Programming

Profile of William H. Alsup, a Judge Who Codes and Decides Tech's Biggest Cases (theverge.com) 35

Sarah Jeong at The Verge has an interesting profile of William H. Alsup, the judge in Oracle v. Google case, who to many's surprise was able to comment on the technical issues that Oracle and Google were fighting about. Alsup admits that he learned the Java programming language only so that he could better understand the substance of the case. Here's an excerpt from the interview: On May 18th, 2012, attorneys for Oracle and Google were battling over nine lines of code in a hearing before Judge William H. Alsup of the northern district of California. The first jury trial in Oracle v. Google, the fight over whether Google had hijacked code from Oracle for its Android system, was wrapping up. The argument centered on a function called rangeCheck. Of all the lines of code that Oracle had tested -- 15 million in total -- these were the only ones that were "literally" copied. Every keystroke, a perfect duplicate. It was in Oracle's interest to play up the significance of rangeCheck as much as possible, and David Boies, Oracle's lawyer, began to argue that Google had copied rangeCheck so that it could take Android to market more quickly. Judge Alsup was not buying it. "I couldn't have told you the first thing about Java before this trial," said the judge. "But, I have done and still do a lot of programming myself in other languages. I have written blocks of code like rangeCheck a hundred times or more. I could do it. You could do it. It is so simple." It was an offhand comment that would snowball out of control, much to Alsup's chagrin. It was first repeated among lawyers and legal wonks, then by tech publications. With every repetition, Alsup's skill grew, until eventually he became "the judge who learned Java" -- Alsup the programmer, the black-robed nerd hero, the 10x judge, the "master of the court and of Java."
Books

Amazon E-Book Buyers Receive Payment From Antitrust Lawsuit Settlement (idropnews.com) 41

If you bought a Kindle e-book between April 2010 and May 2012, you might see some Amazon credit coming your way. The company is reportedly distributing funds from an antitrust lawsuit that it levied at Apple in 2013. From a report: Amazon has set up a website listing the available credits, and it has begun sending out emails this morning to U.S. customers who are eligible for a refund. Apple and a handful of book publishers, including Penguin, HarperCollins, Machete Book Group and Macmillan, were found guilty of conspiring to inflate the prices of e-books in order to weaken Amazon's grip on the market. While the book publishers settled out of court, Apple decided to fight the lawsuit and appealed several times. Eventually, it was ordered to pay a total of $450 million in the protracted antitrust case.

Several refunds have already been distributed because of the lawsuit. In fact, the bulk of credits were sent out in 2014 and 2016. The round of credits being sent out today comes from an earmarked $20 million meant to pay states involved in the suit. The Amazon credits have a six-month shelf life and must be spent by April 20, 2018, or they'll expire. In addition the Amazon credits, customers may also be receiving Apple credits that can be used toward iBooks, iTunes and App Store purchases. Apple is currently notifying eligible customers via email.

The Courts

Tesla Faces Lawsuit For Racial Harassment In Its Factories (mercurynews.com) 140

Three former Tesla factory workers have filed a lawsuit against the company, claiming they were subject to constant racial discrimination and harassment in the electric car company's factories. "The men, who are African-American, claim in a new complaint filed Monday in state court that Tesla supervisors and workers used racial epithets and drew racist graffiti on cardboard boxes," reports The Mercury News. From the report: The new suit is the second by black employees charging Tesla failed to address racial antagonism at its factory. The electric vehicle maker also has a hearing before the National Labor Relations Board over claims it illegally tried to silence workers promoting a union. The complaints come as the Tesla heads into a crucial ramp-up of Model 3 production, its lower-cost electric vehicle. A Tesla spokesman denied the suit's allegations and said the men never raised the complaints to the company during their brief time at the plant. "Given our size, we recognize that unfortunately at times there will be cases of harassment or discrimination in corners of the company," the spokesman said. "From what we know so far, this does not seem to be such a case." The suit, filed in Alameda County Superior Court, claims Owen Diaz and his son, Demetric, were called the N-word while they worked at the Fremont factory, and supervisors did little to stop it. A third man, Lamar Patterson, also claims he was subjected to insensitive racist remarks.
Patents

