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Patents The Almighty Buck The Courts Apple

Patent Troll VirnetX Awarded $626M In Damages From Apple (arstechnica.com) 134

Tackhead writes: Having won a $200M judgement against Microsoft in 2010, lost a $258M appeal against Cisco in 2013, and having beaten Apple for $368M in 2012, only to see the verdict overturned in 2014, patent troll VirnetX is back in the news, having been awarded $626M in damages arising from the 2012 Facetime patent infringement case against Apple.
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Patent Troll VirnetX Awarded $626M In Damages From Apple

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  • by spork invasion ( 4443495 ) on Thursday February 04, 2016 @05:26AM (#51437479)
    Some of the problems with software patents could be solved with an idea from trademarks. Require that patents be defended or else they're lost. This wouldn't affect companies that legitimately do research, develop patents, and license the patents. One criticism would be that this favors big companies who have the ability to defend their patents at the expense of individuals and small businesses who don't have those resources. I don't think the criticism is valid because the playing field is already tilted very much in favor of big corporations and because law firms would market to inventors to help defend their patents in exchange for a share of the royalties. A legitimate patent is valuable enough that an inventor won't have a hard time finding legal representation to help defend it. This would squash the tactics of patent trolls and reduce the patent wars between big companies like Apple vs. Samsumg.
    • by greenfruitsalad ( 2008354 ) on Thursday February 04, 2016 @05:30AM (#51437497)

      instead of defend, it should be 'use'. unused patent just stifles innovation. you wanna keep it, use it.

      • by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Thursday February 04, 2016 @05:40AM (#51437515)

        That devalues the concept of an idea and intellectual property on the whole.

        Not that I think that's a bad idea, just that it would result in a fundamental change to how modern civilisation works.

        Hmm I should patent the concept.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 04, 2016 @06:17AM (#51437621)

          The concept of intellectual property is just a sick idea of the lawyer class to tap the wealth of innovation... at the cost of others.

          Everyone worth her salt is standing on the shoulders of giants, and *knowing* it. I owe far more to Galileo and Newton and Leibnitz than I owe to Apple or Samsung or Microsoft.

          • by ILongForDarkness ( 1134931 ) on Thursday February 04, 2016 @07:50AM (#51437813)

            So what? If your expertise isn't running a manufacturing company/marketing department but you spend your time coming up with good ideas that someone else can use to do so, why should you work for free? Are you saying working with your hands/mouth is more valuable than working with your mind?

            • by Kartu ( 1490911 )

              If your expertise isn't running a manufacturing company and you are developing software (as I am) you don't need patents either.
              In fact, patent shit is an obstacle for me, with legal department going on "OMG open source, PATENT ALARM" every now and then.
              (they do have a point, when you buy commercial stuff, if it infridges, it's seller's problem, kind of "troll protection")

              Let me put it this way: there is NO "multi million investment" into actual software that benefits from software patents.

              Most of US hardw

              • What about Samsung getting sued (I think it was successful) by Apple for designs that Android violates? Also: just because they can't successfully win a case against you doesn't mean they can't file then get you to settle rather than run up the expense of defending.

            • "you spend your time coming up with good ideas that someone else can use to do so, why should you work for free?"

              Don't work for free. Just work for whatever you arranged in a contract.

              "Are you saying working with your hands/mouth is more valuable than working with your mind?"

              No. I'm saying that unless you agreed in contract a compensation for your hard work, nobody owes you nothing for your hard work.

              • I build a house without a contract. If you like my house and want it you have to pay me for it. Similarly if I know how to do something you don't and you want me to show you how I can demand payment for it. Patents are just a bank for your ideas. Rather than having everyone keep their ideas to themselves and have society take the risk that they'll get hit by a bus before they find someone willing to pay the amount they want (which no single buyer might be able to), or for something that needs it to come up

                • "I build a house without a contract. If you like my house and want it you have to pay me for it."

                  *If* I want the house. Nobody owes you nothing just for having built the house.

                  "Patents are just a bank for your ideas."

                  Unluckily, no, it's not "just" a bank for your ideas. On one hand, no, patents never have been about ideas, but about implementations. On the other hand, somehow you have an upper hand even if I reach to the same implementation by myself.

                  "Otherwise all the smart people that come up with idea

                  • If I have a patent you don't have to pay me. You just can't use my ideas without paying me: come up with your own.

