Businesses

Nokia Uses Lawsuit To Make Apple Its Friend (bbc.com) 8

Apple has settled a patent dispute with Finnish telecom equipment maker Nokia and agreed to buy more of its network products and services. The deal means Nokia will get bigger royalties from Apple for using its mobile phone patents, helping offset the impact of waning demand for its mobile network hardware. Nokia's shares were up by seven percent following the announcement. WSJ puts things into perspective: Nokia's deal with Apple follows a highly unusual playbook: using a lawsuit to win business from your adversary (could be paywalled). When the first iPhone was unveiled a decade ago, Apple became a major competitor to the Finnish group, which was then the world's leading mobile-phone maker. As Nokia's business dwindled, the companies became legal antagonists. Now they are set to become business partners. The settlement announced Tuesday involves Apple paying Nokia a lump sum plus royalties for each device it sells using Nokia's technology. This is broadly the same kind of agreement the two sides reached in 2011 following a two-year lawsuit. The previous deal expired last year, which is why both sides launched fresh suits in December. In the aftermath of the lawsuit last year, Apple had pulled all Withings products from its stores. As part of the settlement, Apple said it will reverse that move.
Patents

The Supreme Court Is Cracking Down on Patent Trolls (fortune.com) 111

The Supreme Court on Monday limited the ability of patent holders to bring infringement lawsuits in courts that have plaintiff friendly reputations, a notable decision that could provide a boost to companies that defend against patent claims. The high court, in an opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas, ruled unanimously that a lower court has been following an incorrect legal standard for almost 30 years that made it possible for patent holders to sue companies in almost any U.S. jurisdiction. From a report: The justices sided 8-0 (PDF) with beverage flavoring company TC Heartland in its legal battle with food and beverage company Kraft Heinz, ruling that patent infringement suits can be filed only in courts located in the jurisdiction where the targeted company is incorporated. Justice Neil Gorsuch did not participate in the decision. The decision overturned a ruling last year by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, a Washington-based patent court, that said patent suits are fair game anywhere a defendant company's products are sold.
Patents

Apple Receives Patents For Bezel-Free Display, Touch ID Button Embedded In Screen (9to5mac.com) 176

Apple has just been granted patents for two of the biggest features expected from the iPhone 8: an edge-to-edge display, and a Touch ID button embedded into the screen. 9to5Mac reports: The edge-to-edge display patent has the rather mundane heading "Reducing the border area of a device." It describes how a mostly-flat display can have a curved border area allowing it to wrap around the sides of the device: [...] "This relates to methods and systems for reducing the border areas of an electronic device so as to maximize the display/interactive touch areas of the device. In particular, a flexible substrate can be used to fabricate the display panel and/or the touch sensor panel (referred to collectively herein as a 'circuit panel') of a mobile electronic device so that the edges of the display panel and/or the touch sensor panel can be bent. Bending the edges can reduce the width (or length) of the panel, which in turn can allow the overall device to be narrower without reducing the display/touch-active area of the device." The embedded Touch ID patent is one of many submitted by Apple, describing different approaches it could take. This one re-uses language from a separate patent granted back in February, describing the benefits of allowing a user to authenticate without having to remove their finger from the screen: "Where a fingerprint sensor is integrated into an electronic device or host device, for example, as noted above, it may be desirable to more quickly perform authentication, particularly while performing another task or an application on the electronic device. In other words, in some instances it may be undesirable to have a user perform an authentication in a separate authentication step, for example switching between tasks to perform the authentication." Apple has been granted a total of 56 patents today. For more information, visit Patently Apple.
Music

MP3 Is Not Dead, It's Finally Free (marco.org) 415

The commentary around IIS Fraunhofer and Technicolor terminating their MP3 licensing program for certain MP3 related patents and software has been amusing. While some are interpreting this development as the demise of the MP3 format, others are cheering about MP3s finally being free. Developer and commentator Marco Arment tries to prevail sense: MP3 is no less alive now than it was last month or will be next year -- the last known MP3 patents have simply expired. So while there's a debate to be had -- in a moment -- about whether MP3 should still be used today, Fraunhofer's announcement has nothing to do with that, and is simply the ending of its patent-licensing program (because the patents have all expired) and a suggestion that we move to a newer, still-patented format. MP3 is supported by everything, everywhere, and is now patent-free. There has never been another audio format as widely supported as MP3, it's good enough for almost anything, and now, over twenty years since it took the world by storm, it's finally free.
Patents