Tribal 'Sovereign Immunity' Patent Protection Could Be Outlawed (arstechnica.com) 91

AnalogDiehard writes: The recent -- and questionable -- practice of technological and pharmaceutical companies selling their patents to U.S. native Indian tribes (where they enjoy "sovereign immunity" from the inter partes review (IPR) process of the PTO) and then the tribes licensing them back to the companies is drawing scrutiny from a federal court and has inspired a new U.S. bill outlawing the practice. The IPR process is a "fast track" (read: much less expensive) process through the PTO to review the validity of challenged patents -- it is loved by defendants and hated by patent holders. Not only has U.S. Circuit Judge William Bryson invalidated Allergan's pharmaceutical patents due to "obviousness," he is questioning the legitimacy of the sovereign immunity tactic. The judge was well aware that the tactic could endanger the IPR process, which was a central component of the America Invents Act of 2011, and writes that sovereign immunity "should not be treated as a monetizable commodity that can be purchased by private entities as part of a scheme to evade their legal responsibility." U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) -- no stranger to abuses of the patent system -- has introduced a bill that would outlaw the practice she describes as "one of the most brazen and absurd loopholes I've ever seen and it should be illegal." Sovereign immunity is not absolute and has been limited by Congress and the courts in the past. The bill would apply only to the IPR proceedings and not to patent disputes in federal courts.
Piracy

Netflix, Amazon, Movie Studios Sue Over TickBox Streaming Device (arstechnica.com) 128

Movies studios, Netflix, and Amazon have teamed up to file a lawsuit against a streaming media player called TickBox TV. The device in question runs Kodi on top of Android 6.0, and searches the internet for streams that it can make available to users without actually hosting any of the content itself. An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The complaint (PDF), filed Friday, says the TickBox devices are nothing more than "tool[s] for mass infringement," which operate by grabbing pirated video streams from the Internet. The lawsuit was filed by Amazon and Netflix Studios, along with six big movie studios that make up the Motion Picture Association of America: Universal, Columbia, Disney, Paramount, 20th Century Fox, and Warner Bros.

"What TickBox actually sells is nothing less than illegal access to Plaintiffs' copyrighted content," write the plaintiffs' lawyers. "TickBox TV uses software to link TickBox's customers to infringing content on the Internet. When those customers use TickBox TV as Defendant intends and instructs, they have nearly instantaneous access to multiple sources that stream Plaintiffs' Copyrighted Works without authorization." The device's marketing materials let users know the box is meant to replace paid-for content, with "a wink and a nod," by predicting that prospective customers who currently pay for Amazon Video, Netflix, or Hulu will find that "you no longer need those subscriptions." The lawsuit shows that Amazon and Netflix, two Internet companies that are relatively new to the entertainment business, are more than willing to join together with movie studios to go after businesses that grab their content.

Patents

Apple To Appeal Five-Year-Long Patent Battle After $439.7 Million Loss (theverge.com) 69

Appel has been ordered to pay $439.7 million to the patent-holding firm VirnetX for infringing on four patented technologies that were apparently used in FaceTime and other iOS apps. According to The Verge, Apple plans to appeal the ruling -- continuing this long-running patent battle, which began back in 2012. From the report: VirnetX first filed suit against Apple in 2010, winning $368 million just two years later. It then sued again in 2012, which is the suit that's being ruled on today. Apple initially lost the suit, then filed for a mistrial. It won a new trial, lost that trial, was ordered to pay around $300 million, then lost some more and is now having that amount upped even further. That's because a judge found Apple guilty of willful infringement, bumping its payment amount from $1.20 per infringing Apple device to $1.80 per device. Those include certain iPhones, iPads, and Macs. VirnetX says the ruling is "very reasonable." Apple didn't issue a statement other than to say that it plans to appeal. While $440 million isn't a lot of money for Apple, there's principle at stake here: VirnetX is a patent troll that makes its money from licensing patents and suing other parties. The company's SEC filing states, "Our portfolio of intellectual property is the foundation of our business model."
Microsoft

