Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Patreon's gratuituos purge of Sargon of Akkad raises curious question about branding and social media companies -- it really does!

Sargon of Akkad (Carl Richard) explains how Patreon’s correspondence with him constitutes a bizarre but curiously rationalizable interpretation of the concept of “brand” or “trademark”.
Patreon doesn’t “like” Carl Benjamin’s “brand”.  OK, probably a lot of people don’t. But is that how platforms, nearly becoming public accommodations, should decide who is an acceptable participant on their site? 

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Can mathematical proofs (or the idea of using them) be patented?

This is a good one from my days (1966-1968) as a graduate student earning an MA in Mathematics at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. That is, a patent on using mathematical proofs, as a “stupid patent of the month”, by Joe Mullin and Daniel Nazer.  The context is trying to prove mathematically (maybe by induction) that a particular piece of software is error-free.

You wonder if a troll will try to patent the quaternion (the basis of the behavior of sub-atomic particles and nuclear forces), or octonion.  I even tweeted that.

When I went to grad school, the curriculum tended to be divided between “algebra” and “analysis”, the latter of which subsumed topology, but they all intermix – with physics and a theory of everything.  
In the meantime, just remember your “given” and “to prove” problems in high school plane geometry.  Do you remember how to prove the Pythagorean Theorem?

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

EFF publishes its trademark, patent and copyright "Takedown Hall of Shame"

I’ll share Electronic Frontier Foundation’s “Takedown Hall of Shame”, well illustrated, here

A couple of the worst events:  In 2013, the Church of Scientology International (CSI) claimed trademark (and copyright) infringement against “” and complained to Godaddy (which may have been the domain name registrar).  Godaddy, misunderstanding trademark law and not bothering to look at it carefully, took it down.

Romance author Falenna Hopkins tried to trademark the word “cocky”.  No, you can’t trademark common words, although you might be able to trademark a string of them as a book series.  I’ve never really tried with my “Do Ask Do Tell”.
Even the suggestion that I could patent the “plot template charts” on one of my Wordpress blogs would make the Hall of Shame if I pursued it.  OK, all you manga comic writers, use it to build your storyboards.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Girl Scouts sue Boy Scouts over trademark infringement when BSA wants to remove "Boys" from its name

Tim Pool has a funny video on Timcast reporting that the Girl Scouts of America have sued the Boy Scouts for trademark infringement in Manhattan federal court.   The suit opposes the BSA from taking "Boys" out of its wordmark, which is ironic. 

This case runs in delicious circles.  Pool gets around to reducing this to miscast idea of feminism, and the radical Left wants its way all the time.

“The power of the single gender environment”???

Remember the case in 2000 where SCOTUS allowed the NSA to exclude gays if they didn’t use public funds (as a private group). Libertarians supported that decision.

My own mother had belonged to “Camp Fire Girls”.

Pool says “we can’t base equity off of identity.”

Friday, November 02, 2018

A patent troll's portfolio on bankruptcy: $1; more on monetizing common phrases

Daniel Nazer’s “Stupid Patent of the Month” series for Electronic Frontier Foundation discusses a troll whose portfolio of 34+ patents was worth $1 when the troll went down, story. The company was called “Shipping and Transit” or Arrivalstar.

I’ve gotten a little snow flurry of robocalls from companies claiming they can republish my books in my “Do Ask Do Tell” series.  I can’t find the companies online.  I wonder if somebody wants to monetize the phrase and I’m in the way of “making money”.
Actually, as we’re find out, the money behind political and even issue speech, even if earned somewhere else, is becoming an issue, and as in the previous post that could conceivably invade the trademark world.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Could activists pressure ICANN, domain registrars and monitors over abusive owners?

Given the vitriolic political climate and the emerging trend, especially from the political Left, to pressure private companies to deplatform “offensive” speakers (especially since Charlottesville in Aug. 2017), I thought it would be good to review ICANN’s own policy documents, here.

There’s nothing there to suggest any specific pressure on them, and the company says it complies with local law enforcement as necessary (about the only TOS issue mentioned specifically is drugs) yet it’s obvious that the blatant misuse of “rogue” or “amateur” domains by dictators in some countries to feed social media must be of concern even at the registration level.

It is significant that there are some restrictions on how some TLD’s may be used. “.com” had been intended for transactional businesses at first, but soon everyone used it and the commercial context got buried.  This might be of some increasing concern today (as respect to political campaign interference with misleading labeling). There were some similar expectations in the early days for “.org” and “.net”.

