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U.S. Supreme Court Deals a Blow to Patent Trolls 289

Posted by Zonk
from the rimm-is-kicking-itself dept.
Anonymous Coward writes "Forbes is reporting that the Supreme Court has just limited the power of patent trolls to obtain permanent injunctions against infringers as a matter of course. The court has ruled that the principles of equity apply, meaning that a court considering slapping an injunction on the infringer must consider how much damage is really being done ... which in the case of EBay's Buy It Now feature, isn't much, since the company that owns this so-called patent only has it for the purposes of suing other people." From the article: "The high court's decision deals a blow to patent trolls, which are notorious for using the threat of permanent injunction to extort hefty fees in licensing negotiations as well as huge settlements from companies they have accused of infringing. Often, those settlements can be far greater than the value of the infringing technology: Recall the $612.5 million that Canada's Research in Motion forked over to patent-holding company NTP to avoid the shutting down of its popular BlackBerry service."
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U.S. Supreme Court Deals a Blow to Patent Trolls

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  • All through this article, Ms Holzer uses the term "intellectual property owner" where she means "patent owner". I know its all the rage these days to blur the lines between copyright, trade secrets, attribution rights, patents, moral rights, trademarks, etc etc, but this is the legal section of an economics rag.

    If they can't get simple terminology correct, how can we trust their reporting?

    For those who're not following me, consider the following quote from the article:
    Patent law unambiguously grants owners of intellectual property the same rights as regular property holders, including the right to exclude others from using their property.
    As they've written "owners of intellectual property" rather then "patent owners", the sentence actually means:
    Patent law unambiguously grants owners of copyright, trademarks, etc the same rights as regular property holders, including the right to exclude others from using their property.
    This is clearly not true.
    • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn.gmail@com> on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @10:45AM (#15342315) Journal
      Yeah, I agree with Whiney.

      Has anyone else noticed how "troll" is being used interchangebly with "lawyer" lately?

      Come on, let's be fair to the trolls. It's down right insulting to push them that low. You should call someone a lawyer if that's really what they are, don't try to sugar coat it with "troll."
    • by Were-Rabbit (959205) on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @10:47AM (#15342335)
      This is clearly not true.

      So, it's patently untrue? :) (Sorry...)
    • by Tx (96709) on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @10:48AM (#15342346) Journal
      Actually, the phrase "Patent law unambiguously grants..." tells us that the intellectual property being referred to later in the sentence is patents, not any other form of IP. If I say "Brewery best practice tells us that the optimum amount of hops in the beverage is ...", you wouldn't complain that "beverage" wasn't specific enough, would you?
      • If I say "Brewery best practice tells us that the optimum amount of hops in the beverage is ...", you wouldn't complain that "beverage" wasn't specific enough, would you?

        If I read it in "Beer Drinkers quarterly" and I knew the brewery in question produced light, old & decaf beer, then I would complain that beverage wasn't specific enough.

        Its all about context you see. Forbes (of all places) should know better.
      • by Eivind (15695) <eivindorama@gmail.com> on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @11:03AM (#15342488) Homepage
        Possibly, but the sentence as it stands is still patently (pun intended) false.

        Patent law unambiguously grants owners of intellectual property the same rights as regular property holders, including the right to exclude others from using their property.

        Patent law definitely does not grant "the same rights" as those granted to "regular" property-holders.

        For example, patent-law says that patents *expires* at which point your patent becomes public domain, free for anyone to use as they wish. "regular" property-holders do not have to hand over their property to the public after the property "expires".

        There's a million other differences too, claiming that a patent gives you the same rigths over a technique as those a owner has to a regular property is a lie. It'd be confusion, but it's inconceivable that a writer for the *legal* section of a magazine is unaware of any of these differences, so the only explanation is a deliberate lie.

        Why they lie is anybodys guess. *MY* guess is that they *wish* it where more like they *claim* it is. If you can manage to convince the public that something is already law, that public is likely to protest less when it becomes more and more true.

        • by Bill Kilgore (914825) on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @11:21AM (#15342641)
          ...it's inconceivable that a writer for the *legal* section of a magazine is unaware of any of these differences,...
          Oh come now, surely you can conceive it. I always fall back on that famous maxim from the notebooks of Lazurus Long: "Do not ascribe to malice what is adequately explained by stupidity.". And in the case of journalists, that applies to virtually everything. Evidently, journalism in America today consists entirely of political indoctrination as a socialist or a fascist. With Word® training.
        • For example, patent-law says that patents *expires* at which point your patent becomes public domain, free for anyone to use as they wish. "regular" property-holders do not have to hand over their property to the public after the property "expires".

