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Businesses

Nearly Half the Patents on Marine Genes Belong To Just One Company (smithsonianmag.com) 157

A creature as majestic as a whale, you might think, should have no owner. Yet it turns out that certain snippets of the DNA that makes a sperm whale a sperm whale are actually the subjects of patents -- meaning that private entities have exclusive rights to their use for research and development. From a report: The same goes for countless other marine species. And new research shows that a single German chemical company owns 47 percent of patented marine gene sequences. A just-published paper in Science Advances finds that 862 separate species of marine life have genetic patents associated with them. "It's everything from microorganisms to fish species," says lead author Robert Blasiak, a conservation researcher at the University of Stockholm who was shocked to find out how many genetic sequences in the ocean were patented. "Even iconic species" -- like plankton, manta rays, and yes, sperm whales. Of some 13,000 genetic sequences targeted by patents, nearly half are the intellectual property of a company called Baden Aniline and Soda Factory (BASF).
Beer

Uber Seeks Patent For AI That Determines Whether Passengers Are Drunk (cnet.com) 102

In an effort to "reduce undesired consequences," Uber is seeking a patent that would use artificial intelligence to separate sober passengers from drunk ones. The pending application details a technology that would be used to spot "uncharacteristic user activity," including passenger location, number of typos entered into the mobile app, and even the angle the smartphone is being held. CNET reports: Uber said it had no immediate plans to implement the technology described in the proposed patent, pointing out the application was filed in 2016. "We are always exploring ways that our technology can help improve the Uber experience for riders and drivers," a spokesperson said. "We file patent applications on many ideas, but not all of them actually become products or features."
Patents

Inventor Says Google Is Patenting His Public Domain Work (arstechnica.com) 164

Rob Riggs writes: Jarek Duda, the inventor of a compression technique called asymmetric numeral systems (ANS), dedicated the invention to the public domain. Since 2014, Facebook, Apple, and Google have all created software based on his breakthrough. Google is now trying to patent a video encoding scheme using the compression technique. The inventor is fighting Google in the European courts and has won a preliminary ruling. The fight's not over and Google is also seeking a patent with the USPTO. A Google spokesperson says Duda came up with a theoretical concept that isn't directly patentable, "while Google's lawyers are seeking to patent a specific application of that theory that reflects additional work by Google's engineers," reports Ars Technica. "But Duda says he suggested the exact technique Google is trying to patent in a 2014 email exchange with Google engineers."
Businesses

Linux Foundation Celebrates Microsoft's GitHub Acquisition (theverge.com) 162

The Linux Foundation has endorsed Microsoft's acquisition of GitHub. In a blog post, Jim Zemlin, the executive director at the Linux Foundation, said: "This is pretty good news for the world of Open Source and we should celebrate Microsoft's smart move." The Verge reports: 10 years ago, Zemlin was calling for Microsoft to stop secretly attacking Linux by selling patents that targeted the operating system, and he also poked fun at Microsoft multiple times over the years. "I will own responsibility for some of that as I spent a good part of my career at the Linux Foundation poking fun at Microsoft (which, at times, prior management made way too easy)," explains Zemlin. "But times have changed and it's time to recognize that we have all grown up -- the industry, the open source community, even me." Nat Friedman, the future CEO of GitHub (once the deal closes), took to Reddit to answer questions on the company's plans. "We are not buying GitHub to turn it into Microsoft; we are buying GitHub because we believe in the importance of developers, and in GitHub's unique role in the developer community," explains Friedman. "Our goal is to help GitHub be better at being GitHub, and if anything, to help Microsoft be a little more like GitHub."
Software

Should Apple Let Competitors Use FaceTime? (cnet.com) 211

In 2010, Steve Jobs first introduced FaceTime and promised it would become an open industry standard that could be used by Apple's competitors -- not just Apple. Well, eight years later and that still hasn't happened. CNET's Sean Hollister provides a theory as to why that is: There's also an ongoing lawsuit to consider -- as Ars Technica documented in 2013, Apple was forced to majorly change how FaceTime works to avoid infringing on the patents of a company called VirnetX. Instead of letting phones communicate directly with each other, Apple added "relay servers" to help the phones connect. Presumably, someone would have to pay for those servers, and/or figure out a way for them to talk to Google or Microsoft or other third-party servers if FaceTime were going to be truly open. But that doesn't make a broken promise less frustrating. Particularly now that Apple could potentially fix annoying business video calls as well. A Skype-killing video chat service that worked on Mac, iOS *and* Windows, Android and the open web? That's something I bet companies would be happy to pay for, too.
Businesses