Some TLD’s have explicit restrictions, like “.name” is only for individuals.  This would raise the question, is any given individual limited to one instance? 

But it also seems that the “.name” TLD could create a way to name a domain to prevent any future trademark dispute.  

I can recall some bizarre disputes in the Web 1.0 pre-2000 period, where domains were sued by companies with similar names when the companies hadn’t even set up websites yet. One of the targets was a stage theater in Portland, OR.
Various TLD’s are managed by separate companies that themselves could come under activist pressure. For example, .com, .tv, and .name are managed by Verisign.  Could individuals be limited to the number of domains (such as maybe only ".name" and only one instance), or have to show transactional business use some day, out of political motives from activist much more concerned about hidden propaganda than anyone imagined even two years ago?  I wonder.  Such a development could seriously hinder the capability of individuals to rebrand themselves if their legacy careers became obsolete and difficult to keep promoting.  People would have to network and cooperate a lot more, and possibly pay heed to the solidarity demands of activists. 

Update: Oct. 28

I misspoke about ".name".  DailyStormer (not an individual) was allowed to have a ".name" domain which works (I tried it on my phone, not on a computer;  it has plausible-looking stories.)  CNN pointed this out Sunday morning.  Will activists pounce on this? 

Monday, October 01, 2018

Virtual reality patents

Daniel Nazer’s latest entry into the “Stupid Patent of the Month” thread at Electronic Frontier Foundation is, well, virtual reality.  Or maybe a couple of minor tweaks to it.  Here is his link

Mid 1999 sounds like the good old days to me, when I was living and working in Minneapolis.  Actually, a difficult time when my mother had heart surgery.  I don’t recall virtual reality being around much then, as is said here.

My own immersion into it came probably at the National Geographic Museum in Washington DC, where many ancient history exhibits include tours with virtual reality goggles. Of perhaps with some New York Times underwater short films to be watched on the phone with goggles (produced with Annapurna Pictures). 
YouTube shows many other virtual reality patents, like a recent one from Walmart for virtual reality shopping.  Will EFF label these as stupid?
Trump just said "patent: very important" in a speech about his trade deal with Canada and Mexico Monday morning Oct. 1, 2018.  I heard him say this with my own ears (and brain). 

Monday, September 17, 2018

The "Waffle maker" problem

Here’s a hypothetical trademark question proposed by Tim Lee  (Ars Technica) on Twitter.  If a restaurant (or motel for free breakfast) buys a “licensed” waffle maker with an image of Mickey Mouse, does it need a license from Disney?  Is this trademark or copyright? 

One answer suggests that it could be trademark issue if the public thought Disney had endorsed it, or had a business relationship with the restaurant or motel chain.

Others thought it was copyright.

Think of this as a law school course final exam question. 

Not part of EU’s “copyright directive”.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Laundromats, wifi cafes still targeted by patent trolls; shell company industry still lobbies Congress to overturn "Alice"

Joe Mullin has an instructive “stupid patent of the month” column July 31 that continues to discuss the problem of “abstract patents”.

The latest case involves Upaid, a company in the British Virgin Islands, attacking laundromats for using prepaid cards or accounts. These accounts are associated with “Card Concepts” and “Laundry Card”. Quite mundane and proletarian indeed. 

I can remember that the prepaid card distribution industry was touted as a possible business opportunity for otherwise unemployed people in the post 9/11 job market recession.

EFF also discusses another case involving simply offering WiFi to customers in a hotel lobby or café.
And patent shell companies are trying to lobby Congress to roll back the Alice decision that limits “do it on a computer” patents.  So that’s another reason why small business and individual speech matters, to counter the bureaucracy of the lobbying industry – and partisanship.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

Crowdfunding platforms saved from patent trolls by Alice decision precedent

Electronic Frontier Foundation reminds us today of the importance of Alice v. CLS Bank (2014, Supreme Court) in patent law:  implementing an abstract idea on a computer doesn’t make it patenable.  I would think Brett Kavanagh wouldn't have a problem with this decision. 
Today, EFF reports on the success of David Rose of startup-helper Gust, in suing Alpha Corp,. and thereby saving most of the crowdfunding platforms online (like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, probably even GoFundMe) which are especially important in the indie film business, from paying a tariff to a troll. Note that the litigation would have gone on in the Eastern District of Texas.
I’m not a fan of doing crowdfunding for causes (as Facebook constantly tries to push me to do), but the day could come when I need it, for my own movie.  But if stupid patents were really to be allowed, I could claim a patent on my screenplay analysis tables on my own blogs. 