          Maybe not if the property "expires", but "regular" property holders must hand it over if imminent (or eminent) domain [wikipedia.org] [wikipedia] is declared because your city council has decided the property your house sits on would be better suited for a public park or a Mc

      • That's arguably true, but it's still abusively fuzzy language. It's about like saying "tobacco law restricts" the use of drugs. It's completely true, but it's phrased in such a way that it would confuse anybody who doesn't know enough about the topic.
    • All through this article, Ms Holzer uses the term "intellectual property owner" where she means "patent owner".

      When writing about a specific thing (patents), it's not uncommon to use the general form (intellectual property) to refer to the same thing. The context makes it clear that the writer isn't referring to other specific forms (trademark, copyright) of the general thing.

      It's similar to: "Lacrosse is a demanding sport. Athletes must stay in top shape to perform well." Clearly, in the second sentenc
      • Right, but the problem is more akin to this: Polo is a demanding sport. Riding horses is taxing and requires concentration and effort. Like all swimmers, Polo players must be able to hold their breath.

        "intellectual property" does not confer a "bundle of rights" in the way that traditional "Lockean" property does. A copyright is not property. (You can have a property interest in a copyright itself, i.e. you can sell the right; but copyright itself is not "property" in the traditional self. It's a r
        • "intellectual property" does not confer a "bundle of rights" in the way that traditional "Lockean" property does.

          Surely you are correct. However, this was not the point of the original post, and not the point I was contradicting. In the original post, there were no complaints about the comparison of either term to traditional property.
    • Don't you get it? She used the word "unambiguously" right before saying something completely ambiguous!

      Hahahaha.
    • All through this article, Ms Holzer uses the term "intellectual property owner" where she means "patent owner". I know its all the rage these days to blur the lines between copyright, trade secrets, attribution rights, patents, moral rights, trademarks, etc etc, but this is the legal section of an economics rag.

      Well, but at least, the economist is only a magazine, not a legal document. Unlike the proposed European Constitution. Which does contain a similar blooper (usage of the words "intellectual propert

    • Reporters are never experts on the subjects they write about. The only real qualification that any reporter has is the ability to write sensational articles that sell. Technical details come a distant second in so-called technical publications, and dead last in all other publications.
    • All through this article, Ms Holzer uses the term "intellectual property owner" where she means "patent owner". I know its all the rage these days to blur the lines between copyright, trade secrets, attribution rights, patents, moral rights, trademarks, etc etc, but this is the legal section of an economics rag.

      Moral Rights are inalienable, and for this reason, are not a form of property, intellectual or otherwise.
    • You are correct that they are wrong, but you miss what is wrong. "Regular" (by which presumably one means either "real" or "tangible personal" or both) property owners do not have unlimited rights of the type described (this is particularly clear in the case of real property, where mandatory easements, etc., exist.) Intellectual property is limited, true, (particularly in the case of, e.g., fair use in copyright), but this is not unlike the case of "regular" property. So, inasmuch as this is wrong, its not
  • ...Creative just filed a lawsuit against Apple regarding the iPod [foxnews.com].

    Doh!

    Apple lucked out. Creative can't get an injunction "just because" which could have been a serious blow to Apple's sales even if Creative ultimately lost the case.
    • by richdun (672214) on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @10:49AM (#15342354)
      Well, maybe. Creative could argue that this costs them plenty in their core business, since iPod sales are obviously crushing Zens. The Court said you should consider how much it is going to harm the company requesting the injunction to continue the alleged infringing to continue. It costs Creative plenty to wait and let Apple continue selling iPods for however long it takes the trial to occur.

      Of course, this assumes the courts will even consider Creative's suit valid, but having been granted a patent implies validity. Then again, Apple legal has had a couple of successes lately (TigerDirect, Apple Corps, etc) with trademark disputes, so we'll see how far this goes.
      • but having been granted a patent implies validity.

        That is part of the problem, no, it doesn't imply validity. It implies that the patent was filed and is not obviously invalid at first glance by the patent office.
        • Ah. And that's why I'm an engineer and not a lawyer. I would have thought granting some legal document meant you thought it was valid to do so. Stupid patent system.

          Eh, in Apple's case, I expect them to dodge this whole mess by redeveloping the whole interface for a full video iPod. Click-wheel will give way to a touch-screen, and the interface will look like Front Row - which, yes, looks like the iPod interface in ways, but just goes to show how the look of a hierarchical interface is too common to pat
        • And there's the problem. The patent office basically has demonstrated that they feel that the courts will resolve it if it's a bad patent, while the courts have, at times, ruled that if a patent was granted that it's valid, regardless of prior art, obviousness, relying on pre-existing technology that is already patented by someone else, or directly at odds with an existing patent.

