. If they win maybe more people will want to join the dark side and make large corporations pay. Maybe then they will put pressure on Congress to finally pass the bipartisan bill that Leahy and Harry Reid forced to be shelved.

Are patent trolls only patent trolls if they go after small businesses?

There is an argument to be made that going after a big fish means it's more likely you have a real claim, because it's not like Apple won't hire good lawyers, and if you lose you get nothing, so why bother if you have no chance?

The problem is that argument is complete bunk when you're talking about software patents. The plaintiffs also get nothing if they don't sue, and if they do they have a chance at a huge windfall. Imagine how many bad patents you could litigate with and lose if you could win one claim for $200 million dollars.

One of the (many) problems with software patents is that because the scope of what software does is so broad, what an individual patent would rightly be worth sounds extremely small, and so their worth tends to be vastly overestimated when not taken in the proper context.

You look at something like an iPhone, it's probably covered by thousands of patents. Cellular wireless, wifi, video codecs, audio codecs, encryption algorithms, web browsers, app stores, music stores, digital telephony, media library functions, printing, Airplay, etc. etc. Each of those will be claimed by dozens if not hundreds of patents. And "1% of revenue" sounds small when you're not taking that into consideration, even though in reality 1% is huge. Even calling it 1% of the value of all patents covering the device is ridiculous, and revenue has to cover at least a couple of non-patent sources of costs like manufacturing, distribution, marketing, etc.

There is an obvious absurdity if there exist 1000 patents that could each be considered to be worth 1% of revenue when you only look at them one at a time.

I think "patent troll" should be applied to be anyone who waits for accidental infringement. That's not quite everyone who's an NPE, and I view this behavior as tacit admission that you know you shouldn't have a patent.

That said, I doubt banning this behavior would solve much. It's easy to pretend to be well intentioned and there are truly well intentioned people with bad patents.

I would argue anyone that uses an obvious or old patent offensively is a troll. That includes Microsoft and, more recently, Apple.

That's a pretty broad statement. The definition of "obvious" is different to a lot of people, and there are a lot of things that seem obvious in retrospect that weren't obvious at the time. So it's hard to use that as a way to define troll.

As for old, if the patent is still valid, does the age matter in isolation? Sure, you can argue that patents stay valid for too long, but I don't think I can call a company a troll for using an old patent if the age alone is how you're labelling them a troll.

They are patent trolls if they push the business to settle out of court, which usually is only possible with small businesses.

A lot of patent suits are settled out of court. Look up the IBM/Sun case, or the Apple/Microsoft cross licensing deal. All settled out of court.

An NPE which pushes to settle out of court.

AFAIK it's pretty common in any lawsuit to try to convince the other party to settle out of court.

I don't know if it's fair to call VirnetX a "patent troll." They're an NPE, but there's no indication that they're abusing the process or trying to get a low-ball settlement just to avoid actually going to court. Furthermore, the patents aren't just something they churned out. The technology in question was developed by SAIC for the CIA. SAIC is a major defense contractor and R&D company: http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/capitalbusiness/contr....

Also, the inventor listed on the patents, Dr. Robert Short, who previously worked at SAIC, is CTO at VirnetX: http://virnetx.com/company/executive-management ("Dr. Short has been the Chief Scientist for VirnetX since May 2007 . . . . From February 2000 to April 2007, Dr. Short was Assistant Vice President and Division Manager at Science Applications International Corporation, or SAIC. . . . Dr. Short is named as a co-inventor on substantially all of the patents in the VirnetX patent portfolio.")

I haven't studied the patents in question and am not commenting on whether they're any good or not. But considering how much of the core internet technologies were developed by private defense contractors working for the government, it's not far-fetched that some of them would hold key patents.

> VirnetX is a company some call a "patent troll" because its only business is now patent enforcement.

I believe this viewpoint is shared by a number of people. Specifically, that a litigious NPE is, by colloquial definition, a "patent troll." There is a conversation to be had as to whether the practice is good or bad, or if they are acting more appropriately than their peer group, but I think the term fits in this case.

I don't disagree it's a common viewpoint, I'm just saying it's not very useful to call every NPE a patent troll. It lumps universities together with companies that seek nuisance settlements using the cost of litigation as leverage.

In general, the law allows you to sell your cause of action to someone else. For example, many investors who had suits against big banks over mortgage-backed securities sold their causes of action to funds that could bring them efficiently in one go. That's just property rights in action. At least in theory, it's more efficient to allow rights of action to be sold like property.