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Patent trolls, monopolies, housing prices, 2008 crash -- all interrelated?

Matthew Robare has a detailed article in the American Conservative tying intellectual property policy – specifically patents – that supports big monopolistic business and now discourages innovation. This goes way beyond the issue of trolls. The article notes that people aren’t allowed to tinker with their own property. Here is the link
The article links this to zoning policies and lack of enforcement of anti-trust laws, that not only bids up the costs of housing for everyone but also encourage over dependence on cars, fossil fuels, and mega-businesses that don’t property support the communities they move in to.  This is more something you hear from liberals.  But this is a Cato Institute-like essay.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Washington Times criticizes lack of patent rights, but what about the trolls?

The Washington Times has an op-ed, July 24, by Jon Kyl and Joshua Wright, “Preserving American industrial competitiveness” with the byline “It depends on strong and reliable patent rights”, link .

The article suggests that companies are infringing on patents rather than negotiate for “fair licenses” (what is called “efficient infringement”).
But the article doesn’t talk about the issue of patent trolling, which is a terrible issue with “abstract processes” and sometimes software patents.  So what about EFF’s “stupid patent of the month”?

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. 

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.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Why my own news "brand" is important to me

Although maybe not a legal question regarding trademark strictly speaking, my own insistence on maintaining my own personal “brand” of news reporting and commentary in my books and blogs can raise troubling questions.

My “brand” has consisted of using the “” site name and workmark for the books, as well as my own legal name (John W. Boushka) and parental-given nickname (Bill Boushka).  I suppose the nickname could complicate things further, but I have never heard a complaint from extended family members.

There is some controversy because my operations don’t pay their own way or make much money, so they seem gratuitous, attention-getting, and intended to distract readers from more conventional group-centered (even “intersectional”) activism.  That can raise a variety of crisscrossing questions on matters like business licenses and home-based businesses, all the way to election law (the 2005 controversy about free political “blogging” presented on these pages before).
What I want to reinforce today is the importance to me of my own “brand”, and that I not be a conduit for somebody else’s speech.  It may sound problematical to say that shouting in a demonstration is “beneath me”;  but in any sense doing so is not my own “game”. 

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Trademarked franchise brands get protected aggressively, and this affects decisions of a lot of small business owners

Will businesses that use names similar to those of established franchises (like the same first word or number) face trademark infringement suits?
It’s interesting that so many of the major retail marks are indeed franchises owned by public companies, which have a fiduciary responsibility toward shareholders.  So they must protect their marks even in situations that may sound silly. 
The use of franchise brands has a major impact on decisions that small business owners make.  Often they feel pressured to work with a major brand franchise than work on their own.  It strikes me that immigrants are often very good at managing franchises as they have learned these skills in their home countries through their families.

The brands can even matter in the media, with televisions shows (which are usually "series" and qualify as franchises) and movie sequels. 

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Blackberry sues Facebook over patents underlying Messenger

BlackBerry, which we haven’t heard as much about (Research in Motion) recently, since Obama gave up his in 2009 (I switched over to Droid in 2010 and eventually iPhone), is suing Facebook for patent infringement over several features in Facebook messenger.  Timothy B. Lee explains the cross litigation in Ars Technica.  Lee describes this as “weaponizing instant messaging patents”.

These patents sound more "valid" than some others that get trolled. but some of them still sound largely conceptual, like the "icons with numeric badges". 
My own iPhone has a button for Messages and for Facebook Messenger, two separate apps.

Friday, February 02, 2018

I propose my own "stupid patent of the month" for EFF

I propose a stupid patent of the month, before Electronic Frontier Foundation finds out.  

I’ve developed a way of keeping track of all the elements of a plot of a novel on a Microsoft Access database.  Then I sort them by presentation (chapter, subchapter) sequence and tie characters to various events, with comments to help tie loose ends.

I then copy them into a simple HTML table for a blog posting.
An example is here

I shared it with a friend, a much younger gay man, also writing a novel yesterday.
It struck me, people try to sell these ideas to patent troll companies.  I “give it away” free.  

Monday, January 01, 2018

Does USPTO's own fee set-up unintentionally encourage patent trolling?

Timothy B. Lee has an important article on Ars Technica, referring to a Brookings study, on how the current fee system at USPTO may unintentionally incentivize the USPTO to keep issuing low quality patents, to “trolls”. Lee mentions EFF’s series “Stupid Patent of the Month”.

The basic idea is to collect an application fee (and renewal fee) but not an issuance fee.


A Twitter response called USPTO’s current system “penny wise and pound foolish”.