Thursday, June 21, 2018

The history of software patents explained on Ars Technica




Timothy B. Lee has a very long (booklet-length) article in Ars Technica, “Why the Supreme Court’s Software Patent Ban Didn’t Last”.
  
This would also fit well on Electronic Frontier Foundation’s series on stupid patents.
  
The article stresses a couple of historical decisions, Flook in 1978, and Alice in 2014.  The Federal Circuit has generally been more friendly to questionable patents than the Supreme Court itself.
  
True, a mathematical theorem (Pythagorean, or the 4-color problem, or Liouville's) or formula (quadratic, like in Algebra 1) can’t be patented. Nor can a well established computer programming method today (I would wonder right off whether methods in an OOP java library can be patented, unclear) 

  
Somewhere, when solving a problem in the real world with real objects uses math, it can be. Jack Andraka’s patent app (2014), documented on Google (based originally on a science fair project that won a contest in 2013) depends on real world biology and various other objects (nanotubes), however “simple”.  But the purported “process” has to work (here, medically) and get approved by the FDA.

Friday, June 15, 2018

No, you can't patent a mathematical formula (even a new law of physics)



EFF’s “Stupid Patent of the Month” in May, by Joe Mullin, says, “Facebook joins the online dating arms race”.  What’s even funnier is that it stresses relationships, not just hookups. This idea could well be motivated in part by the passage of FOSTA in March, which makes promotion of any kind of hookup online border on prostitution aka trafficking, and legally risky. Yet, Facebook wants its member to interact, not just talk at each other, right?

Tim Lee, of Ars Technica, has a series of tweets regarding software patents, saying that the Supreme Court has ruled that they don’t make sense until Congress says they do. There is also some commentary on whether mathematical formulas can be patented – no, they can’t.  I suggested to Tim that he send this over to EFF for a “stupid patent of the month” essay.
  
My favorite stupid patent is my own color coding scheme for identifying screenplay elements, and putting them into a table.  But I gave it away free in a blog. Other authors (including one doing a graphic novel aka movie proposal) could use it.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Does one's own social media page impart a personal brand? Does raising money for "other people's causes" dilute that brand?



Just a note on my own sense of branding.

Sometimes Facebook friends have approached me to run fundraisers on my own Facebook page for them.

I feel that my public “brand” is about reporting things and analyzing them, but not on playing favorites on asking people for money for very narrow and specific causes or specific people.  So I don’t generally do this with my social media pages or sites.

I do make my charitable donations to organizations through a trust (which is explained in more detail on a Wordpress blog).  I will generally try to find an organization that can help a particular cause or group and make the donations privately, although I am likely to report on the organization on my social media or blogs.

The latest case concerned a journalist falsely imprisoned (probably) in a Latin American country.  
  
 The appropriate charity (for foreign legal defense) is CPJ. 

Thursday, May 10, 2018

If you drive around to nearby states, you notice a lot of potential trademark disputes waiting to happen



No “stupid patent” today, or even stupid trademark.

But I’ll mention a few brands I’ve seen “on the road”.

One is a boutique called “Tuesday Morning” in Centerville VA.  I guess a day of the week could make an attractive brand, but common words could get more scrutiny. (Of course, I’ve long eaten at “Friday’s”, at Tyson’s (near the AMC), or near Bailey’s Crossroads (just barely in Alexandria.)  And there the well known chain “Ruby Tuesday” which is also nearby. Often well-known words do get grabbed by franchise owners (but Trump is also franchised – it would be bad if you couldn’t use your own name for a domain because a company had franchised it).  

The (new?) brand seems to recognize Monday holidays. 
  

A couple startups got into a trademark dispute with the Washington Nationals baseball team in MLB. Post story.

  
But doesn’t the Walgreens logo match that of the Nats?  (The curl at the tip is slightly different.) They are in different line of business.  But trade dress is probably more sensitive than wordmark alone. (The Nats' W is usually white on red background; Walgreen's the opposite.) 
   
Driving Rt 9 into Berkeley Springs W Va I noticed a “Black Dog” shop.  Remember July 28, 2012 I talked about the “Lost Dog” controversy. 

Update: Sunday, May 27, 2018



I needed to go to a Best Buy in Dallas to get an accessory that I had forgotten to pack. On US 75 (north of Park Lane) there is one of the largest Best Buy's in the US.  Next to it -- guess what -- a big sign pointing to "Tuesday Morning," 

I had tried to look in a CVS earlier -- and I noted that a CVS store around Beltline had exactly the same floor plan as a large store in Arlington VA.  Does branding mean the same conveniences in the same place? 

It's getting to the point that anyone who wants to own a business open to the public in the usual sense of conducting retail transactions has to pay attention to the world of franchises. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Supreme Court upholds internal patent reviews, making it less costly to challenge trolls



Timothy B. Lee of Ars Technica reports that the Supreme Court has struck a blow on patent trolls by upholding part of the 2011 “American Invents Act”, the “Inter partes” review or IPR.  Here’s the Opinion. The decision was 7-2.  The case was Oil States’ Energy v. Greene’s Energy Group.

  
There is a philosophical question as to whether patents are private “property rights” or part of a government’s property.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

SSL's seem to be involved in the concept of "branding" v domain names



There seems to be a remote connection between the issuance of SSL certificates and the concept of brand validation, as noted near the end of this explanation of how Positive SSL works on a site by Namecheap / Comodo.  The concept of a CSR, or certificate signing request, is also relevant.
  
Apparently an industry-sponsored entity called the “certificate authority” can question the authenticity of the SSL request if there is a “brand validation” step expected by the CA.  This sounds like the idea of trademark.  But in the domain name world, domain name disputes are resolved by procedures within ICANN, which sometimes might consider trademark issues along lines similar to US law but not necessarily identical.  In general, entities within different businesses can use the same root name but a different tld.  But, given the complexity of some businesses, the importance of brand name licensing in franchised businesses (like Trump’s!), and various growing political and social tensions, it sounds plausible that new issues can be brought to bear on CA’s.
  
SSL’s used to be sold as a way to protect consumers making purchases from a site or logging in to a site and sharing some components of PII which could otherwise by intercepted by hackers.  That has receded in importance since purchases are most often sent to very large third-party e-commerce sites anyway (although that practice has become controversial to some interests in the on-demand book publishing business and even in music distribution and some independent film).  Now the concern is more about the possibility of determined foreign attacks even on ordinary Internet browsing, “man in the middle attacks” (scareware), browser hijack and firewall compromise. SSL’s should emphasize just the mechanics of secure encryption and not become involved with the political problems surrounding branding and trademark, within the US and internationally.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The "do it on a computer" process pieces -- supposedly not patentable, but defendants are still struggling with discovery expenses


Electronic Frontier Foundation has an essay in its “stupid patent of the month” series, on the Alice v. CLS  Bank case, decided in June 2014, when the Supreme Court ruled that you can’t patent an abstract “do it on a computer” process.  (Or maybe, do it on a mobile phone?)   
  
Is this the “Alice the Toothpick” case for plumbers?  It had to do with trolls attacking electronic tokens (the “838 patent”)  or e-money circulating in e-commerce (not to be confused with true digital currencies). 
  
   
But Joe Mullin points out that a new case “Berkheimer v. HP” may slow down the easy defense claimed by defendants in these cases and require more money spent on discovery, in cases which the defendants will eventually win.