No More 'Miracles From Molecules': Monsanto's Name Is Being Retired (reuters.com) 236

Flexagon writes: Germany's Bayer announced today that in its link-up with Monsanto, it's retiring the "Monsanto" name, and with it the name of the company that originally sponsored Disneyland's "Adventure Thru Inner Space" attraction. The $63 billion takeover will wrap up on Thursday. "Bayer will remain the company name. Monsanto will no longer be a company name. The acquired products will retain their brand names and become part of the Bayer portfolio," it said.

The decision to retire the name is a smart business move. "These days Monsanto is shorthand for, as NPR's Dan Charles has put it, 'lots of things that some people love to hate': Genetically modified crops, which Monsanto invented," reports NPR. "Seed patents, which Monsanto has fought to defend. Herbicides such as Monsanto's Roundup, which protesters have sharply criticized for its possible health risks. Big agriculture in general, of which Monsanto was the reviled figurehead."
The Courts

Samsung Must Pay Apple $539 Million For Infringing iPhone Design Patents, Jury Finds (cnet.com) 143

Samsung must pay Apple $539 million for infringing five patents with Android phones it sold in 2010 and 2011, a jury has found in a legal fight that dates back seven years. "The unanimous decision, in the U.S. District Court in San Jose in the heart of Silicon Valley, is just about halfway between what the two largest mobile phone makers had sought in a high-profile case that reaches back to 2011," reports CNET. From the report: The bulk of the damages payment, $533,316,606, was for infringing three Apple design patents. The remaining $5,325,050 was for infringing two utility patents. Samsung already had been found to infringe the patents, but this trial determined some of the damages. The jury's rationale isn't clear, but the figure is high enough to help cement the importance of design patents in the tech industry. Even though they only describe cosmetic elements of a product, they clearly can have a lot of value.

Samsung showed its displeasure and indicated the fight isn't over. "Today's decision flies in the face of a unanimous Supreme Court ruling in favor of Samsung on the scope of design patent damages. We will consider all options to obtain an outcome that does not hinder creativity and fair competition for all companies and consumers," Samsung said.

Government

Congress Is Looking To Extend Copyright Protection Term To 144 Years (wired.com) 293

"Because it apparently isn't bad enough already, Congress is looking to extend the copyright term to 144 years," writes Slashdot reader llamalad. "Please write to your representatives and consider donating to the EFF." American attorney Lawrence Lessig writes via Wired: Almost exactly 20 years ago, Congress passed the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, which extended the term of existing copyrights by 20 years. The Act was the 11th extension in the prior 40 years, timed perfectly to assure that certain famous works, including Mickey Mouse, would not pass into the public domain. Immediately after the law came into force, a digital publisher of public domain works, Eric Eldred, filed a lawsuit challenging the act [which the Supreme Court later rejected].

Twenty years later, the fight for term extension has begun anew. Buried in an otherwise harmless act, passed by the House and now being considered in the Senate, this new bill purports to create a new digital performance right -- basically the right to control copies of recordings on any digital platform (ever hear of the internet?) -- for musical recordings made before 1972. These recordings would now have a new right, protected until 2067, which, for some, means a total term of protection of 144 years. The beneficiaries of this monopoly need do nothing to get the benefit of this gift. They don't have to make the work available. Nor do they have to register their claims in advance.