                    The patent holder only has the upper hand if they came up with the idea first. You/your employer could have saved yourself a bunch of time by looking for solution to your problem and licensing it from the patent holder rather than burn months re-inventing the wheel. The same thing happens with copyrights, trademarks etc. I can put fizzy water into a bottle too I just can't put it in a red and wh

          • by sycodon ( 149926 )

            Intellectual Property should be a two part concept. The idea, and the implementation of that idea in a commercial product.

            Used to be for a mechanical patent, you had to build a working model. Why should people be able to dream up stuff that they can't possibly do, only to profit when someone actually does it and commercializes it?

        • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

          Good. I think no software patents should be allowed.

          It's all mathematics, and math should NOT be patented.

          • They aren't patenting the math, they are patenting the idea. If you wanna get really hand wavy about it, everything is just math.
            • by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Thursday February 04, 2016 @09:08AM (#51438057) Homepage

              You're not supposed to be able to patent an idea, you're only supposed to be able to patent an invention ... far too many patents are really little more than the idea of "doing something kinda like this".

              So many of them describe a concept already in use, or which is exactly the same in the physical world ... but digital.

              And then seemingly it becomes a magic device whereby you can claim that "a system and methodology for doing something which is commonplace, but involves a computer and a network" is a unique invention.

              In the many years I've been aware of software patents, the ones I've seen more or less boil down to software analogs of things we've already seen, and stuff many of us would have learned in a CS degree (and which was already common practice).

              Then you just write it in fancy sounding bullshit, and pass it off as a unique invention -- and the morons at the patent office, whose only real criteria is if the checks clear, will rubber stamp it and suddenly you have a patent.

              • by 8086 ( 705094 )

                Then you just write it in fancy sounding bullshit, and pass it off as a unique invention -- and the morons at the patent office, whose only real criteria is if the checks clear, will rubber stamp it and suddenly you have a patent.

                To a great degree this is actually true. The patent officers don't care about the checks that much, though. It just creates a lot of work for them when they reject a patent claim and the lawyers of the people applying for the patent, i.e. prosecuting (that's the technical term) it prove them wrong and get their rejections overturned. It also shows badly on the record of the patent officer if their rejections tend to not hold up. The lawyers usually have more resources and motivation to make the patent pass

          • It's all mathematics, and math should NOT be patented.

            Machines are all atoms, and you can't patent atoms. Does that mean that no machines should be patented?

        • by mwvdlee ( 775178 ) on Thursday February 04, 2016 @08:12AM (#51437877) Homepage

          Patents were created to benefit the public, not the inventor.
          The value of patents is in the sharing of inventions for public use, the cost of patents is a period of protection given to the inventor.
          Requiring inventions to be used by the patent owner or else allow use by the public seems perfectly in line with the concept of patents.

          • "Patents were created to benefit the public, not the inventor."

            Patents gave investors a monopoly of specified term on use of the idea. What they vitally gave to the public was revelation of method. Before patent was invented, innovators simply kept their ideas secret for as long as possible. The Murano glassmakers kept their advantage in the market for centuries by having their own staff of ninjas fan out across Europe, killing off anyone else who used their methods.

            With the coming of industry, trade secret

            • by MobyDisk ( 75490 )

              Trade secret was not replaced by patent. They serve similar but purposes but have different trade-offs. If you talk to a IP attorney, they will tell you that most inventions and discoveries are kept as trade secrets.

              • Trade secrets still exist, but in general they were - and still are - a staple of an artisanal world, not industry.

                • by MobyDisk ( 75490 )

                  That's not true. Go talk to a patent attorney who works in "industry" as you call it. I work for a Fortune 500 and I can tell you it is 99% trade secrets. Most things aren't worth patenting.

            • by Kartu ( 1490911 )

              Still, "Patents were created to benefit the public, not the inventor.":

              Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the United States Constitution, known as the Copyright Clause, empowers the United States Congress:
              To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.

              No word on "let's let inventor become really really rich".

              • by Anonymous Coward

                No word on "let's let inventor become really really rich".

                Wow, obviously you only read the part of the quote that you bolded. Allow me to remedy that:

                ... by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.

                Exclusive Right means they can do whatever they want with it. This includes becoming really really rich, declaring it public domain, or not using it at all. That's what the word EXCLUSIVE means.

                • by mwvdlee ( 775178 )

                  You confuse "purpose" with "trade-off".

                  "Becoming really really rich" is a possible side-effect of the "exclusive rights" trade-off to let the general public use those inventions after the "limited times" has expired.