          As for Creative v. Apple, I've never owned either companys' music player, so I don't know if Creative has a case or not, but
      • Which is most of the probblem with this ruling. I don't disagree with it, but we shouldn't be too quick to call it a purely beneficial ruling.

        This will mean that small businesses now have VASTLY reduced leverage in court against large companies that steal their patented work. Of course, Creative isn't tiny, but if it were Mom-and-Pop Electronics, Inc. instead, and they had such a patent, they would have no way to claim an amount of damage sufficient to outwheigh the profits that Apple would lose due to a ha
    • I'm not sure what you mean - but if you're saying Creative was another "Patent Troll", then I don't think you're correct.

      Patent troll companies generally do not produce technology, just sit on patent portfolios. While Creative's suit has no merit, Creative have been selling mp3 players for far longer then Apple has (they even bought out a 'nano' branded model first!).

      Oh - and there's another big patent threat to the iPod out there - the click wheel patent [boston.com]... and the company who owns that patent produces real (if crap) technology products too.
      • The behavior being corrected here was recognized in patent trolls, but it was by no means limited to them. Previously, patent trolls were simply filing suits and getting de facto injunctions as a result. It cost more to try and defend the dragging case than to simply come to a licensing agreement, so the trolls made it their business model to basically buy patents on the cheap and then extort companies producing actual products.

        However, what's good for the goose is good for the gander, so even companies tha
      • You make this argument that Creative isn't patent trolling based upon past Creative actions (actually making innovative products). But this appear to be changing. Look at Creative's mp3 player sales trends. They are not doing well in the marketplace. And furthermore they made a huge flash memory buy to lock in prices when they were rising a bit back, and they are hugely underwater on it.

        In short, many of these patent trolls are shells of companies that used to do actual innovative work. If you looked at the
  • Evil (Score:4, Funny)

    by daveschroeder (516195) * on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @10:41AM (#15342279)
    This is yet another example of the upcoming "patently" evil Supreme Court, now stacked with far-right extremists and corporatists by BushCo. No checks and balances, controlling all three branches of govern...

    Hmm? What's that? This is a good thing, and slashdot likes it?

    Oh.

    Hooray, Supreme Court!

    (The decision was unanimous, by the way.)
    • Re:Evil (Score:2, Offtopic)

      by Vengie (533896)
      I don't think most people understand that for 200+ years of this country's history, "social conservatives" and "constitutional conservatives" were on the same page. Although Regan popularized "government hating" -- it's the left that has perfected it as of late. (i.e. anti-stateism) Quite simply put, the "conservatives" that BushCo have put on the court are far more "Federalist" than "Republican" -- this is why some of the justices have drifted towards the left (socially) -- because once sitting on the
  • Nice... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by FST777 (913657)
    Now let's watch until the big coorporations (I'm looking at you, Bill, and your adopted son Darl to!) ask the American Federal government to change this situation.

    No really! This is just theft of income for some companies!

    Positive things in the patent war never last. Mark my words.
    • Bill is probably ecstatic at this decision. Microsoft is one of the biggest, juiciest, patent troll targets that exists, and Microsoft does not make a significant part of its revenues from patent suits.
      • I'm sure that most of the huge computer companies that do their own development (Microsoft, IBM, and Oracle come to mind as some) didn't get into the aggressive patent fight in the modern era because the rug would be ripped out from underneath all of them. It doesn't help for both Microsoft and IBM that they've been ruled Monopolies at times, so the burden on them is more difficult yet. If they went after an infringer then they might find that they have a problem because of monopoly status, and could even
  • by JanneM (7445) on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @10:43AM (#15342299) Homepage
    The problem with the "patent trolls" idea is that it's all but indistinguishable from the "small inventor with few resources" one in many cases.

    This ruling does mean that if you're a small-time inventor that couldn't afford to implement your idea yourself, you can freely be ripped off by large corps that can, with impunity, since you wouldn't have made a lot of money without a major partner in any case.

    Tell me again how patents are protecting the inventor against large corporations?
    • by Salty Moran (974208) on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @10:47AM (#15342336) Journal
      You realize, I assume, that many lawyers out there are completely willing to take on a case like that, presuming it's reasonably clear cut, for both the notoriety of successfully taking on a big company and for a cut of the damages?

      Most of the cases of a "small inventor" being "abused" by big corporations are actually little more than a "small inventor" signing undesirable contracts and then attempting to reneg on them. If a big company is egregiously abusing a person's patented ideas (which also involves significant financial damages), 99% of the time the case will be fairly clear cut, there will be a lawyer willing to get in on it for a cut of the damages, and the entire thing will be adequately resolved.