Now, maybe you think that these sorts of suits shouldn't be brought at all. There's arguments to be made for that. But in that case, I think you need to lump companies like Apple in with companies like these.

> I just think it's not very useful to call every NPE a troll.

Simple explanation: if they make their money from suing people, it's a troll.

No, not really. If they developed they technology and are trying to license it, and suing people that don't license it... That is not a troll. That is someone who is doing exactly what patents were meant to do... Patents we're meant to encourage people to invent.

You are confusing patents with copyright. Patents were meant to encourage people to disclose. It was taken for granted that people will invent things regardless of patent protection - they will just keep their inventions trade secrets.

Depends on the industry; there are plenty of places where trade secrets aren't viable (e.g. medicinal chemistry, where it's trivial to reverse engineer a drug).

Maybe so, but nevertheless patents were not "meant to encourage people to invest".

Debating the finer points of what constitutes a troll really isn't helpful. It takes the focus off of the real debate -- improving the patent system.

Meta-comments[1] explaining that the conversation above isn't useful aren't useful. They take the focus off of the real debate -- that which people choose to talk about in the comment thread. Ignoring comments is easy.

proceeds to take own advice

[1]: such as this one, but this wouldn't be necessary if folks didn't find it necessary to waste space dictating what's worth talking about.

A patent troll only uses patents to sue people and return money to it's investors.

So, I think there is a reasonable argument that if your actively doing research your not really a NPE. AMD and University's both make money from both obvious and non obvious patents but they have positive contributions where companies that only buy existing patents and sue don't contribute anything as the patents already exist.

If universities can't manage to exist in the US off the 70 billion the feds spend on tuition support, or by snagging a share of the 150 billion the US government spend on research, let them die.

The fact that a viewpoint is shared by a number of people is hardly an argument for its validity.

We need to understand what we're fighting. Defining a patent troll as any NPE who files an infringement suit is clearly too broad, because the only way to prevent trolling under that definition is to shut down the patent system. As long as patents are issued, and can be bought and sold, it will be possible for NPEs to own them. Furthermore, independent inventors, of whom I believe there are still a few left, and whom I think we all believe the patent system should protect if it protects anyone, are generally NPEs.

> The fact that a viewpoint is shared by a number of people is hardly an argument for its validity.

This is actually _exactly_ how language works, and that's precisely what's under discussion here: whether the term patent troll is accurate.

There's a different discussion to be had (which rayiner is also alluding to in his comment) about whether this definition has negative side-effects (like being too broad), but being clear on the terms being used in a discussion is important.

> I don't know if it's fair to call VirnetX a "patent troll."

Filing in East Texas pretty much defines you as a patent troll. If you have a real case, you don't have to go to East Texas to litigate it.

Is that actually true? Did you research it? A good data set to back this claim up would be a list of non-trollish patent suits that weren't filed in EDTX. As it stands, the properties that make EDTX attractive for trolls could logically make EDTX a better venue for all kinds of patent cases.

If it was developed for the CIA, why aren't the resulting patents owned by the government?

It's not clear if this particular "invention" was developed for CIA, but there are also different types of government contracts, some of which assign IP to the government, some of which do not.


My understanding is that the US Federal government cannot be sued for patent infringement. If correct, there would be no value for it to acquire patent rights and if the technology was to be controlled, classifying the design would be better than filing patents.

1) yes, you can sue the government or contractors fir patent infringement.

2) the government can issue secret patents

IANAL, but I was a government contractor for many years.

Secret patents that can be accessed by anyone with a high-enough classification?

It seems to defeat the original purpose of patents, which was to promote openness of inventions rather than secrecy.

Because if Big Government owned those patents then Job Producers wouldn't be able to make so many jobs for Hard-Working Americans.


They were probably acquired by VirnetX, like so many NPEs' portfolios are built.

In this overwhelmingly depressing article, I saw a ray of hope, an enchanting possibility .. a silver lining if you will:

> Instead, two other mysterious companies came forward seeking to challenge VirnetX's patents. First was a shell company called New Bay Capital, which filed an IPR and then reportedly asked VirnetX for 10 percent of its massive jury award in exchange for backing off. New Bay dropped its case on April 4 without getting any money—and without revealing who was behind the claim.