                  All the original patent rules support this idea; inventions should be well-described (so they will be easy to copy); inventions should be special enough that the general public would NEED access to the documentation in order to reproduce it; the invention should be an invention, not merely a dis

                  • Reading comprehension problems...

                    To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts,

                    is the objective;

                    by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.

                    is the means by which they hope to achieve it.

                    No, it's not a trade-off.

                    • You seem quite dense. The "objective" is the purpose. The "means" is not the objective.

                      Yes, I'm aware of what all those words mean, and that's how I was using them.

                      I think my point was that it's ("we do <means> to achieve <objective>"), not the other way around. The objective of the system is to promote science and arts, not make people rich.

                      And the problem isn't that we're not doing the means, it's that we're doing it too much--too much protection such that it never *stops* being protected, which kills the whole objective to which lip service is being paid.

                      I've read this over so

                    • Presumably the reasoning is that without protection and being given directly the ability to profit off their inventions,* inventors wouldn't bother inventing?

                      * in theory. cf. large corp "patenting around you" for all possible applications, waiting for it to expire, then doing it themselves, while being protected by team of expensive lawyers

        • That devalues the concept of an idea and intellectual property on the whole.

          Well, not by much but I suppose it's a start. ;)

        • That devalues the concept of an idea and intellectual property on the whole.

          Does it? the whole idea of "Intellectual Property" is to give the creator time to develop, market and possibly profit from new ideas. If you aren't using it then it defeats the purpose of the protection, since all you are doing is stopping others from developing similar new ideas.
          Use it or lose it seems like fair approach.

      • Not necessarily. If your business is research and development, licensing those patents to others for use in production and using the royalties to fund more r&d, that would run afoul of a requirement that the patent holder use their patents. I don't think it's an abuse, though, because you're contributing to innovation by conducting your own research. The business model makes sense; just because a business funds r&d doesn't mean they have the ability to bring those ideas to production. The abuse is f
        • developing and licensing is using the patent. as you said, trolls simply wait for others to encroach. that's a completely wrong approach.

      • by ERJ ( 600451 )
        And what about if the cost to entry of the concept is too high for the individual? A large corp could just sit and wait till the "implementation" period expired and then grab the idea. How long do you have to get to the "use" period before you lose the patent?

        No, the issue is that patents are granted for stupid, unoriginal things. If only good, unique ideas were allowed then this would not be the same issue.
      • Lots of people have ideas that they don't want to own a business in. These companies are full of lawyers usually. Lawyers generally speaking don't have the expertise or desire to develop a company that markets a Face Time/Skype product. By use I think it should just require that you don't sit on the patent you actively offer it for licensing. Of course the whole idea of patents is that they expire so it doesn't "stifle" innovation any more than it would if say MS got the patent and never licensed it to anyo

      • instead of defend, it should be 'use'. unused patent just stifles innovation. you wanna keep it, use it.

        Wasn't there originally supposed to be an exploitation requirement for patents? Why did that die?

      • by doccus ( 2020662 )

        instead of defend, it should be 'use'. unused patent just stifles innovation. you wanna keep it, use it.

        Some patents really SHOULDN'T be used . I.E. " New advancement for inceased nuclear kill ratio - ten cities attacked at once. (Patent pending)"...
        I think defending this is quite suffficient, thank you ;-)

    • by JaredOfEuropa ( 526365 ) on Thursday February 04, 2016 @06:15AM (#51437609) Journal
      That doesn't solve anything, this isn't just about submarine patents. As soon as a patent troll is awarded their patent on "Activity X that has been practised for millennia, but on the Internet", they can start "defending" it by having their lawyer sent letters to any infringing party who started using it after the application was filed.

      Maybe we shouldn't have software patents at all, nor award patents on stupid, trivial stuff. Or, since it is rather hard to define exactly what is trivial and what isn't, we could adjust the duration of a patent instead. Invest a few billion in discovering a new medicine, and yeah maybe you deserve a couple of patents with a long validity. Spend a few million on a think tank to come up with good ideas, and you'd deserve some patents with a duration that depends on how good those ideas are. Be the first to come up with a clever little algo in the course of your normal work, and maybe you ought to get a patent as well even if it's for something more or less "obvious to someone skilled in the arts"... but only one valid for a few years.
      • by Tom ( 822 ) on Thursday February 04, 2016 @06:29AM (#51437647) Homepage Journal

        Most patents on software are fundamentally wrong the way they are being issued.

        A patent should be about your brilliant invention of how to do something, in detail, that nobody else could figure out. It should not be about what to do, without any details on the how.