US Supreme Court To Decide Microsoft Email Privacy Dispute (reuters.com) 69

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday agreed to resolve a major privacy dispute between the Justice Department and Microsoft Corp over whether prosecutors should get access to emails stored on company servers overseas. From a report: The justices will hear the Trump administration's appeal of a lower court's ruling last year preventing federal prosecutors from obtaining emails stored in Microsoft computer servers in Dublin, Ireland in a drug trafficking investigation. That decision by the New York-based 2nd U.S. Court of Appeals marked a victory for privacy advocates and technology companies that increasingly offer cloud computing services in which data is stored remotely. Microsoft, which has 100 data centers in 40 countries, was the first U.S. company to challenge a domestic search warrant seeking data held outside the country. There have been several similar challenges, most brought by Google.
Technology

IT Admin Trashes Railroad Company's Network Before He Leaves (bleepingcomputer.com) 212

Catalin Cimpanu, writing for BleepingComputer: A federal jury in Minneapolis, Minnesota found a local man guilty of intentionally damaging his former employer's network before leaving the company. The man's name is Christopher Victor Grupe, 46, and from September 2013 until December 2015 he worked as an IT professional for the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), a transcontinental railroad based in Alberta, Canada. Things went sideways in December 2015 when CPR suspended Grupe for 12 days for yelling and using inadequate language with his boss. When the man returned to work following his suspension on December 15, management told Grupe they were going to fire him for insubordination. According to court documents obtained by Bleeping Computer, Grupe asked management to resign, effective immediately. He promised to come back the following days and return company property such as his laptop, remote access device, and access badges. He did return the items, as promised, but not before taking the laptop for a last spin inside CPR's network. Court documents show Grupe accessed the company's switches and removed admin accounts, changed passwords for other admin accounts, and deleted log files. When done, Grupe wiped his laptop and returned it to CPR's Minnesota office on December 17, two days after he resigned.
Businesses

Qualcomm Seeks China iPhone Ban, Escalating Apple Legal Fight (bloomberg.com) 36

Qualcomm filed lawsuits in China seeking to ban the sale and manufacture of iPhones in the country, the chipmaker's biggest shot at Apple so far in a sprawling and bitter legal fight. From a report: The San Diego-based company aims to inflict pain on Apple in the world's largest market for smartphones and cut off production in a country where most iPhones are made. The product provides almost two-thirds of Apple's revenue. Qualcomm filed the suits in a Beijing intellectual property court claiming patent infringement and seeking injunctive relief, according to Christine Trimble, a company spokeswoman. "Apple employs technologies invented by Qualcomm without paying for them," Trimble said. An Apple spokesman didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday. Qualcomm's suits are based on three non-standard essential patents, it said. They cover power management and a touch-screen technology called Force Touch that Apple uses in current iPhones, Qualcomm said. The inventions "are a few examples of the many Qualcomm technologies that Apple uses to improve its devices and increase its profits," Trimble said. The company made the filings at the Beijing court on Sept. 29. The court has not yet made them public.
Google

Alphabet's Waymo Demanded $1 Billion In Settlement Talks With Uber (reuters.com) 11

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: Alphabet's Waymo sought at least $1 billion in damages and a public apology from Uber as conditions for settling its high-profile trade secret lawsuit against the ride-services company, sources familiar with the proposal told Reuters. The Waymo self-driving car unit also asked that an independent monitor be appointed to ensure Uber does not use Waymo technology in the future, the sources said. Uber rejected those terms as non-starters, said the sources, who were not authorized to publicly discuss settlement talks. The precise dollar amount requested by Waymo and the exact time the offer was made could not be learned.

Waymo's tough negotiating stance, which has not been previously reported, reflects the company's confidence in its legal position after months of pretrial victories in a case which may help to determine who emerges in the forefront of the fast-growing field of self-driving cars. The aggressive settlement demands also suggest that Waymo is not in a hurry to resolve the lawsuit, in part because of its value as a distraction for Uber leadership, said Elizabeth Rowe, a trade secret expert at the University of Florida Levin College of Law.