Then came RPX, a defensive patent aggregator that has become increasingly well-known, and increasingly profitable, in recent years. RPX works by selling memberships to companies that feel harangued by patent trolls, including Apple and many other tech companies.

How wonderful it would be if the ultimate demise of patent trolls was brought about by other patent trolls :)

At this point I honestly believe the only way the patent system gets any better is by becoming so overbearing that it collapses under its own weight. The lobbying machine in place to protect patents essentially as they are now (with maybe some token changes to look like progress) is way too big and way too strong for reform otherwise.

So in that sense, I'm happy about this.

That was my emotional reaction too, but my thought was different. I saw the article and thought, "Maybe if 2 or 3 more trolls win big against Google, Microsoft and GM or GE, we'll see some legislative action."

I remember RIM was nearly brought down with patent litigation. I expected some backlash since a lot of people in US government were affected by the potential outage.

Sadly nothing happened. Rim paid up I believe.

I actually hope the trolls win.[0]

I believe that the current state of IP law does far more to stifle innovation than to support it, and I fear that it will only change when sufficient monied interests become inclined to support a change.

Put another way, I believe change will come when the juggernauts like Apple stand to lose more than they gain from the current state of the law. Until then, I suspect that the status quo will continue.

[0] Others have made similar arguments, including Mark Cuban in re: Yahoo's patent suit vs. Facebook: http://blogmaverick.com/2012/03/13/i-hope-yahoo-crushes-face...

> The patents (1, 2, 3, 4) originated at a company called Science Applications International Corporation, or SAIC; they are now owned by VirnetX.

It's worth mentioning that SAIC is not a lightweight. It is a large government contractor with $4 billion in annual revenue.

On a mobile device, so can't research much, but a couple of things:

1) The claims are incredibly broad, and I'm surprised they have held up so far. Many such patents issued back then (it happens much more rarely these days) but even by those standards this is broad. Without indulging too much in the sin of simplifying claims, they basically cover detecting if a server supports secure connections, and if so, establishing a VPN instead of a normal connection. One of the patents covers a DNS server which indicates whether a server supports secure connections.

2) One of the comments on TFA, which is significant if true (would be good if someone could verify):

> If you read through the court docs, the actual royalty imposed was 0.52%. It was Apple's various shenanigans and lies (partial and outright) to the court that prompted additional penalties up to a 0.98% rate.

Similar things have happened in the past, e.g. In i4i, where a Microsoft lawyer was sanctioned for insisting plaintiff was a patent troll. However, in that case the lawyer paid the price rather than the company as a whole. In any case, even 0.52% is incredibly high a single minor feature. I guess the lesson here is clear: don't piss off the court.

We shouldn't blame patent trolls for acting the way they do in the same way that we shouldn't blame banks and stockbrokers for acting the way they do.

If there is big money to be made, and it's legal, somebody is going to do it - and if it's not you, well, your loss.

This is, and always has been, a problem of bad legislation. It is a structural problem in the system. The human race would save so much time, money, and energy if it tackled problems at their root instead of dossing around in the details, oblivious to the actual issue.

This line always comes out, for some reason, regarding patents. In other discussions we get completely different logic - eg: people get terribly riled up about whether Google is "evil" or not and it is rarely connected to whether it's legal or not.

The ultimate with your logic is that it would call for massive legislation to cover every facet of our lives - everything bad must be made illegal, otherwise nobody can even be criticised for doing it. I don't want to live in a world like that. Laws are far too crude for that, they can only work at extremes where it is clear you can put down a blanket rule. In between, people and companies behaving badly should be held to account through criticism and public pressure. We should expect companies to behave honorably and ethically and criticise them heavily when they don't.

Google gets grief over being "evil" because they publicly claimed not to be, and got a lot of popularity and goodwill in the marketplace as a result. When people get "riled up" about Google, they are threatening to take away that popularity and goodwill, that's all. It's not the same thing.

Also, what makes you think we don't already have "massive legislation to cover every facet of our lives"? Have you ever heard of the book "Three Felonies a Day"?

I take exception to being accused of delivering 'a line'. I commented, as I only ever do, when I see a truth that for whatever reason I decide to broadcast publicly. The veracity of my statement may be the source of its ubiquity you observe.

Increased legislation is rarely the answer. I do not have a pre-rolled solution for the 'patent problem', but - contrary to popular opinion - this is not required to point out flaws in the current system. Perhaps the current system is the best we can do, but that does not excuse its flaws. We should always aim for what could be - and what we could, maybe, come up with is a system that encourages innovation (through financial reward) yet disallows this kind of destructive behaviour. How? Who knows.