Businesses

Xiaomi Sued For Alleged Patent Infringement Ahead of Blockbuster IPO (reuters.com) 23

An anonymous reader shares a report: Chinese smartphone maker Coolpad said its unit has sued three group firms of Xiaomi, which last week filed for a Hong Kong IPO that could be worth up to $10 billion, for patent infringement. Coolpad said in a statement late on Thursday its subsidiary, Yulong Computer Telecommunication Scientific (Shenzhen) filed a lawsuit against Xiaomi Telecom Technology, Xiaomi Technology and Xiaomi Factory in a court in Jiangsu province for using its patent without authorization. Yulong demanded that the Xiaomi companies should immediately stop production and sale of some smartphone models, including the Mi MIX2, Coolpad said.
Businesses

Apple's Eddy Cue To Be Deposed In Qualcomm Patent Battle (bloomberg.com) 34

"Apple executive Eddy Cue will be questioned by Qualcomm's lawyers as part of a legal battle between the companies over billions of dollars in patents and licensing fees," reports Bloomberg. "On Friday, San Diego Federal Judge Mitchell D. Dembin ordered Cue to be deposed in the case, granting a Qualcomm request and turning down Apple's arguments against the move." From the report: At the heart of the standoff is a dispute over how much Qualcomm can charge phone makers to use its patents, whether or not they use its chips. The San Diego, California-based company gets the majority of profit from licensing technology that covers the fundamentals of modern mobile phone systems. Apple has cut off license payments to Qualcomm and filed an antitrust lawsuit that accused the chipmaker of trying to monopolize the industry. In November, Qualcomm filed a motion to depose Cue. Apple pushed back stating that Cue's role overseeing services made him unrelated to the case. Qualcomm cited past Apple statements pinpointing Cue as one of the lead negotiators when the iPhone launched in 2007 exclusively on AT&T's network in the U.S.
Patents

Nikola (Motors) is Suing Tesla (engadget.com) 187

An anonymous reader shares a report: Nikola Tesla invented alternating electrical current. Nikola Motors is a mobility company working on a hydrogen-powered semi truck. Tesla makes fully electric vehicles and last December unveiled its EV Semi. Nikola Motors is suing Tesla Motors over patent infringements, according to Electrek. Nikola alleges that Tesla infringes on three of its patents: fuselage design, a wraparound windshield on a semi truck and a mid-entry door. Nikola claims that these design similarities have "caused confusion" among customers and stolen away over $2 billion in business, and that if problems arise with Tesla's Semi (like battery fires or glitches with autonomous driving), they'll be attributed to Nikola. Typical patent troll stuff.
Nintendo

Nintendo Faces Switch Patent Infringement Investigation In the US (engadget.com) 63

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Engadget: Nintendo is under investigation by the U.S. International Trade Commission, and the fate of the Switch hangs in the balance. Gamevice, the company behind the Wikipad and a line of snap-on controllers for mobile devices, says the Nintendo Switch violates its patents on attachable handheld gamepads and their related accessories. Alleging violations of the Tariff Act of 1930, Gamevice is requesting a cease and desist order against Nintendo, a move that would halt imports of the Switch into the U.S. The USITC notes that while its investigation has begun, it hasn't ruled on the validity of the complaint. The commission will hold an evidentiary hearing to determine whether Nintendo is in violation of the Tariff Act, with a final decision "at the earliest practicable time." The USITC will announce a target date for the end of the investigation within 45 days.
Businesses

Patent 'Death Squad' System Upheld by US Supreme Court (bloomberg.com) 90

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld an administrative review system that has helped Google, Apple and other companies invalidate hundreds of issued patents. From a report: The justices, voting 7-2, said Tuesday a U.S. Patent and Trademark Office review board that critics call a patent "death squad" wasn't unconstitutionally wielding powers that belong to the courts. Silicon Valley companies have used the system as a less-expensive way to ward off demands for royalties, particularly from patent owners derided as "trolls" because they don't use their patents to make products. Drugmakers and independent inventors complain that it unfairly upends what they thought were established property rights. "It came down to this: Is the patent office fixing its own mistakes or is the government taking property?" said Wayne Stacy, a patent lawyer with Baker Botts. "They came down on the side of the patent office fixing its own mistakes." The ruling caused shares to drop in companies whose main source of revenue -- their patents -- are under threat from challenges. VirnetX, which is trying to protect almost $1 billion in damages it won against Apple, dropped as much as 12 percent. The patent office has said its patents are invalid in a case currently before an appeals court.
Open Source

'Open Source Initiative' President Interviewed by Linux Journal (linuxjournal.com) 14

The newly-relaunched Linux Journal just interviewed the Open Source Initiative's president, Simon Phipps. An anonymous reader summarizes the highlights: Phipps collects no salary -- unlike the executive director of the Linux Foundation, who reportedly received over $300,000 in 2010. "We're a very small organization actually", Phipps said. "We have a board of directors of 11 people and we have one paid employee..." But he explains their importance by citing the controversy over Facebook's original licensing for React. "I think prior to that, people felt it was okay for there just to be a license and then for there to be arbitrary additional terms applied. I think that the consensus of the community has moved on from that."

