Meet the judge who codes — and decides tech’s biggest cases
Judge William H. Alsup of the northern district of California. He’s a particularly interesting person, because he has a clue about programming. He taught himself, decades ago, for hobby.
And my goodness does it come in handy nowadays. I found the (long) interview an interesting read. The difference between artistic work and functional matter is highly relevant, but difficult to discern for someone without a clue about coding (most lawyers, judges and juries).
I also noted his middle name is Haskell, whereas he does his pretty nifty programming in QuickBASIC.
[…] the story of Myriad Genetics, the biotech company that has a test for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes (often an indicator of a higher risk for breast cancer). The company argued that because of its patent on those genes, no one else could test for those genes. Back in 2013, the Supreme Court did the right thing and finally rejected the concept of gene patents, despite years of the USPTO granting such patents. As the court noted, allowing gene patents created a perverse situation in which a single company could have the exclusive right to isolate a person’s own genes — and that’s just not right.
But Myriad Genetics did not give up easily. Just a month after the Supreme Court ruling it sued a bunch of competitors over a different set of gene patents, insisting that the Supreme Court had really only struck down the two in question. Those lawsuits did not go well, as Myriad lost again and again. At this point, it’s only choice was to go back to the Supreme Court, where it was obviously going to get a pretty big smackdown — so Myriad has now admitted that it will not pursue an appeal effectively ending this latest round of cases (after costing those other testing centers tons of money to defend themselves).
Good for Myriad, finally seeing sense (though at great expense to many).
Meanwhile, however, the USPTO (US Patent & Trademark Office) continues its long running bad strategy of simply tweaking its guidelines to allow more application. This despite a) court rulings disqualifying such non-innovations and b) overwhelming proof that the strategy does not aid innovation.
I find it astonishing that an organisation can go so wrong in that its primary activity now appears to be directly opposed to the goal it was created to promote.
Stupid patent (pending) example:
“iCamPRO has 8 built-in IR LEDs with a light sensor to trigger them on/off. Our patent-pending technology allows you to turn the IR LED lights ON or OFF from app.”
Nothing innovative. Not “non-obvious to an expert in the field” (European patent test). This is from an Amsterdam, The Netherlands based company. Speaking as a fellow Dutchie: embarrassing.
I hope and expect that the European patent office won’t grant that patent, as it just doesn’t pass even their basic tests. But think of why it was filed in the first place… what kind of stuffed business logic and waste of resources lies at the basis of that. Sigh.
A story of rather uncool corporate behaviour. It’s akin to cartels, which tend to also be outlawed in countries (as part of oligopoly-related legislation).
Companies making agreements that result in an anti-competitive environment is just not on. Interesting to see how corporations and people who profess to be all for free markets actually engage in this kind of behaviour, and the only thing that might stop them is getting caught. Not the best example of decent corporate principles and best practise, is it.
And then there’s the whole corporate extortion thing using patent portfolios and cash reserves which was also uncovered as part of the case. Yuck.
Just in case you still thought that software and abstract/method patents were a good and sane idea promoting business and innovation… do read this article on Techdirt. This new troll approach is all about going after small businesses that offer Wi-Fi services. You know, your local coffee shop, your library, the hotel down the way.
It’s a simple extortion scheme: “Pay us a few grand and we won’t sue you.” Even if it wouldn’t hold up in court, a small business can’t afford the legal expense and is likely to simply pay up on demand. All of us will get targeted directly or indirectly by this nonsense, it really has to stop – be stopped.
Also note this article from 2008, referencing a Haliburton patent application for the process for patent trolling. I kid you not. A quick search at USPTO reveals that the application still exists in the system (but hasn’t been approved at least).