I bet 10 years ago if you applied such thinking to finance you wouldn't have got very far - "central bankers supplying fiat money is good enough"...yet now we have Bitcoin et. al., a whole host of currencies whose aggregate behaviour is mathematically provable.

Focus on the could, anything less is not worthy of the tag 'innovation'.

"This line always comes out" - as does yours. We can only solve patent trolls by legislating every small piece of our lives is a fallacy of logic. One doesn't inevitably mean the other.

"Don't hate the player, hate the game" is a false dichotomy. It's perfectly possible to conclude that the system is rotten and still call out those who take advantage of it in ways which hurt others. The fact that there's money to be made and that it's legal doesn't make it any less sleazy and immoral.

The human race would save so much time, money, and energy if it tackled problems at their root instead of dossing around in the details, oblivious to the actual issue.

Nobody's oblivious to the actual issue; it's just that the root of the problem is inaccessibly mired in a tangled web of lobbying networks, conflicting interests, and impenetrable committees.

Opportunists are just as guilty of making the world worse as the laws that enable them.


Opportunists are faced with the decision "Should I attempt to make a bucketload of cash, and secure my family's - and my stakeholders families' - future, or should I take a moral stance, make no money, and console myself in poverty because I'm a 'good' person?"

Contrarily, lawmakers have all of the tools required to make a better system, and yet choose not to, for the same indecipherable reasons so many political decisions are made.

They could have chosen other ways to make a living. Patent trolling is hardly a blue collar enterprise.

What about when they lobby to keep the current patent system in place. Can we blame them then, or is that the nature of the game, too?

The very idea that lobbying is a) a thing, and b) a thing that works is a failure of the political system in a massive but completely unsurprising way.

Apple has a lot of money they could use to finance lobbying for patent reform. Maybe this will help them see the wisdom in that.

A strong signal would be if Apple raised prices for affected products (iPhones and iPods) by exactly 0.98% and send out a press release that this is necessary to offset increased patent-related costs and will only affect US prices. Further increases are not expected, but can't be ruled out. Foreign pricing will not be affected.

I'd like to see politicians react to that...

I doubt politicians would give a shit, perhaps notwithstanding a few minutes of grandstanding during some floor speech or committee hearing. Certainly, no action would come of it.

Lobbying, though, would get their attention. Like it or not, that's how one operates the levers of power in Washington at the moment

If we didn't find patent trolls worthy of blame, where would the motivation to stamp out their behavior come from?

> This is, and always has been, a problem of bad legislation.

Exactly. The legislation and regulatory apparatus built around it allow people to claim exclusivity on ideas and techniques that are already obvious to most people in the field. This must be fixed with legislation.

Calling companies trolls on internet forums unread by the vast majority of citizens really doesn't help the cause. These companies make their living enforcing patents. They aren't going to stop because people say mean things about them. They are going to stop when the law makes their business obsolete.

Begrudgingly, I agree. I don't consider a patent holder to be a troll unless they're clearly not the first party to develop said technology. If there's clear prior art, only then would I consider someone a troll.

Unfortunately, patents are becoming more commoditized than healthcare in our country. It seems silly to me that someone is permitted to sue on the basis of patent violation when a) they weren't the original inventor, b) they bought the patent for the entire reason of profiting from litigation, or c) they're suing people who 'violated' their patent prior to the time they purchased it.

The root cause of lots of bad legislations can be linked to corporate bribes (lobby)... which is legal in the USA.

If VirnetX were on the verge of winning 1% of iPhone revenue, their stock price would reflect it. However, it does not.


VirnetX's market cap is $850 million, which would be a very steep discount if the company were "on the verge" of being paid $340 million/year from Apple.

Good catch, will be interesting to see how this plays out. I tend to believe indicators like this over news reports.

The real problem is that patents have become an intellectual land grab, no matter how obvious, whether or not violators were even aware of the patents, and whether or not the patenting company has any interest whatsoever is using the patent in an actual product. The majority of inventions are not strokes of genius - when the time is right, ideas emerge naturally and tend to be invented by multiple people around the same time.

Could someone explain what the thing with East Texas is?

A district where juries and judges are more favorable than usual towards patents? This sound kind-of ridiculous, no? Can't the defending companies find similar anti-patent areas and file counter-suites there?