      If people took a little more time to think through their decisions when dealing with big companies, especially when entereing into contract deals with them, many of the world's "unfair abuses of the little guy" would be readily avoided.
      • You realize, I assume, that many lawyers out there are completely willing to take on a case like that, presuming it's reasonably clear cut, for both the notoriety of successfully taking on a big company and for a cut of the damages?

        Sure - and that is, according to most other posters, a sure sign of a true troll, that you've partnered with, or sold the idea to, a law firm that isn't going to actually produce your idea.

        Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

        And let's take this line of reasoning to licenses: Si
    • by rhkaloge (208983) on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @10:48AM (#15342342)
      This ruling doesn't let patent violators off the hook, it just removes one tool of the patent holder - the injunction. If a corporation has to fight a lawsuit while not being able to sell their product, they are more likely to settle on the spot. For a similar practice, see "Blackmail".

      This will only hurt the patent holders who are looking for a big payout. Patent holders with legit claims will still have to go through the same legal proceedings they always did.
      • by pla (258480) on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @11:17AM (#15342607) Journal
        This ruling doesn't let patent violators off the hook, it just removes one tool of the patent holder - the injunction.

        What other tools do they really have, though?

        "okay, negotiate a fair contract with me for stealing my patented idea."
        "Uhhh... No."
        "No???"
        "No."
        "If you don't, I'll sue!"
        "If you sue, we'll stall and appeal so long even your grandchildren will live six feet under before you ever see a penny. Assuming you don't bankrupt yourself and need to drop the case long before then."
        "Ummm... Okay, buy me lunch then and we'll call it good?"
        "No."


        An injunction on infringement gives both sides a strong motivation to quickly settle. Disallowing such injunctions only gives the owner (not the infringer) a motivation to settle ever.

        Now, I fully agree that we need some solution to the problem of patent trolls, but this seems far more like a slap at all the small inventors than the big boys that can afford prolonged litigation.
        • To continue your story...

          "Ummm... Okay, buy me lunch then and we'll call it good?"
          "No."
          "Bummer. Because talking to you left me with little time to go grab something to eat. I have another meeting with [insert patent violator's #1 competitor] to discuss selling the patent to them. So, I should probably leave so I can prepare for that discussion."
          "Hmmmmm. Come to think of it, there may be something we could work out."
          "And lunch?"
          "Yes... lunch is a great idea."

          Keep in mind, large corporations have a lot to los
      • It does not remove injunction as a tool. It merely asks that judges consider the affects of an injunction (on both the companies and their customers) and use discretion in granting them. It is still possible to get an injunction.
    • True enough... this ruling reduces the power of trolls and small inventors alike. A small inventor who is actively but unsuccessfully attempting to develop his product will no longer have the power of a court injuction to stop a big corporation from rolling over him.

      The thinking behind the ruling seems to be "the difference between a bona fide inventor and a troll is how much they have to lose." As a rule, big businesses have more to lose than small startups and individuals. A more accurate litmus test w
      • ...actively but unsuccessfully attempting to develop his product...

        That's the key part, right? These firm which are sprouting up as patent holding corporations clearly are not attempting to develop a product, but are simply trying to license the concepts for the patents to which they hold the rights. I would venture that most compenets judges can tell the difference between a guy in his garage and a corporation which consists almost exclusicely of lawyers and has neither manufacturing nor research and dev
      • how actively are they trying to develop their patent?

        Let's say you're a CompSci researcher and figure out a really nifty new way to route calls in a cell phone network, for example. Chances are, you don't actually own a cell phone network (no, not even of you look really hard under the couch). The only way you can make something from your idea is to approach one of the existing, major mobile developers. Having a patent is a way to protect yourself from just being ripped off. Except it isn't, anymore.
    • The patent system isnt for the small inventor and hasnt been for a very long time
    • by Tom (822) on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @11:20AM (#15342630) Homepage Journal
      The problem with the "patent trolls" idea is that it's all but indistinguishable from the "small inventor with few resources" one in many cases.

      Actually, that may be that case in some isolated cases, but in the vast majority, it is quite clear when you see a patent troll that that's exactly what he is.

      Hm, want a checklist?

      * Companies is a law firm
      * Company holds several or many patents
      * None of the inventors actually work for company, all the patents were acquired
      * Company does not actually produce any of the patented products
      * Actually, company doesn't produce anything
      * Company prominently features "licensing" in its revenue report

      5 or more checks and you have a 95% certainty that you have a patent troll.
    • by sacrilicious (316896) on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @11:26AM (#15342686) Homepage
      Tell me again how patents are protecting the inventor against large corporations?