Privacy

US Government Has 'No Right To Rummage' Through Anti-Trump Protest Website Logs, Says Judge (theregister.co.uk) 277

A Washington D.C. judge has told the U.S. Department of Justice it "does not have the right to rummage" through the files of an anti-Trump protest website -- and has ordered the dot-org site's hosting company to protect the identities of its users. The Register reports: Chief Judge Robert E. Morin issued the revised order [PDF] Tuesday following a high-profile back and forth between the site's hosting biz DreamHost and prosecutors over what details Uncle Sam was entitled to with respect to the disruptj20.org website. "As previously observed, courts around the country have acknowledged that, in searches for electronically stored information, evidence of criminal activity will likely be intermingled with communications and other records not within the scope of the search warrant," he noted in his ruling. "Because of the potential breadth of the government's review in this case, the warrant in its execution may implicate otherwise innocuous and constitutionally protected activity. As the Court has previously stated, while the government has the right to execute its Warrant, it does not have the right to rummage through the information contained on DreamHost's website and discover the identity of, or access communications by, individuals not participating in alleged criminal activity, particularly those persons who were engaging in protected First Amendment activities." The order then lists a series of protocols designed to protect netizens "to comply with First Amendment and Fourth Amendment considerations, and to prevent the government from obtaining any identifying information of innocent persons."
Businesses

FCC's Claim That One ISP Counts As 'Competition' Faces Scrutiny In Court (arstechnica.com) 200

Jon Brodkin reports via Ars Technica: A Federal Communications Commission decision to eliminate price caps imposed on some business broadband providers should be struck down, advocacy groups told federal judges last week. The FCC failed to justify its claim that a market can be competitive even when there is only one Internet provider, the groups said. Led by Chairman Ajit Pai, the FCC's Republican majority voted in April of this year to eliminate price caps in a county if 50 percent of potential customers "are within a half mile of a location served by a competitive provider." That means business customers with just one choice are often considered to be located in a competitive market and thus no longer benefit from price controls. The decision affects Business Data Services (BDS), a dedicated, point-to-point broadband link that is delivered over copper-based TDM networks by incumbent phone companies like AT&T, Verizon, and CenturyLink.

But the FCC's claim that "potential competition" can rein in prices even in the absence of competition doesn't stand up to legal scrutiny, critics of the order say. "In 2016, after more than 10 years of examining the highly concentrated Business Data Services market, the FCC was poised to rein in anti-competitive pricing in the BDS market to provide enterprise customers, government agencies, schools, libraries, and hospitals with much-needed relief from monopoly rates," Phillip Berenbroick, senior policy counsel at consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge said. But after Republicans gained the FCC majority in 2017, "the commission illegally reversed course without proper notice and further deregulated the BDS market, leaving consumers at risk of paying up to $20 billion a year in excess charges from monopolistic pricing," Berenbroick said.

Australia

Unsent Text On Mobile Counts As a Will, Australian Court Finds (abc.net.au) 144

A court in Australia has accepted an unsent, draft text message on a dead man's mobile phone as an official will. The 55-year-old man had composed a text message addressed to his brother, in which he gave "all that I have" to his brother and nephew. From a report: The Supreme Court in Brisbane heard the 55-year-old took his own life in October 2016, after composing a text addressed to his brother, which indicated his brother and nephew should "keep all that I have," because he was unhappy with this wife. A friend found the text message in the drafts folder of the man's mobile phone, which was found near his body. The unsent message detailed how to access the man's bank account details and where he wanted his ashes to be buried.
Encryption

Justice Department To Be More Aggressive In Seeking Encrypted Data From Tech Companies (wsj.com) 204

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Wall Street Journal (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source): The Justice Department signaled Tuesday it intends to take a more aggressive posture in seeking access to encrypted information from technology companies, setting the stage for another round of clashes in the tug of war between privacy and public safety. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein issued the warning in a speech in Annapolis, Md., saying that negotiating with technology companies hasn't worked. "Warrant-proof encryption is not just a law enforcement problem," Mr. Rosenstein said at a conference at the U.S. Naval Academy. "The public bears the cost. When our investigations of violent criminal organizations come to a halt because we cannot access a phone, even with a court order, lives may be lost." Mr. Rosenstein didn't say what precise steps the Justice Department or Trump administration would take. Measures could include seeking court orders to compel companies to cooperate or a push for legislation. A Justice Department official said no specific plans were in the works and Mr. Rosenstein's speech was intended to spur public awareness and discussion of the issue because companies "have no incentive to address this on their own."
Movies