Phipps is proud of the OSI's independence from corporate sponsors. "If you want to join a trade association, that's what the Linux Foundation is there for. You can go pay your membership fees and buy a vote there, but OSI is a 501(c)(3). That's means it's a charity that's serving the public's interest and the public benefit. It would be wrong for us to allow OSI to be captured by corporate interests." The article notes that most issues are resolved publicly, adding that one big concern is "freeware" -- proprietary software offered at no cost but erroenously marketed as open source. "In those cases, OSI definitely will reach out and contact the offending companies, and as Phipps says, 'We do that quite often, and we have a good track record of helping people understand why it's to their business disadvantage to behave in that way.'"

And he's also seeking warmer relations with the Free Software community. "As I've been giving keynotes about the first 20 years and the next ten years of open source, I've wanted to make very clear to people that open source is a progression of the pre-existing idea of free software, that there is no conflict between the idea of free software and the way it can be adopted for commercial or for more structured use under the term open source."

He cites the OSI's collaboration with the Free Software Foundation Europe on amicus briefs in important lawsuits, which he says address "significant issues, including privacy and including software patents...

"I hope in the future that we'll be able to continue cooperating and collaborating."
China

Trade War Or Not, China is Closing the Gap on US in Technology IP Race (reuters.com) 149

China's rising investment in research and expansion of its higher education system mean that it is fast closing the gap with the United States in intellectual property and the struggle to be the No.1 global technology power, according to patent experts. From a report: While U.S. President Donald Trump's threat of punitive tariffs on high-tech U.S. exports could slow Beijing's momentum, it won't turn back the tide, they say. Washington's allegation that the Chinese have engaged in intellectual property theft over many years -- which is denied by Beijing -- is a central reason for the worsening trade conflict between the U.S. and China. Forecasts for how long it will take for Beijing to close the technological gap vary -- though several patent specialists say it could happen in the next decade.

And China is already leapfrogging ahead in a couple of areas. "With the number of scientists China is training every year it will eventually catch up, regardless of what the U.S. does," said David Shen, head of IP for China at global law firm Allen & Overy. Indeed, IP lawyers now see President Xi Jinping's pledge earlier this week to protect foreign IP rights as projecting confidence in China's position as a leading innovator in sectors such as telecommunications and online payments, as well as its ability to catch up in other areas.

Music

'High Definition Vinyl' Is Coming As Early As Next Year (pitchfork.com) 330

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Pitchfork: In 2016, a European patent filing described a way of manufacturing records that the inventors claimed would have higher audio fidelity, louder volume, and longer playing times than conventional LPs. Now, the Austrian-based startup Rebeat Innovation has received $4.8 million in funding for the initiative, founder and CEO Gunter Loibl told Pitchfork. Thanks to the investment, the first "HD vinyl" albums could hit stores as early as 2019, Loibl said. The HD vinyl process involves converting audio digitally to a 3D topographic map. Lasers are then used to inscribe the map onto the "stamper," the part that stamps the grooves into the vinyl. According to Loibl, these methods allow for records to be made more precisely and with less loss of audio information. The results, he said, are vinyl LPs that can have up to 30 percent more playing time, 30 percent more amplitude, and overall more faithful sound reproduction. The technique would also avoid the chemicals that play a role in traditional vinyl manufacturing. Plus, the new-school HD vinyl LPs would still play on ordinary record players.
Businesses

Apple Must Pay Patent Troll More Than $500 Million In iMessage Case (bloomberg.com) 75