      Your question implies that the goal of patents is to protect small inventors against competition. Let's not lose sight of the fact that this is NOT the goal of patents. Their goal is to increase the number of useful inventions to which the public has access. It is only incidental (i.e. a means to an end) that the method being tried to achieve this aim happens to be granting a temporary monopoly. Interpreted one way, this ruling by the supreme court says it's not right to create an idea and then simply sit and goal tend it... I don't know the court's reasoning (haven't read the article or the ruling) but this would seem to align with the idea of making useful things available to the public.

    • by wayne (1579) <wayne@schlitt.net> on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @11:39AM (#15342773) Homepage Journal
      I know that RTFA'ing is boring, but...

      The problem with the "patent trolls" idea is that it's all but indistinguishable from the "small inventor with few resources" one in many cases.

      from the article:

      But doesn't the ruling also hurt bona fide inventors, not to mention the many universities that fund their research and own the patents? To be sure, it plainly erodes the power that has been typically bestowed by a patent. Patent law unambiguously grants owners of intellectual property the same rights as regular property holders, including the right to exclude others from using their property. But the law also clearly states that injunctions "may"--not "shall"--be issued "in accordance with the principles of equity."
      If you are a small inventor that is actively working on developing your invention, the courts *MAY* grant an injunction, while they *MAY NOT* grant an injunction to a patent troll. They have left it up to the courts to destinguish the two cases.

      As another reply pointed out, these two cases are often very easy to distinguish.

    • You should really read the opinion.

      First, this isn't a blow against injunctive relief as a remedy. Injunctions are still perfectly available, but they won't be effectively automatic. Instead equitable principles will be used to determine if a defendant should be enjoined.

      Specifically, the test is this:

      According to well-established principles of equity, a plaintiff seeking a permanent injunction must satisfy a four-factor test before a court may grant such relief. A plaintiff must demonstrate: (1) that it ha

    • Have you even read the decision or background on the case? The very narrow issue decided here is whether or not an injuction should automatically be granted in infringement cases. The ruling means, that courts have to follow a set of criteria in determining if an injunction should be granted or if damages should be resolved in some other fashion (ie, pay a boatload of money). Injuctive relief will still be granted in the vast majority of cases. The court is just reminding us that it is not an automatic
  • Damn it! (Score:5, Funny)

    by DaHat (247651) on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @10:43AM (#15342300) Homepage
    I guess this means my recently granted patent on "a method of maintaining a patent portfolio for the purpose of litigation and licensing" is never going to work out too well given I won't be able to the sort of injunctions I'd want against my targeted patent houses.

    Well... back to the drawing board.
    • No no no no... you didn't read the summary, ie.. if you have such a patent, all you have to do is use it for it's intended purpose in a gainful manner, ie: just sue the law firms... your single patent is enough of a portfolio to qualify... it should work out beautifully.
    • You are using a drawing board to design a patent application?
      Are you sure your are not violating anyone patent right there?

      Who as pentented the use of an eloctronic device connected to a central processing unit via a short to small cable, which CU is connected to a power outlet and an network outlet to communnicate in an online web service that enable sharing of pointless, but witty, point of view?

      It got the word "online" and "central unit", so it must be legite!!

  • RIM comparison (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ritz_Just_Ritz (883997) on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @10:44AM (#15342309)
    I keep seeing comparisons of how RIM was "abused" in this manner. However, RIM is no stranger to using the courts to extort licensing fees either.

    Granted, I think professional patent trollers ought to be shut down, but using RIM as an example of a "victim" in this process is a bit disingenius.
    • >I think professional patent trollers ought to be shut down

      They'r'e certainly not contributing much to society as things currently work.

      What if the USPTO only granted valid patents and cancelled all the junk ones that are lying around? What if companies which hoard patents were to offer a search and licensing scheme, so that you could ask "Does anyone know a solution to this problem?" and they could say "Yes, here it is, $50,000 flat fee or $15,000/year"? What if they acquired patents by paying fair pric
  • by rw2 (17419) on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @10:44AM (#15342310) Homepage
    Won't this ruling hurt the garage inventor that doesn't have the business accumen to bring a product to market, but has the creativity needed to make new stuff?

    Is the ruling, in essence, "patents were made to protect products, not ideas"?
    • by ScentCone (795499) on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @11:06AM (#15342513)
      Won't this ruling hurt the garage inventor that doesn't have the business accumen to bring a product to market, but has the creativity needed to make new stuff?

      Is the ruling, in essence, "patents were made to protect products, not ideas"?


      No, the ruling doesn't in any way change what is or is not protected by a patent... it just changes what sort of immediate business-ruining action (through injunction) a patent holder can take while trying to get things sorted out. For someone that only holds on to patents for the purpose of suing productive parties actually making money on the technology/idea in question, it's a poke in the eye (good!). For someone that can legitmately demonstrate that another company is running around making money on their patented idea... well, this doesn't stop them from still forcing a change and collecting damages as appropriate, just as they'd always have done.