> Could someone explain what the thing with East Texas is? A district where juries and judges are more favorable than usual towards patents?

It started a bit randomly, based on the politics of the region the judges/juries were slightly more favorable toward patents than anywhere else. Then it became self perpetuating since it helps the local economy & the judges own careers.

> This sound kind-of ridiculous, no?

Absolutely ridiculous. Patents are federal law, but 1 small region is effectively making serious changes to that legislation.

> Can't the defending companies find similar anti-patent areas and file counter-suites there?

They do. There are a range of locations, never in east texas. No one place has emerged as THE anti-patent location. For example, Microsoft files suit in Seattle since it's based there, has influence, people want it to win since it's a benefit to their local economy, etc.

The core of the issue (if any) is that historically, the patent system is inextricably tied into the free-market/laissez-faire economic system, which for all its flaws, did create the world as we know it for the last ~ 200 to 300 years which led to an exponential rise in technological development - a unique phase started in the Western world, where now some of the 'successful and well-developed' countries in the Eastern world (e.g. Japan, South Korea, Singapore) have incorporated into their respective systems.

From Stallman's article which did show up here:


"Patent law was intended to promote the publication of useful ideas, at the price of giving the one who publishes an idea a temporary monopoly over it—a price that may be worth paying in some fields and not in others."

The real question is does all software patents come in the last part of the aforesaid sentence: ".....—a price that may be worth paying in some fields and not in others."

A knee-jerk reaction to throw out the baby out with the bathwater by abolishing the whole patent system may not be the right solution here.

> A knee-jerk reaction to throw out the baby out with the bathwater by abolishing the whole patent system may not be the right solution here.

To further that analogy, if that bathwater is a toxic brew with, at least in the software industry, a serious chilling effect on innovation and enterprise is that really a bathwater the baby should be in?

If you can point out to me more success stories because of software patents than nightmare scenarios like the above and the X-Plane saga, then I might agree. But as it stands, the biggest success story, Uniloc, that's relevant to Australia, which is where I am, makes me just pissed off.

Sorry to get back too late for the response as I hadn't seen it earlier.

I do agree that the patent system as it is applied to software (and possibly other areas too like biotechnology) needs to be reformed. I am not defending the status quo but just pointing out that people who argue for abolishing the whole system needs to first understand its historical role before taking a drastic action.

At the risk of over-simplifying, there is a tussle between 'software as a collection of algorithms which in turn are defined as a special class of mathematics' which is not patentable, vs software as a 'product' that provides useful functions which is in-line with how patents have been applied in other areas. Things get a little more complicated with 'process patents' as applied to software.

It is hard to draw a fine line here and I don't claim to have any answers except looking at each case individually and deciding to apply it, sort of like the early definition of art vs porn: "I know it when I see it" (or something to that effect).

Even if you were to grant a expansive protection for functional cases or business methods (implemented by the software), you will still have ridiculous ones like the 'Amazon one-click patent'.

Regarding examples of 'success stories', I am not sure if these apply but the entire model of software business was driven on licenses during its critical growth period in the 1980s. One example is the core functionality of Excel which is probably one of the most successful software ever built:


Even Google's core search ranking algorithm was patented:


I should leave with this comment from PG:


"Frankly, it surprises me how small a role patents play in the software business. It's kind of ironic, considering all the dire things experts say about software patents stifling innovation, but when one looks closely at the software business, the most striking thing is how little patents seem to matter."

If this happens, then maybe Apple will get behind real patent reform.

You mean, like they publicly stated they would when the Googlrola Android lawsuits were settled just recently?

Lip service from the company that patented a rectangle with rounded corners (D670,286).

Could someone explain to me how companies are suppose to avoid infringing on patents?

With a device as complicated as a smartphone it's inevitable that someone holds the patents for numerous parts of the device and the software.

Is there a lawyer that is supposed to check out every single aspect of a device and check for prior patents? If so, then shouldn't the lawyer be responsible in this instance?

Note: I personally don't care if Apple loses patent cases, they've done enough damage with their own frivolous patent lawsuits.

The fact that this is being heard in court and the patent holder is winning means, according to my definition, they aren't patent trolls.

I define "patent troll" as an entity that has a sliver of a chance of winning, but 100% chance that they will impose high costs on the defendant at little cost to themselves. They use this assymetry as a form of legal extortion. They limit their downside by holding few assets aside from the patent.