Cloudflare Declares War On a Patent Troll With a $50,000 Bounty (fortune.com) 54

Internet security company Cloudflare has declared war on a company called Blackbird that consists of a group of lawyers who file patent lawsuits against tech and retail firms. In a blog post titled "Standing Up to a Dangerous New Breed of Patent Troll," Cloudflare called Blackbird's business model destruction and unethical, and announced a $50,000 bounty to anyone who would help invalidate Blackbird's patents. Fortune reports: "There's no social value here. There's no support for a maligned inventor. There's no competing business or product. There's no validation of an incentive structure that supports innovation. This is a shakedown where a patent troll, Blackbird Tech, creates as much nuisance as it can so its attorney-principals can try to grab some cash. Cloudflare does not intend to play along," said the blog post. While patent trolling has been around for years -- and is a particular bug bear of the tech industry -- Cloudflare says Blackbird's model of trolling involves a new and unethical twist. Specifically, the company says Blackbird's lawyer-executives are violating their professional obligations by buying the claims of potential clients and engaging in questionable fee-splitting arrangements. Here is how Cloudflare, which says it is filing complaints with the state bars of Massachusetts and Illinois, explains it: "Blackbird's 'new model' seems to be only that its operations set out to distort the traditional Attorney-Client relationship. Blackbird's website makes a direct pitch of its legal services to recruit clients with potential claims and then, instead of taking them on as a client, purchases their claims and provides additional consideration that likely gives the client an ongoing interest in the resulting litigation. In doing so, Blackbird is flouting its ethical obligations meant to protect clients and distorting the judicial process by obfuscating and limiting potential counterclaims against the real party in interest."
Microsoft

Microsoft Patents Flagging Technology For 'Repeat Offenders' Of Pirated Content (torrentfreak.com) 53

An anonymous reader quotes TorrentFreak's report on Microsoft's newest patent: Titled: "Disabling prohibited content and identifying repeat offenders in service provider storage systems," the patent describes a system where copyright infringers, and those who publish other objectionable content, are flagged so that frequent offenders can be singled out... "The incident history can be processed to identify repeat offenders and modify access privileges of those users," the patent reads. [PDF] The "repeat infringer" is a hot topic at the moment, after ISP Cox Communications was ordered to pay $25 million for its failure to disconnect repeat offenders...

As far a we know, this is the first patent that specifically deals with the repeat infringer situation in these hosting situations, but it's not uncommon for cloud hosting services to prevent users from sharing infringing content. We previously uncovered that Google Drive uses hash matching to prevent people from sharing "flagged" files in public, and Dropbox does the same.

Music

Fedora Will Get Full Mp3 Support, As IIS Fraunhofer Terminates Mp3 Licensing Program (fedoramagazine.org) 133

An anonymous reader quotes Fedora Magazine: Both MP3 encoding and decoding will soon be officially supported in Fedora. Last November the patents covering MP3 decoding expired and Fedora Workstation enabled MP3 decoding via the mpg123 library and GStreamer... The MP3 codec and Open Source have had a troubled relationship over the past decade, especially within the United States. Historically, due to licensing issues Fedora has been unable to include MP3 decoding or encoding within the base distribution... A couple of weeks ago IIS Fraunhofer and Technicolor terminated their licensing program and just a few days ago Red Hat Legal provided the permission to ship MP3 encoding in Fedora.
Patents

Walmart Wants To Put Sensors On Everything So It Can Automatically Order You Stuff (theverge.com) 106

According to a recently published patent spotted by CB Insights, Walmart "describes a system of connected sensors that could monitor customers' product consumption," reports The Verge. "The sensors would be attached to products and rely on a variety of technology, like radio frequencies, Bluetooth, conventional barcodes, and RFID tags." From the report: Walmart doesn't suggest that any one sensor type would work best; rather, it lays out its options. Apparently it has a lot of ideas: these tags would all track how often a product is used and where it's located in a home. They could also help Walmart figure out what other products it could market to users based off their purchases. A tag reader installed on a fridge, for example, could scan every item that goes inside. This reader could then track when food is going bad or needs to be reordered. On the other hand, an RFID system could figure out when a person is picking up their toothbrush and use that information to estimate how much toothpaste is left. It could then be automatically reordered.
Iphone