      Now, the only reason I can see the ol' injunction still having merit would be when the patent holder can show that, say, every day the Bad Guys are doing business with the other company's patented idea, the other company is losing out on a future market that may just never come back their way. Some ideas only have a certain useful life, or once another company has made a market entry with it, it's the end of the opportunity, no matter what happens in court later. The ruling here provides courts with an opportunity to still review and act on such things, but not to reflexively grant an injunction just because someone says they should. They have to actually think about the situation. It's a good thing.
    • But patents (and IP more broadly, as set out in the Constitutional provision allowing the federal government to create such rights) were made to protect products, not ideas; or, rather, they were made to reward people for making inventions that are useful to society by granting them exclusivity for a time, which protect their ability to make money. But an invention is only useful if it is available.

      IP law exists by Constitutional mandate to encourage the expansion of useful material available to the public.
  • Good news, but... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bcarl314 (804900) on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @10:44AM (#15342313)
    Although I certainly regard this as good news in general for small businesses, it does bring up a concern.

    Recently there seems to have been a rise in "patent trolling", I hope that this ruling does not cause "patent exploitation". I worry that, big business being what it is today, will use this as an excuse to further exploit other's patents without recourse.

    If someone has a legitimate invention that they patented, they should be able to stop others from unlawfully using their work.

    Not trying to disagree with the ruling, just saying that there are two sides to this coin.
    • Re:Good news, but... (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      (too lazy to set up an account...yet...)

      This decision merely gives courts the ability to make a descision based on circumstances, which is what we needed and most of us wanted. It interprets the law to be more flexible... allows judges to decide on what should be done on a case by case basis.

      It doesn't mean a court will just send a small time inventor packing. If the infringement is egregious, they can issue an injunction. If they feel that is not appropriate, they can force a monetary award... or both.

      S
  • But doesn't the ruling also hurt bona fide inventors, not to mention the many universities that fund their research and own the patents? To be sure, it plainly erodes the power that has been typically bestowed by a patent. Patent law unambiguously grants owners of intellectual property the same rights as regular property holders, including the right to exclude others from using their property. But the law also clearly states that injunctions "may"--not "shall"--be issued "in accordance with the principles of equity."

    The interpretation of one word does not necessarily hurt a patent owner. It simply means the court has discretion to order an injuction, not that it is required to. If you're a legitimate inventor and you have a clear-cut case of infringement then this does not apply to you, but if you're a patent troll, only in it to bilk companies out of money enforcing patents you'd left mouldering in a drawer, then you may be out of luck unless you can prove your case. Frankly, this is the best thing to happen to the patent system in a while.

    • Frankly, this is the best thing to happen to the patent system in a while

      ...Depending on what Judge you get.

      Venue shopping is easy to do these days. Anyone can go find the statistics to tell them how favorably a specific Federal, State, County, Local Judge or court system is going to treat certain claims.

      All this Judicial discretion means is that more patent holders are going to state suing in venues where they know the Judge is going to see things their way. The people/companies getting sued are going to t

  • thank god (Score:5, Insightful)

    by luckynoone (775973) on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @10:52AM (#15342387)
    This is positive even if it hurts the small inventor. This person I know works as a copyright lawyer. Coincidentally for Microsoft. Her job is to find vague ideas that have not been patented and patent them in as many countries as possible with the broadest most vague wording that could possibly hold up in court. Microsoft's idea is that 20 years down the road each patent will pay off itself 100 fold. So why is it okay to do something that hurts the small investor? Because now the small investor can't be sued when they come out with a breakthrough product simply because it infringes upon some BS patent held by a company with zero intentions of ever doing anything with it... well, except for using it to hold a small inventor hostage and take all his/her possessions.
    • by aug24 (38229)
      Please tell your friend I'm sorry for her. Either because she feels she needs to take money to do something she knows is bad and wrong, or because she actually is morally bankrupt.

      Oh wait, you said she's a lawyer? Then I'm sorry that she's morally bankrupt.

      "First thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers". True in the 1600s, true now.

      Justin.
    • Re:thank god (Score:3, Insightful)

      by cpt kangarooski (3773)
      This person I know works as a copyright lawyer. Coincidentally for Microsoft. Her job is to find vague ideas that have not been patented and patent them in as many countries as possible with the broadest most vague wording that could possibly hold up in court.

