Tag Archives: intellectual property

German Company sues Apple for $2 billion.

An article in USA Today dicusses how IpCom, a German patent holding company sued Apple for $2 billion. A “patent troll” is a term commonly used to describe the company because of its tendency to buy patents with no intent to use them. IpCom has over 1,200 patents with no plan for them in manufacturing.



The company benefits from the license fees and royalties that result from enforcing patents. The ethical question here is  deciding if IpCom’s actions are morally right. The Act Utilitarianism theory may say that the action is morally wrong because it creates more unhappiness because they are suing the company for producing a product that advances society that would not have gotten produced otherwise. While rule utilitarianism would have said they were morally right if the number one rule is something like, “do not violate the patent”.

$2 billion is a lot of money and IpCom was denied their claim. But were they morally right to sue Apple in the first place?

Unit 61398

Was listening to NPR this morning and found this little gem.

A military unit from the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) known as Unit 61398 or “Comment Crew” has been hacking into U.S and other foreign firms to gather intellectual property, infrastructural data and other information that could be useful to the Chinese Government.

This hacking unit has been effectively gathering such information since as early as 2006 and has been using the intellectual property int order for China to be able to keep with the same corporations that the information is being taken from.

A group called Mandiant were the ones who traced the data back to Shanghai China and into a building which houses the military unit.

Another issue comes from the data retrieved about electrical grids and gas lines. Such data could be used to a very harmful degree.

I know that we discussed in class that intellectual property could not be stolen and that this would be considered to be found information by the “Comment Crew”, but I could see how this could in fact be considered stolen and creates a huge advantage to competing companies abroad.

Could these companies IPs be considered stolen? What about the trade secrets that were probably found as well? Would this have been viewed differently if a U.S based company was hacking competitors in order to gain an upper hand?

Newegg defeats patent troll

A “patent troll” is a company that is set up just to make money off of patents it owns. Usually, such companies do not do any R&D themselves. Instead, they strategically purchase patents from other companies, especially companies that are going bankrupt or having other financial difficulties. Then they use these patents to make money from other larger companies. They say, “Hey, you use technology that we have patented. Either pay us some royalties or we will sue you.”

It is important to be aware that patents are different than copyrights. A copyright covers the creative work itself — that piece of data itself, as written or recorded. Examples include source code, an executable binary, some song lyrics, a book, a musical recording, a photograph, a video, etc. A patent covers an invention, in other words, an idea. So, for instance, you could have a certain kind of pulley system patented. And you could have the blueprints (or CAD drawings, etc.) copyrighted. Roughly, the patent covers the idea, while the copyright covers a data object.

According to Title 35 §101 of the US Code, the things you can patent are these: “any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof”.

Well, what if someone had a patent on e-commerce? That is the issue in this Ars Technica article about the legal fight between Newegg and Soverain Software. (Read the article. It’s great.) Soverain Software is a patent troll, in the sense described above. And, at one point, they acquired a patent for the idea of an internet shopping cart. They didn’t actually do the “invention” or file for the patent. Apparently they got it from a software outfit that was going out of business in 2001. Well, who uses web shopping carts? Everyone. Soverain has sued the likes of J.C. Penney, TigerDirect, Avon, Victoria’s Secret, Best Buy, Office Max, Home Depot, IBM, and others. Not all the cases have been resolved, but Soverain was pulling in millions of dollars.

Newegg was also being sued by Soverain, and they said, “This is bullshit.” (That’s a quote from Newegg’s Chief Legal Officer.) Instead of settling with Soverain, they fought. Finally, they got Soverain’s patents declared invalid. This saves them and many other e-commerce businesses tons of money.

It seems extreme to be able to patent an idea as general as internet shopping cart. But are there other ideas that potentially should be covered by patent protection? What would be the justification for that? Would copyright be enough by itself?

My guess is that act utilitarianism would favor a policy of no software patents but some level of copyright protection for software and source code. However, I haven’t worked through the act utilitarian evaluation step-by-step. Furthermore, there are many ways copyrights can be structured, and that is another complication. We will be talking about this more in class in a couple of weeks. But please weigh in with your initial thoughts!

Aaron Swartz suicide

Ars Technica has the best short summary of the controversial life and death of Aaron Swartz that I’ve seen. It is definitely worth reading, if you have not been following this story.

The article points out what all commentators have been saying — that Swartz was a brilliant programmer, hacker, and technological innovator (and that he was only 26 at the time of his death). The Ars article is especially good because it presents a fairly clear (but maybe over-simplified) picture of how the events of the last couple years may have led to Swartz’s unfortunate death.

Swartz was an outspoken activist for free and open access to information — especially government documents and scientific publications. In 2010, Swartz (allegedly) used the MIT computer network to download millions of academic articles from JSTOR. I am not sure what his exact motives were. The Ars article suggests that it was a kind of activism or protest. What seems clear is that Swartz did not do it for personal profit. Also, as far as I can tell, he never distributed the documents to anyone. Anyway, JSTOR did not press charges but the US federal government went after him pretty hard. Apparently, he was potentially facing more than 50 years in prison.

At this point, it does not look like people are sure about Swartz’s motive for suicide. People have been speculating, though, that it was because of despair over a long prison sentence.

Swartz’s life was complex, but a simple summary still seems accurate. He had strong moral views. He worked for those views, and, in the process, ran afoul of the law. Legal issues threatened to ruin his life. So he took his own life.

Who is at fault here? Is it the fault of Swartz himself — for going too far in pursuit of his ideals? Is it the fault of the government, for prosecuting Swartz too hard (as Lawrence Lessig contends it did)? Is it the fault of society somehow? A combination? No one’s fault, just a said turn of events?