Qualcomm Is Seeking US Import Ban For iPhones (bloomberg.com) 104

Qualcomm is seeking to block the sale of iPhones in the U.S. after Apple decided to stop paying them billions of dollars in licensing fees for smartphone chips. Bloomberg reports: Qualcomm is preparing to ask the International Trade Commission to stop the iPhone, which is built in Asia, from entering the country, threatening to block Apple's iconic product from the American market in advance of its anticipated new model this fall, according to the person, who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private. The ITC is a quasi-judicial agency in Washington that has the power to block the import of goods into the U.S. and processes cases more quickly than federal district courts -- the venue in which the companies are accusing each other of lying, making threats and trying to create an illegal monopoly. The escalating legal dispute revolves around patents Qualcomm holds that let it to charge a percentage of the price of every modern high-speed data-capable smartphone, regardless of whether the devices use its chips. Apple argues the system is unfair and Qualcomm has used licensing leverage to illegally help its semiconductor unit.
Patents

Apple Patent Hints At Wirelessly Charging Your iPhone Via Wi-Fi Routers (appleinsider.com) 144

According to AppleInsider, "Apple is experimenting with medium- to long-distance wireless charging technologies that could one day allow users to charge up their iPhones with nothing more than a Wi-Fi router." From the report: Detailed in Apple's patent application for "Wireless Charging and Communications Systems With Dual-Frequency Patch Antennas" is a method for transferring power to electronic devices over frequencies normally dedicated to data communications. In its various embodiments, the invention notes power transfer capabilities over any suitable wireless communications link, including cellular between 700 MHz and 2700 MHz, and Wi-Fi operating at 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. More specifically, the document's claims apply to millimeter wave 802.11ad spectrum channels currently in use by the WiGig standard, which operates over the 60 GHz frequency band. Theoretically, the proposal opens the door to wire-free charging from in-home Wi-Fi routers to cellular nodes and even satellite signals. Of course, amplitude in a wireless system is normally a function of distance. Like conventional wireless charging techniques, Apple's design requires two devices -- a transmitter and receiver -- to function. Each device contains one or more antennas coupled to wireless circuitry capable of making phase and magnitude adjustments to transmitted and received signals. Such hardware can be employed in dynamic beam steering operations.
Businesses

Qualcomm Collected Partial iPhone Royalties Despite Legal Battle With Apple (fortune.com) 14

From a report: Qualcomm continued to collect some royalties for Apple's use of its wireless technology in iPhones last year despite dueling lawsuits between the two mobile giants, cheering Qualcomm investors who feared that the payments had entirely dried up. Qualcomm said on Wednesday that Apple's contract manufacturers including Foxconn paid royalties, although they withheld around $1 billion from the undisclosed total amount due. The amount withheld equaled the amount Qualcomm withheld from Apple last year under a separate agreement to cooperate on mobile technology that has since expired.
Electronic Frontier Foundation

Troll With 'Stupid Patent' Sues EFF. EFF Sues Them Back (arstechnica.com) 68

"The Electronic Frontier Foundation has sued an Australian company that it previously dubbed as a 'classic patent troll' in a June 2016 blog post entitled: Stupid Patent of the Month: Storage Cabinets on a Computer." An anonymous reader quotes Ars Technica: Last year, that company, Global Equity Management (SA) Pty. Ltd. (GEMSA), managed to get an Australian court to order EFF to remove its post -- but EFF did not comply. In January 2017, Pasha Mehr, an attorney representing GEMSA, further demanded that the article be removed and that EFF pay $750,000. EFF still did not comply. The new lawsuit, filed in federal court in San Francisco on Wednesday, asks that the American court declare the Australian ruling unenforceable in the U.S.
GEMSA's attorneys reportedly threatened to have the EFF's post de-indexed from search engine listings -- on the basis of the Australian court order -- so now the EFF "seeks a court order declaring the Australian injunction 'repugnant' to the U.S. Constitution and unenforceable in the United States."