      Sounds like she actually works as a patent lawyer.
    • >Because now the small investor can't be sued when they come out with a breakthrough product simply because it infringes upon some BS patent

      Sure they can. The change here is that the plaintiff has to show some evidence of actual loss to get a permanent injunction. In my non-lawyerly understanding that's the way injunctions have always worked in the real world.
  • Great! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ajs318 (655362) <sd_resp2 AT earthshod DOT co DOT uk> on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @10:53AM (#15342393)
    All you need now is a new law, allowing patents to be annulled early if they are being misused. Physical property can be confiscated if it is misused, and proponents of the term "intellectual property" like to think that ideas can be owned like physical property, so why the hell not?
  • by Jasin Natael (14968) on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @10:56AM (#15342418)

    I was under the impression that EBay's Buy It Now was something users had been clamoring for from day one. I know I always thought, "It'd be nice to let someone pay immediately instead of dragging this out". It's basically an extension of "$XXX.XX OBO" into the online world.

    Obviously, that's a bogus patent. Appending in the context of an online system shouldn't make it automagically patentworthy. Perhaps we should not allow ANY injunctions until the patent has been further reviewed by the USPTO. If the USPTO decides to revoke or invalidate a patent before the case goes to court, wouldn't that be better than letting it go to a high-profile court case and then having to read 35 stories about it on Slashdot?

    • Suppose that eBay's customers were clamoring for their server farm to be powered by cold fusion. eBay responds by making a working cold fusion reactor and patents it. The fact that their customers were the impetus for its creation doesn't mean that eBay wouldn't deserve the patent.

      Having said that, this case closer J. Random Troll getting a patent for "barter - in space!" and then suing eBay because they have customers with satellite linkups. It's still a stupid patent lawsuit, but not for the reason y

  • by jadavis (473492) on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @10:56AM (#15342419)
    the company that owns this so-called patent only has it for the purposes of suing other people.

    Why else would you own a patent?
    • I know that was funny, but it's also true. Exactly what purpose does a patent have other than suing people who infringe upon it? I guess you could sell it to some other company (who would in turn sue those who infringe upon it). Have you got another use for it? I guess it'd make a decent coaster.
  • Sounds good. If we can patent trolls, slashdot could sue digg.

    RTFA? What FA?

  • Demolishing Trolls (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cheesedog (603990) on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @11:00AM (#15342463)
    "This is a big deal, as it increases your right to create. It diminishes the paper inventor's monopoly over basic ideas, and gives you more freedom to invent and market your innovations without the fear that unscrupulous individuals will be able to thwart it all by gaming the legal system.

    "This subtle change doesn't destroy the shackles of our broken patent system, but it certainly loosens the bonds that tie innovation down. And perhaps most importantly, it demonstrates that the Supreme Court understands how oppressive the current legal system has become with respect to patent litigation. This decision is, perhaps, a portent of how the Court might feel about several other important patent issues it is schedulued to hear."

    From Right to Create [blogspot.com]

  • by Jestrzcap (46989) on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @11:11AM (#15342558)
    Well this is good news. It means that there is less opportunity for RIM jobs.

    yeah yeah, mod me down for the horrible-punned-to-death-already.
  • by stlhawkeye (868951) on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @11:15AM (#15342587) Homepage Journal
    Could read either way. On balance, the abuse of the patent system is harmful and needs to be addressed. That should be handled, however, by legislation, not litigation. Allowing the common law to change the patent system may briefly serve the greater good, but it is ultimately a bad thing, m-kay. Sadly, we're sort of left with no other options. Our esteemed reps in Washington are utterly obsessed with winning votes and power so they can ... enact policies to further secure their votes and power. One begins to wonder if term limits might have been a good idea after all.
  • ...before we celebrate, let's just hope that the result of this isn't that big companies will simply ignore / attempt to perpetually delay a judgement in order to bankrupt the little guy.
    After all, patent lawyers are among the most expensive lawyers out there and realistically, not everyone can afford to hire one for a year or two. And lawyers being lawyers, you'll have a hard time finding one that will stick around after you run out of money.
    And really, patent trolls will still be able to hunt for judges
  • by argoff (142580) on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @11:21AM (#15342646)
    Many companies hoard pools of patents without ever having the intent of suing people, but only using them as self defense if they get sued. All and all, this limits the power of the defenders just as much as the patent trolls, but doesn't solve the fundamental problem with patents. If 10 million people own patents, and everybody uses those patents, then each person get's the value of one patent, but has to pay the license of 10 million patents. On the other hand, if there were no patents, then each inventor would loose royalities over one patent, but gain the value of 10 million patents. It is stupid to treat petnets like they have the natural limits of physical property. Patents simply won't work in a world of 5 billion people where everybody is nickeling, diming, and suing each other to death. That is, except to reward big large giants at the expense of killing off small innovators.
    • Actually, the defensive patent holds the same value as the offensive patent, they've just been determined to have less weight when compared to a "real" patent. You can still send your lawyers into a bluster-fest with their lawyers, and assuming that you're both dealing with paper-only patents you're still fighting on level ground. The lawyers will still bill just as much and they'll be able to feed their families. Teh only difference is that your defensive patents won't hold quite as much sway if you happ
  • by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @11:54AM (#15342880)
    This decision is more than long overdue. How much are you being hurt on a moment-by-moment basis for a patent you aren't even using? Eventual damages can be decided, if any, but you're not suffering irreparable harm for every second that passes otherwise.