EDIT: I am in no way commenting on the merit of the case or the 1% figure.

The "definition" of a patent troll (per google search):

"A patent troll, also called a patent assertion entity, is a person or company who enforces patent rights against accused infringers in an attempt to collect licensing fees, but does not manufacture products or supply services based upon the patents in question."

This is always the definition that I understood.

The problem with this definition is that one of the purposes of the patent system is to enable companies that don't produce products but rather produce R&D.

That works fine when you develop a new technology and then offer to license it to people who wouldn't have thought of it before you told them about it. Patenting an obvious concept and then threatening everyone who independently came to the same conclusion is a different matter entirely.

So sort of like Universities?

And independent inventors, and basically anybody that is not a huge corporation and creates something useful.

That popular definition looks too much like political propaganda.

Some universities are absolutely on the list of most aggressive and abusive patent trolls. Some universities are also among those fighting hardest to keep the status quo in place so they can continue to harm the US economy with frivolous patents and milk a broken system.

Yes! We need to get rid of those fat cats in Washington! LULZ.

It is a common definition, but a very unfortunate one. See my reply to 'ghayes upthread.

It is an excellent and fortunate definition. If all you do is hold patents, sue people and companies, and do not make anything or sell goods or services, you're a patent troll. And that's exactly the label that should be slapped on this company.

Hopefully we can get all entities that fit the definition of a patent troll abolished. Also fortunately it's inevitable that the patent troll business will be destroyed. It will be made so difficult and unprofitable, few will attempt it. It's merely a matter of how long it takes and much economic damage is caused by the trolls first.

So you believe that independent inventors and universities are causing great economic damage? Why?

In my mind, the people who are doing damage are those who are taking advantage of the fact that defending oneself against a patent infringement suit is expensive, by suing small businesses with little or no regard to whether they actually infringe; and those taking advantage of low-quality patents that should never have been issued, like the infamous scan-to-email patent.

I think that by equating trolls with NPEs, you are losing an important distinction between the ones doing this damage and entities with valid patents that took real R&D to develop, and who are enforcing them against actual infringers. I don't know how you can say that the latter group don't deserve to be able to enforce their patent rights, unless you want to discard the entire patent system.

In any case I don't think your proposal is going to fly. In contrast, we almost had a bill pass Congress to limit the worst abuses. I still don't understand why this failed.

So we shouldn't be thinking about trolls / not trolls, but just how to rapidly identify and throw out trivial patents and prior art. The fact that you can patent most of these things in the first place is crazy; you didn't do 'real R&D' on these. You just had someone with patent knowledge identify as much patents as possible in a grand collection of things which might well have taken real R&D to come up with. But then you should be forced to patent the whole of things, not every trivial part in it. The infringers / trolls are the ones who sue over trivial stuff which a 4 year old can think up while sitting on the toilet. And that's what most of these are. And most of the others (and a lot of these) are prior art. Making it sound official doesn't change that. What is left might well be the result of real and costly R&D and should be (if it's not software imho) protected for a few years so the investment can be earned back.

I define "patent troll" as anyone who has and defends patents that should have never been issued. So, everyone who has and defends software patents is a troll, and I have no sympathy if they get sued into oblivion by other trolls.

Considering how new the term is we shouldn't so easily define it else we end up like hackers, which is broadly defined but has a negative perception in public.

Your definition is wrong.

There will be great irony if Apple complains about patent reform after this.

Live by the sword, die by the sword. It won't come that far, but Apple certainly has no leg to stand on when it comes to spurious patent claims. Given the size of their war chest, legal department and political clout (reaching as far as the current president of the US, it seems) they'd have a good chance at instigating effective patent reform. Now all that is needed it the will to do so.

hopefully they will loose more money then they made from patents

If patents are in any way good (bullshit, but assume true for now) then I'm ok with this. Why can one person own imaginary property and another cannot? If Amazon can one-click some bullshit, why cannot someone else have exclusive rights to another idea?

Good. When the big companies have to pay real money, they'll fix the software patents problem.

Well, at least they are hitting other (albeit larger) patent trolls... Karma!

What? Apple already get more than 1% of iPhone revenue!

Read "Patient troll on The Verge, winning 1% of iPone revenue"

This is a good illustration for Karma, or "what goes around, comes around". Apple have only paid lip service (at best) to patent reform, so now there might be some serious consequences to that decision.

what goes around comes back around - Justin Timberlake

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