Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Foreign language teacher and online course author fends of another "stupid patent of the month"

This story sounds like one of the worst abuses of patent of all time.
A language teacher Mihalis Eleftheriou was served notice that his Language Transfer online classes project infringed on a patent that seemed based on only the abstract process of teaching a foreign language through a recorded medium.  That reminds me of the language lab at GW back in 1962 when I was taking freshman German.

Electronic Frontier Foundation displays the letter it sent to the plaintiff in respect July 2 
  and describes the incident in an article by Robert Nazier here

The plaintiff even demanded that he cancel plans to publish a book about his lessons.  Censorship like this is not even covered by patent law.

This is a rather shocking story.  But occasionally big corporate interests are running wild in their attempt to quell any conceivable competition, as we find out from all the other issues right now (ranging from net neutrality to the new fight in Europe over the Copyright Directive).

Thursday, June 28, 2018

"Red Hen" businesses get a quick lesson in "trademark" in the eyes of the people

I don’t have my own pictures of any Red Hen restaurants, and I may get one in DC this weekend.  I understand the one in Lexington VA may be closed for a little while, not sure when to make a visit.

The trashing of other businesses called “Red Hen” along the entire East Coast has pointed out that similarly named restaurants or retail stores that are not parts of trademarked franchises are indeed running into this sort of concern by a somewhat illiterate public, often with extremists on all sides of the political spectra. I’m used to seeing this, as I drive around a lot.  It’s common to see food businesses in West Virginia use the same names as those in Virginia but be totally independent (not franchises).  I’ve blogged about it, and made a couple of them nervous!  The Internet has changed the way the public perceives branding and even local business names.

Trademark, however, is partly based on the notion that an average consumer is not supposed to be responsible for knowing how all these businesses are run.  I learned a little more about this than some people growing up because my father traveled around a lot as a salesman (manufacturer’s representative) so I had some idea what a “brand” really means even from family upbringing.

The other comment about the Red Hen matter is, of course, is this the right wing’s just desserts, or their “own medicine”, for Masterpiece Cakeshop?  Is this Sarah Sanders’s personal karma?   You know the old adage, be careful what you wish for.
I do not personally condone business owners’ refusing to serve anyone for religious or political reasons.

Update: June 30

Here is are photos of the DC Red Hen. Note the book that looks like mine in their library.  Dinner last night before going to Town.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Facebook's seven "stupid patents of the month"

Sahil Chinoy has a little booklet in the New York Times, “What 7 Creepy Patents Reveal About Facebook”, with illustrations by Abdree Wee. 

So we have seven “stupid patents of the month” for Electronic Frontier Foundation to report and they are indeed creep, analyzing human personality types and personal contacts. Third parties, even employers, could score these before hiring you.  Platforms could kick you off if you scored poorly.  This reminds me of China’s planned social credit score.  Could China patent that in the US?

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.