It's Illegal to Pirate Films in Iran, Unless You're the Government (vice.com) 35

An anonymous reader shares a report: While legal "pirating" exists in Iran, six administrators of the Iranian pirate movie site TinyMoviez have been arrested by Iranian authorities. This was a website the Iranian national broadcaster had used to download and nationally air movies in the past. The exact date of the arrests are unknown, but Tehran's Prosecutor General announced the arrests on September 26, 2017. The website is still online, but users haven't been able to download content from it since September 19, 2017. Now TinyMoviez administrators are finding themselves on the wrong side of Iran's odd and often pirating friendly copyright laws. Iran's copyright law is a quagmire when it comes to understanding what rights exists for creators of an original piece of work, and what rights exist for those wanting to re-distribute original works, such as movies. Meanwhile, Article 8 gives the government broad powers to reproduce work that is not its own. This means that the government is exempt from Article 23, which criminalizes the theft of another's work.
Earth

EPA Announces Repeal of Major Obama-Era Carbon Emissions Rule (nytimes.com) 316

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The New York Times (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source: The Trump administration announced Monday that it would take formal steps to repeal President Barack Obama's signature policy to curb greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, setting up a bitter fight over the future of America's efforts to tackle global warming. At an event in eastern Kentucky, Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, said that his predecessors had departed from regulatory norms in crafting the Clean Power Plan, which was finalized in 2015 and would have pushed states to move away from coal in favor of sources of electricity that produce fewer carbon emissions. The repeal proposal, which will be filed in the Federal Register on Tuesday, fulfills a promise President Trump made to eradicate his predecessor's environmental legacy. Eliminating the Clean Power Plan makes it less likely the United States can fulfill its promise as part of the Paris climate agreement to ratchet down emissions that are warming the planet and contributing to heat waves and sea-level rise. Mr. Trump has vowed to abandon that international accord.

In announcing the repeal, Mr. Pruitt made many of the same arguments that he had made for years to Congress and in lawsuits: that the Obama administration exceeded its legal authority in an effort to limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. (Last year, the Supreme Court blocked the rule from taking effect while courts assessed those lawsuits.) A leaked draft of the repeal proposal asserts that the country would save $33 billion by not complying with the regulation and rejects the health benefits the Obama administration had calculated from the original rule.

Google

Google Accused of Racketeering. Lawsuit Claims 'Pattern' Of Trade Secret Thefts (mercurynews.com) 153

schwit1 quotes the Mercury News: In an explosive new allegation, a renowned architect has accused Google of racketeering, saying in a lawsuit the company has a pattern of stealing trade secrets from people it first invites to collaborate. Architect Eli Attia spent 50 years developing what his lawsuit calls "game-changing new technology" for building construction. Google in 2010 struck a deal to work with him on commercializing it as software, and Attia moved with his family from New York to Palo Alto to focus on the initiative, code-named "Project Genie." The project was undertaken in Google's secretive "Google X" unit for experimental "moonshots."

But then Google and its co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin "plotted to squeeze Attia out of the project" and pretended to kill it but used Attia's technology to "surreptitiously" spin off Project Genie into a new company, according to the lawsuit... This week, a judge in Santa Clara County Superior Court approved the addition of racketeering claims to the lawsuit originally filed in 2014. Attia's legal team uncovered six other incidents in which Google had engaged in a "substantially similar fact pattern of misappropriation of trade secrets" from other people or companies, according to a July 25 legal filing from Attia.

Wired reported yesterday that Project Loon -- also a Google X project -- "is embroiled in a lawsuit with Space Data, a small company accusing Alphabet of patent infringement, misappropriation of trade secrets, and breach of contract following a failed acquisition bid."

The lawyer for the racketeering suit complains Google can deploy a "virtually unlimited budget to fight these things in court."
Education

Publishers Take ResearchGate To Court, Seek Removal of Millions of Papers (sciencemag.org) 66

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Science Magazine: Scholarly publishing giants Elsevier and the American Chemical Society (ACS) have filed a lawsuit in Germany against ResearchGate, a popular academic networking site, alleging copyright infringement on a mass scale. The move comes after a larger group of publishers became dissatisfied with ResearchGate's response to a request to alter its article-sharing practices. ResearchGate, a for-profit firm based in Berlin, Germany, which was founded in 2008, is one of the largest social networking sites aimed at the academic community. It claims more than 13 million users, who can use their personal pages to upload and share a wide range of material, including published papers, book chapters and meeting presentations.