The Register reports that GEMSA has already sued 37 companies, "including big-name tech companies Airbnb, Uber, Netflix, Spotify, and eBay. In each case, GEMSA accused the company's website design of somehow trampling on the GUI patent without permission." But things were different after the EFF's article, according to Courthouse News. "GEMSA said the article made it harder to enforce its patents in the United States, citing its legal opponents' 'reduced interest in pursuing pre-trial settlement negotiations.'"
China

The Surprising Rise of China As IP Powerhouse (techcrunch.com) 150

hackingbear quotes a report from TechCrunch: China is not only taking the spotlight in strong defense of global markets and free trade, filling a vacuum left by retreating Western capitalist democracies, China is quickly becoming a (if not the) global leader in intellectual property protection and enforcement. And there too, just as Western democracies (especially the United States) have grown increasingly skeptical of the value of intellectual property and have weakened protection and enforcement, China has been steadily advancing its own intellectual property system and the protected assets of its companies and citizens. In addition to filing twice as many patents as the U.S., China is increasingly being selected as a key venue for patent litigation between non-Chinese companies. Why? Litigants feel they are treated fairly. Reports indicated that in 2015, 65 foreign plaintiffs won all of their cases against other foreign companies before Beijing's IP court. And even foreign plaintiffs suing Chinese companies won about 81 percent of their patent cases, roughly the same as domestic Chinese plaintiffs. China's journey from piracy to protection models the journeys of other Western and Asian countries. While building its industrial economies, the U.S. and major European powers violated IP laws with no consideration. As reported by The Guardian, Doron Ben-Atar, a history professor at Fordham University, has noted that "U.S. and every major European state engaged in technology piracy and industrial espionage in the 18th and 19th century." It took Western economies a hundred or more years to change that behavior. China's mind-whipping change is happening over decades, not centuries.
Google

Google Announces Android Cross-Licensing Program 'PAX' -- But Why? (consortiuminfo.org) 33

"Linux and open-source software have had to contend with intellectual property legal challenges for years," writes ZDNet. "Now, Google has started a new effort to bring peace to potential Android IP sore points: PAX... a royalty-free, community-patent cross-license." PAX is starting with nine members: Google, Samsung Electronics, LG Electronics, HTC, Foxconn Technology Group, Coolpad, BQ, HMD Global, and Allview. These companies own more than 230,000 global patents. PAX's purpose is to create a "community-driven [patent] clearinghouse, developed together with our Android partners, [that] ensures that innovation and consumer choice -- not patent threats -- will continue to be key drivers of our Android ecosystem. PAX is free to join and open to anyone."
Slashdot reader Andy Updegroved writes: The question is why? The announcement and the related website are extremely brief, and although everyone is invited to get a copy of the cross license, Google reserves the right to decide first whether your motives are pure and you can keep a secret. And so far, the only members of the "PAX Community" listed are existing Google business partners. Is Google aware of some new patent tempest brewing just over the horizon, about to burst into public view? And will any other company names and logos be added to the PAX Community Web page? We'll just have to stay tuned to find out.
Andy Updegrove tells ZDNet it does involve "formal cross-licenses between participants, and therefore enforceable rights, but not an infrastructure to do more (at least insofar as one can tell from the initial announcement)."
Businesses

China Court Orders Samsung Units To Pay $11.6 Million To Huawei Over Patent Case (reuters.com) 42

A Chinese court has ordered Samsung Electronics's mainland subsidiaries to pay 80 million yuan ($11.60 million) to Huawei Technologies for patent infringement, the China firm's first victory against Samsung on its legal challenges over intellectual property. From a report: Three units of Samsung have been ordered by the Quanzhou Intermediary Court to pay the sum for infringing a patent held by Huawei Device Co Limited, the handset unit of Huawei, the Quanzhou Evening News, a government-run newspaper, said on its website on Thursday. The verdict is the first on several lawsuits of Huawei against the South Korean technology giant. Huawei filed lawsuits against Samsung in May in courts in China and the United States -- the first by it against Samsung -- claiming infringements of smartphone patents. Samsung subsequently countersued Huawei in China for IP infringement.
IBM