    So they got one right this time.

  • We need a change. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by kahrytan (913147) on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @11:58AM (#15342905)

    Patent laws need a change. People shouldn't get away with patenting ideas like MercExchange just did. "buy it Now" is an idea. It is not technology. Amazon.com's 1-click does the same exact thing.

    Patent Law should be changed so only physical and exact things are patented. One should not be able to patent ideas. This includes software patents.
  • The Decision (Score:5, Interesting)

    by servoled (174239) on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @12:07PM (#15342990)
    The decision itself can be found here [cornell.edu] along with countless other places.

    For the most part it is a pretty cut and dry decision stating that a 4-part based on the principles of equality should be applied before an injunction is granted. Specifically:
    A plaintiff must demonstrate: (1) that it has suffered an irreparable injury; (2) that remedies available at law, such as monetary damages, are inadequate to compensate for that injury; (3) that, considering the balance of hardships between the plaintiff and defendant, a remedy in equity is warranted; and (4) that the public interest would not be disserved by a permanent injunction. See, e.g., Weinberger v. Romero-Barcelo, 456 U. S. 305, 311-313 (1982) ; Amoco Production Co. v. Gambell, 480 U. S. 531, 542 (1987) .
    There is an interesting part of Thomas opinion:
    Although the District Court recited the traditional four-factor test, 275 F. Supp. 2d, at 711, it appeared to adopt certain expansive principles suggesting that injunctive relief could not issue in a broad swath of cases. Most notably, it concluded that a "plaintiff's willingness to license its patents" and "its lack of commercial activity in practicing the patents" would be sufficient to establish that the patent holder would not suffer irreparable harm if an injunction did not issue. Id., at 712. But traditional equitable principles do not permit such broad classifications. For example, some patent holders, such as university researchers or self-made inventors, might reasonably prefer to license their patents, rather than undertake efforts to secure the financing necessary to bring their works to market themselves.
    This basically lays out that just because a patent owner has no intention of selling or making the product does not mean that they automatically fail the 4-part test. Presumably if they also have no intention of licensing the patent to someone they would fail the test, but this isn't specifically said in the decision. Might be something to watch for in the future.

    Off to read the two concurring opinions.
    • Re:The Decision (Score:5, Informative)

      by servoled (174239) on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @12:17PM (#15343079)
      Roberts concurring opinion is pretty useless, but this gem is found in Kennedy's concurring opinion (joined by Stevens, Souter and Breyer):
      In cases now arising trial courts should bear in mind that in many instances the nature of the patent being enforced and the economic function of the patent holder present considerations quite unlike earlier cases. An industry has developed in which firms use patents not as a basis for producing and selling goods but, instead, primarily for obtaining licensing fees. See FTC, To Promote Innovation: The Proper Balance of Competition and Patent Law and Policy, ch. 3, pp. 38-39 (Oct. 2003), available at http://www.ftc.gov/os/2003/10/innovationrpt.pdf [ftc.gov] (as visited May 11, 2006, and available in Clerk of Court's case file). For these firms, an injunction, and the potentially serious sanctions arising from its violation, can be employed as a bargaining tool to charge exorbitant fees to companies that seek to buy licenses to practice the patent. See ibid. When the patented invention is but a small component of the product the companies seek to produce and the threat of an injunction is employed simply for undue leverage in negotiations, legal damages may well be sufficient to compensate for the infringement and an injunction may not serve the public interest. In addition injunctive relief may have different consequences for the burgeoning number of patents over business methods, which were not of much economic and legal significance in earlier times. The potential vagueness and suspect validity of some of these patents may affect the calculus under the four-factor test.
      Sounds like a huge blow to businesses based entirely around patent licensing.
  • Also on Groklaw (Score:4, Informative)

    by Eggplant62 (120514) on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @12:38PM (#15343236)
    Pamela Jones has posted an article [groklaw.net] on Groklaw written by Theodore C. McCullough Esq that does an in-depth analysis of this case based upon many of the amicus curiae briefs. I've not read it in detail yet, but it looks highly interesting.

I judge a religion as being good or bad based on whether its adherents become better people as a result of practicing it. - Joe Mullally, computer salesman

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