A federal court in Texas today has ordered Apple to pay $502.6 million to a patent troll called VirnetX, the latest twist in a dispute now in its eighth year. "VirnetX claimed that Apple's FaceTime, VPN on Demand and iMessage features infringe four patents related to secure communications, claims that Apple denied," reports Bloomberg. From the report: The dispute has bounced between the district court, patent office and Federal Circuit since 2010. There have been multiple trials, most recently one involving earlier versions of the Apple devices. A jury in that case awarded $302 million that a judge later increased to $439.7 million. Kendall Larsen, CEO of VirnetX, said the damages, which were based on sales of more than 400 million Apple devices, were "fair." "The evidence was clear," Larsen said after the verdict was announced. "Tell the truth and you don't have to worry about anything." For VirnetX, the jury verdict in its favor could be a short-lived victory. The Patent Trial and Appeal Board has said the patents are invalid, in cases that are currently before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington. The Federal Circuit, which handles all patent appeals, declined to put this trial on hold, saying it was so far along that a verdict would come before a final validity decision.
Microsoft

Microsoft: We'll Help Customers Create Patents But We Get a License To Use Them (zdnet.com) 52

Microsoft outlined a new intellectual-property policy on Thursday for co-developed technology that embraces open source and seeks to assure customers it won't run off with their innovations. From a report: The shared innovation principles build on its Azure IP Advantage program for helping customers combat patent trolls. The new principles for co-developed innovation cover ownership of existing technology, customer ownership of new patents, support for open source, licensing new IP back to Microsoft, software portability, transparency, and learning. Microsoft president Brad Smith says the principles aim to assuage customers' fears that Microsoft may end up using co-developed technology to rival them.

[...] In return, Microsoft gets to license back any of the patents in the new technology but promises to limit their use to improving its own platform technologies, such as Azure, Azure AI services, Office 365, Windows, Xbox, and HoloLens. It also reserves the right to use "code and tools developed by or on behalf of Microsoft that are intended to provide technical assistance to customers in their respective businesses."

China

US' Proposed China Tariffs Would Target Robotics, Satellites (engadget.com) 208

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Engadget: The U.S. Trade Representative has published the list of Chinese products that would be subject to its proposed tech tariffs, and there are a few clear themes. The move would hike the costs of about 1,300 products, including industrial robots, communication satellites, spacecraft and a slew of semiconductors.The aim, as before, is to punish China for allegedly goading American companies into transferring their patents and technology to Chinese firms for the sake of claiming economic superiority. The USTR claimed the proposed tariffs would stymie Chinese plans while "minimizing the impact" on the American economy. The tariffs are still subject to a 60-day notice process that would include public comments until May 11th and a public hearing on May 15th.
Privacy

Our Devices May Listen More Attentively, Patents Filed By Google and Amazon Suggest (nytimes.com) 50

Amazon and Google, the leading sellers of smart speakers, say their AI-powered assistants record and process audio only after users trigger them by pushing a button or uttering a phrase like "Hey, Alexaâ or âoeO.K., Google." But each company has filed patent applications, many of them still under consideration, that outline an array of possibilities for how devices like these could monitor more of what users say and do (the link may be paywalled), The New York Times reports. From the report: That information could then be used to identify a person's desires or interests, which could be mined for ads and product recommendations. In one set of patent applications, Amazon describes how a "voice sniffer algorithm" could be used on an array of devices, like tablets and e-book readers, to analyze audio almost in real time when it hears words like "love," "bought" or "dislike." A diagram included with the application illustrated how a phone call between two friends could result in one receiving an offer for the San Diego Zoo and the other seeing an ad for a Wine of the Month Club membership.

Some patent applications from Google, which also owns the smart home product maker Nest Labs, describe how audio and visual signals could be used in the context of elaborate smart home setups. One application details how audio monitoring could help detect that a child is engaging in "mischief" at home by first using speech patterns and pitch to identify a child's presence, one filing said. A device could then try to sense movement while listening for whispers or silence, and even program a smart speaker to "provide a verbal warning." A separate application regarding personalizing content for people while respecting their privacy noted that voices could be used to determine a speaker's mood using the "volume of the user's voice, detected breathing rate, crying and so forth," and medical condition "based on detected coughing, sneezing and so forth."

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