IBM Technology Creates Smart Wingman For Self-Driving Cars (networkworld.com) 42

coondoggie quotes a report from Network World: IBM said that it has patented a machine learning technology that defines how to shift control of an autonomous vehicle between a human driver and a vehicle control processor in the event of a potential emergency. Basically the patented IBM system employs onboard sensors and artificial intelligence to determine potential safety concerns and control whether self-driving vehicles are operated autonomously or by surrendering control to a human driver. The idea is that if a self-driving vehicle experiences an operational glitch like a faulty braking system, a burned-out headlight, poor visibility, bad road conditions, it could decide whether the on-board self-driving vehicle control processor or a human driver is in a better position to handle that anomaly. If the comparison determines that the vehicle control processor is better able to handle the anomaly, the vehicle is placed in autonomous mode," IBM stated. "The technology would be a smart wingman for both the human and the self-driving vehicle," said James Kozloski, manager, Computational Neuroscience and Multiscale Brain Modeling, IBM Research and co-inventor on the patent.
Businesses

A Lawsuit Over Costco Golf Balls Shows Why We Can't Have Nice Things For Cheap (qz.com) 266

Ephrat Livni, writing for Quartz: Unless you're a golfer, you probably don't think about golf balls. But a new US lawsuit about these little-dimpled spheres has an economics lesson for all shoppers, showing why consumers have cause for concern when companies use court for sport. Costco, the wholesale membership club, rocked the golf world in 2016 when it started selling its Kirkland Signature (KS) golf balls at about $15 per dozen, a quarter to a third the price of popular top-ranked balls. Industry insiders called it a "miracle golf ball" for its great performance and low cost, and Costco sold out immediately. It's planning to release more in April. In response to the bargain ball's reception, however, Acushnet -- which makes the popular Titleist balls -- sent the membership club a threatening letter. It accused Costco of infringing on 11 patents and engaging in false advertising for claiming that KS balls meet or exceed the quality standards of leading national brands.
The Courts

US Top Court Considers Changing Where Patent Cases May Be Filed (reuters.com) 55

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday grappled over whether to upend a quarter-century of practice and limit where patent-infringement lawsuits can be filed. From a report on Reuters: The U.S. Supreme Court struggled over whether to upend nearly 30 years of law governing patent lawsuits that critics say allows often-baseless litigants to sue in friendly courts, giving them the upper hand over high-technology companies such as Apple and Alphabet Google. The justices heard an hour of arguments in an appeal by beverage flavoring company TC Heartland LLC to have a patent infringement suit brought against it by food and beverage company Kraft Heinz moved from federal court in Delaware, where it was filed, to Heartland's home base in Indiana. TC Heartland is challenging a lower court ruling denying a transfer to Indiana. Even though the case did not involve a lawsuit filed in Texas, the arguments involved the peculiar fact that the bulk of patent litigation in the United States is occurring in a single, rural region of East Texas, far from the centers of technology and innovation in the United States. Critics have said the federal court there has rulings and procedures favoring entities that generate revenue by suing over patents instead of making products, sometimes called "patent trolls." The outcome of the TC Heartland case could be profoundly felt in the East Texas courts. The justices could curtail where patent lawsuits may be launched, limiting them to where a defendant company is incorporated and potentially making it harder to get to trial or score lucrative jury verdicts.
Cellphones

Is Microsoft Building A Foldable 'Surface' Phone? (hothardware.com) 100

"This past week, Microsoft received a new patent for a foldable handset, and once again there are rumors that it is related to the long awaited, mythical Surface Phone," writes HardOCP, noting Samsung and LG are also rumored to be working on foldable phones. An anonymous reader quotes Hot Hardware: Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella made it clear that he doesn't want to kick out just another run-of-the-mill smartphone that looks and functions like every other device out there, but one that is unique in some aspect... This is not the first time Microsoft has filed a patent for what could be a folding Surface Phone. Just two months ago it was discovered that Microsoft filed a patent for a "Mobile Computing Device Having a Flexible Hinge Structure"...
Microsoft's patents include curved edges "intended to draw light away from the gaps, which would create an optical illusion of one continuous image," according to the article. "In this way, Microsoft could create a folding phone with multiple active displays appearing as a single, continuous image."

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