Articles Posted in Patent Law

Not long after Groupon was battered by a string of patent infringement lawsuits — including a 2010 action by Mobgob LLC in Los Angeles – the coupon website started investing in patents. Intellectual property experts believe Groupon is following the defensive path other companies take to protect itself from costly, future litigation.

An armory of so-called defensive patents strengthens a company’s position in case of a legal assault for infringement. A hefty patent collection can encourage plaintiffs to settle out of court, saving litigants time and money.

Licensing agreements are frequently part of settlement terms in patent disputes. Having plenty of defensive patents also bolsters chances for a company to countersue for patent infringement.

California biotechnology companies are drawn to the outcome of a case recently debated in the U.S. Supreme Court. Justices are considering whether a business that offers predictive cancer testing can retain a patent for a pair of gene sequences, DNA segments that determine heredity.

Justices debated Myriad Genetics’ intellectual property rights to hold on to a patent sanctioned by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The company argues the patent led to the development of a vital medical test for women, whose genetic makeup shows ovarian and breast cancer susceptibility.

The other side of the argument comes from scientists who say their medical research is limited by Myriad’s patent lock. Breast cancer patients are also plaintiffs in the court battle championed by the Public Patent Foundation and The American Civil Liberties Union. Patients contend Myriad holds an unfair monopoly on expensive predictive cancer testing that obstructs alternate diagnostic opinions.

Worldwide satellite services provider EchoStar owns Sling Media, a company that makes the Slingbox – devices that allow consumers to operate and view home televisions through the Internet from any location. EchoStar provides technological expertise for giant broadcast satellite provider Dish Network.

Dish recently announced an upgrade to its Hopper HD whole-home DVR, incorporating the Slingbox video place-shifting device. The timing of the announcement coincided with a Sling Media intellectual property lawsuit against two competing California companies – Belkin International and Monsoon Media – accused of five Slingbox patent violations.

The rival companies have nipped at the heels of Sling Media by offering similar consumer products at substantially lower costs. The Slingbox basic model was priced at $179.99 at the same time Belkin’s @TV was selling for $30 less. Monsoon’s Vulcano also costs less than a Slingbox.

A recent court case involving Google Inc. and Apple Inc. being on the same side may cause some eyebrows to rise. But the California technology behemoths are teaming up in a joint effort to buy hundreds of millions of dollars of patents held by the bankrupt Eastman Kodak Co.

Kodak, which filed for bankruptcy earlier this year and is aggressively trying to remake itself into a streamlined commercial printing company, has been trying to sell some of its patents. The unlikely duo of Apple and Google are reportedly offering more than $500 million to buy a portion of Kodak’s approximately 1,100 patents that have to do with imaging technology.

People involved in the negotiations said the partnership is more common than people think because it gives both companies a chance to avoid patent lawsuits in the future. The two companies have been locked in litigation over various smartphone technologies.

Attach headphones to an Apple iPhone. Were instructions required? Owners of Intelligent Smart Phone Concepts and patent issuers seem to think so. The phone company has brought a $3 million lawsuit against Apple in California over simple headphone insertion instructions.

The intellectual property challenge against Apple is not the first to be considered frivolous. ISPC is described as a patent troll, a business with a catalogue of patents and no publicly-offered services or products.

The legal action accuses Apple of infringing upon a patent for a “wireless mobile phone including a headset.” Technology observers argue that ISPC is blatantly suing Apple for an obvious product design.

Makers of a 3D laser printer and the online company that helped them look for investors are being sued by California’s 3D Systems. The West Coast’s high-end printer business claims Formlabs, a business staffed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers, and its promoter Kickstarter violated intellectual property laws.

3D Systems filed an infringement lawsuit that accuses Formlabs of the illegal use of one of its printer patents. Kickstarter was pulled in as a defendant because the venture capital website took a percentage of the nearly $3 million to build the Formlabs Form 1 printer.

The California printer manufacturer, like Formlabs, uses a method called stereolithography in the printing process. The process depends upon the interaction of a laser and liquid to create a layered 3D version of an object from a computer file.

California’s Cisco Systems Inc. has joined Motorola Solutions Inc. and Netgear Inc. in an intellectual property claim against a business the companies accuse of extortion and, by association, the crime of racketeering. The plaintiffs say Innovatio IP Ventures LLC pelted its Wi-Fi customers with “threatening” letters pressuring clients to pay for patent licensing agreements.

Innovatio is a “non-practicing entity,” known as a patent troll that buys patents simply to own them without using them to create services or products. In the past, NPEs typically confronted companies like Cisco in court. Cisco’s complaint said Innovatio’s 8,000 letters to retail Wi-Fi users were an extortion attempt. Officials from Innovatio want a federal judge to dismiss the Cisco claim.

Mosaid Technologies Inc. is an NPE named in a similar but separate lawsuit. Cisco said Mosaid paid witnesses to testify against Cisco last year in an infringement suit before the U.S. International Trade Commission.

Software giant Microsoft is being sued by a company called SurfCast, which claims the software giant stole its ideas for tiles to make Windows 8 and the Windows Phone. SurfCast has been described in reports as a “patent troll” because the company holds patents without putting them to use in product manufacturing or sales.

Microsoft, like other technology companies from California’s Silicon Valley, is no stranger to intellectual property challenges. SurfCast claims it was light years ahead of Microsoft in the creation of the “tile” technology and holds a 2004 patent to prove it. The company wants Microsoft to pay damages for patent infringement.

SurfCast did not ask a court to force Microsoft to stop selling the apparently-offensive products. The company may be hoping to lure Microsoft into a licensing settlement before a court can address the tile patent dispute. SurfCast has four patents and makes no products, with or without tiles.

Consumers may be the biggest losers in patent wars, according to the head of giant shopping and e-commerce website, Amazon. Jeff Bezos told the U.K. media that patent lawsuits in mobile technology could “stifle innovation.”

Bezos suggested that government officials get more involved in patent disputes for consumers’ benefits and consider changing patent laws. The Amazon chief executive officer’s recommendations are not the first to surface about intellectual property battles. Google shares similar views about mobile technology legal disagreements. The company’s public policy director recently announced that the company believes innovation is suffering. Detailed recommendations were not forthcoming.

Software patent litigation is rampant among companies like Motorola and perennial rivals, Samsung and Apple. The financial and creative expenses end up with consumers.

Regents of the University of California and Eolas Technologies Inc., a company that helps the university make money from patents, filed suit against a trio of recognizable companies. Wal-Mart, Disney and Facebook are named in the patent infringement complaint.

The intellectual property lawsuit claims the companies infringed on four software patents. An official from the University of California said the court action was ordinary litigation except for the high-profile names listed as defendants.

Eolas Technologies is a patent licensee for the university. The company is noted for filing infringement cases and winning settlements for the school, including a 2007 settlement of more than $30 million from Microsoft Corp.