        The patent on the steam engine did not read "a machine that produces torque". Everyone could see that such a machine would be useful, the devil is in figuring out how to build it. But a lot of software (and design) patents are of the "a button that makes you do this cool thing" kind. They leave out the actual technical details, which is why they are so broad and abusable.

        • by sribe ( 304414 )

          A patent should be about your brilliant invention of how to do something, in detail, that nobody else could figure out. It should not be about what to do, without any details on the how.

          That, combined with patent examiners knowledgeable enough to recognize and reject software patents that consist of going from requirements to design by gluing together well-know techniques, would eliminate the real problems. It wouldn't satisfy RMS, but it would limit software patents to the extremely rare ones that are truly novel and non-obvious.

        • by danaris ( 525051 )

          The problem (or, if you prefer, great part) with this line of reasoning is that if you follow it to its logical conclusion, it strongly suggests that what you would need to submit as a "software patent" is, in fact, the source code, at least for the portion of the program that you wish to patent.

          Of course, we already have intellectual property protection for source code: copyright. So should there be software patents at all? Or should software patents replace copyrightable source code? Or should there be so

          • by Tom ( 822 )

            The problem (or, if you prefer, great part) with this line of reasoning is that if you follow it to its logical conclusion, it strongly suggests that what you would need to submit as a "software patent" is, in fact, the source code, at least for the portion of the program that you wish to patent.

            Correct.

            Wasn't it that to get a patent you had to submit a working prototype or model? The same should be required for software.

            Of course, we already have intellectual property protection for source code: copyright. So should there be software patents at all? Or should software patents replace copyrightable source code? Or should there be some kind of hybrid system, where you can have your source code patented, or copyrighted, but not both...?

            I don't care, really. But if you claim the protection of two completely different laws with different time periods, intentions and consequences for the same thing, then there's something wrong.

      • by Trogre ( 513942 )

        Maybe we shouldn't have software patents at all

        Maybe?

      • As one of the other replies noted, utility patents should be about how to do something, not what to do. I don't really think articles of manufacture and compositions of matter apply to software. However, the categories of processes and machines seem to do so. If you design a unique and novel algorithm to do something useful, that seems to qualify as a process. Putting algorithms together in a truly unique and novel way would seem to qualify as a machine. As long as you're patenting how to actually accomplis
    • I get the argument against the variety that sit on patents and wait for someone to infringe and then pounce. They wait till you have a huge proven market till they sue so that they can get the highest "license" fee possible. I could be wrong but it seems to me that people call anyone a troll that doesn't practice. I think that is plain silly. Do we complain about commodity traders that sit on millions of pork belly features but don't own a bacon factory?

      For law changes: I think these companies that invest i

      • "Do we complain about commodity traders that sit on millions of pork belly features but don't own a bacon factory?"

        We would have a right to complain if commodity traders sat on millions of pounds of physical bacon. What they actually trade is the future right to buy or sell specified quantities of the product. That way, a farmer who breeds pigs can pre-sell pork at a known price months from now, insured against the uncertainty of the market now to then.

      • They wait till you have a huge proven market till they sue so that they can get the highest "license" fee possible.

        In theory, that isn't allowed - look up the term laches. If somebody sued Google today for something like "a web-based email program that lets users tag messages", the judge would severely limit damages, since there's no reasonable excuse for the patent owner not to have known for years that Google was doing this.

    • by swb ( 14022 )

      I think a time window for actual usage of a patent in a marketed product would be a useful check. If your patent isn't in a marketed product within, say, five years of issuance it would become public domain, and if it stops being used in a marketed product after 5 years it would also become public domain.

      I think part of the problem also could not just be patent trolls as we know them, but companies like IBM that attack a technology sector with R&D and obtain dozens of patents they have no intention of

    • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

      The thing is, IP needs to realize that software is special.

      There are three traditional domains of IP. You have trademarks, which are protections used in the conduct of trade, copyrights used to protect creative works (used by humans and enjoyed by humans) and patents, of which you have utility (things used to make other things) and design (things with a decorative touch).