Yesterday, a group of five publishers -- ACS, Elsevier, Brill, Wiley and Wolters Kluwer -- announced that ResearchGate had rejected the association's proposal. Instead, the group, which calls itself the "Coalition for Responsible Sharing," said in a October 5th statement that ResearchGate suggested publishers should send the company formal notices, called "takedown notices," asking it to remove content that breaches copyright. The five publishers will be sending takedown notices, according to the group. But the coalition also alleges that ResearchGate is illicitly making as many as 7 million copyrighted articles freely available, and that the company's "business model depends on the distribution of these in-copyright articles to generate traffic to its site, which is then commercialized through the sale of targeted advertising." The coalition also states that sending millions of takedown notices "is not a viable long-term solution, given the current and future scale of infringement Sending large numbers of takedown notices on an ongoing basis will prove highly disruptive to the research community." As a result, two coalition members -- ACS and Elsevier -- have opted to go to court to try to force ResearchGate's hand.

Slashdot.org

20 Years of Stuff That Matters 726

Today we're marking Slashdot's 20th birthday. 20 years is a long time on the internet. Many websites have come and gone over that time, and many that stuck around haven't had any interest in preserving their older content. Fortunately, as Slashdot approaches its 163,000th story, we've managed to keep track of almost all our old postings - all but the first 2^10, or so. In addition to that, we've held onto user comments, the lifeblood of the site, from 1999 onward. As we celebrate Slashdot's 20th anniversary this month, we thought we'd take a moment to highlight a few of the notable or interesting stories and discussions that have happened here in the past decade and a half. This is part of our 20-year anniversary celebration, and we've set up a page to coordinate user meet-ups. We'll be continuing to run some special pieces throughout the month, so keep an eye out for those.

Read on for a trip down memory lane.

Update: Slashdot founder CmdrTaco has taken to Medium with some of his own Slashdot nostalgia.
Patents

US Congress Investigates Patent 'Gifts' That Evade Inter Partes Review (arstechnica.com) 55

AnalogDiehard writes: Congress created the Inter Partes Review (IPR) in 2012 within the U.S. Patent Office Patent Trials and Appeals Board (PTAB) as a faster and cheaper way to challenge and invalidate bad patents. The IPR expense is a fraction of the cost of a multimillion dollar patent court trial; it is loved by patent challengers and hated by patent owners. The pharmaceutical company Allergen has exploited a novel tactic to evade the IPR process: they hand them to a Native American Indian tribe for safekeeping. Under the arrangement, the tribes earn millions in royalties as long as the patents are valid, they license them back to Allergan, and the patents under the tribes' ownership is immune from lawsuits via sovereign immunity. Under the colonial-era concept of "sovereign immunity" which is codified in the 11th amendment, certain groups like states, universities, and tribes are immune from lawsuits, thus the drug patents are shielded from the IPR process leaving only a full blown multimillion dollar court trial for generic drug companies. This tactic is also attracting the attention of non-practicing entities -- the polite term for "patent trolls" -- and one such NPE company has already exploited sovereign immunity with the intention to sue Apple for infringement.

But court cases have limited the scope of sovereign immunity (especially for commercial activity), and now Congress is investigating Allergan over the tactic that has Congress not only greatly concerned about competition in the drug industry (and exorbitant prices of pharmaceuticals), but also the questionable use of the sovereign immunity law. The four lawmakers who signed the letter to Allergan state: "The unconventional maneuver has received considerable criticism from the generic competitors challenging the drug's patents under the process Congress created (IPR) to enable timelier review of such challenges (read: a fraction of the cost of a court trial)." The letter also notes that the key ingredient in the patent was set to expire in 2014 and that Allergan had filed more patents to extend patent protection to 2024, a signal that Congress is watching for exploitation of patent law to enable "perpetual patents" widely used by the pharmaceuticals.

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