      Software is none of these - it is both a creative work - done and enjoyed by humans, as well as thing used to make other things. This mean

  • by tetraverse ( 4409445 ) on Thursday February 04, 2016 @05:43AM (#51437521)
    'East Texas is known for its Piney Woods, Caddo Lake, maybe for sweet potatoes. It’s also the patent lawsuit capitol of the country. More patent infringement cases are brought to Eastern District courts than anywhere else. There’s pressure to root out the so-called “patent trolls”.' ref [kera.org]
    • by TheDarkMaster ( 1292526 ) on Thursday February 04, 2016 @06:37AM (#51437671)
      We can nuke East Texas?
    • Okay, serious now. Why this particular district is so popular for patent trolls? Easy to bought corrupt judges? Or too stupid judge to realize the malicious intent of the troll? Both?
      • by gander666 ( 723553 ) * on Thursday February 04, 2016 @10:42AM (#51438619) Homepage

        Okay, serious now. Why this particular district is so popular for patent trolls? Easy to bought corrupt judges? Or too stupid judge to realize the malicious intent of the troll? Both?

        I can answer this, having been through the wringer wrought by a patent troll.

        • It has the appropriate US district court [uscourts.gov] presence. This is pretty important, as patent infringement cases are brought to a US district court.
        • It is an area that has a mediocre pool of jurors. Not highly educated, not too ignorant, but enough to be dangerous.
        • It is really really hard to get to. You fly into College Station and drive hours east, or into Louisiana and drive hours west. Yes, this is part of the patent troll modus operandi. Make it super inconvenient for the players to get to. Look it up in google maps, and see.
        • Back to the jurors, the pool is made of people who are at the bottom of the middle class or close to poverty. They view big companies as deceitful, and the bad guys. The patent trolls' lawyers play on this David vs. Goliath, and the jurors love having the power to put the hurt on.

        Almost all the major patent toll companies have a small presence in the county, so as to be able to file and force the suit to go through Marshall Texas.

        The 12 hours I was deposed was probably the worst 12 hours of my life, and the 30 days of rigorous prep I had to do beforehand was just awful.

        • If the district is chosen based on patent trolls' desires, you would think they would pick the district where they prevail the most often.

    • There’s pressure to root out the so-called “patent trolls”

      But apparently not enough pressure.
  • Calling someone a troll just because you want to steal their IP seams to be all the rage these days....

  • by geekmux ( 1040042 ) on Thursday February 04, 2016 @06:35AM (#51437663)

    Only in America can "Patent Troll" become a legal multi-billion dollar industry, and yet prostitution remains illegal.

    How ironic, since both are in the business of fucking people.

    • In prostitution, there's a transaction from which both parties benefit.
  • Isn't this really just what America is all about? It's partly capitalism 101 and stealing from others. That's what America was built on, who are we to judge the methods of how one earns their living?
  • by sabbede ( 2678435 ) on Thursday February 04, 2016 @09:06AM (#51438045)
    There's nothing there! Just load balancing and some early attempt at DNSSEC. If they have a case against anyone (not that the patents are really valid), it's Microsoft for Active Directory - secure internal DNS with a portal to the internet. Except of course that those two patents specify the use of non-standard TLD's.

    And somehow I doubt that facetime uses server names like facetime.apple.scom. Case should have been tossed on those grounds alone.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by marsu_k ( 701360 )
      You're right, there's nothing truly innovative like rounded corners, grid of icons of slide-to-unlock here.
    • I know this is /., but if you RTFS you'd see they won a case against MS for $200 million. I swear, people at /. are getting lazier and lazier...
      • No, I read it. I just forgot it between reading and posting. That was an absurd suit as well - as if the trolls have a patent on the idea of internal DNS. Ridiculous.
  • by WOOFYGOOFY ( 1334993 ) on Thursday February 04, 2016 @02:03PM (#51440215)

    The fact that M$ and Oracle and IBM and all the rest of the "victims" of "trolls" would rather pay the trolls than do what is intellectually ethcially and morally right- lobby Congress to ban software patents (and yes trolls, those ARE a definable thing) tells you something. They'd rather endure the billions lost to trolls than have to compete in the open marketplace, without their trivial patents. If they didn't have this barrier to entrance and the threat of crushing legal judgements, then they'd have to compete on the basis of the goodness of their product offerings.

    Obviously, such a "disaster" is monetarily more frigthening to them than losing to billions to trolls.

    It gives you some idea of the amount of market supression and concomitant loss of innovation the consumer is experiencing without ever knowing it.

    Believe me, lot's of "agreements to be acquired" by small companies are in reality software-patent blackmail- you can sell us your comapny, or we can go to court.

    It how they make sure that all innovation accrues to them, and they retain all real financial and political power in the world.

  • Maybe we should introduce the concept of parody laws into software and hardware. Like how MacOS is a hilarious parody of UNIX and so on.

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