June 29, 2014

Surfbook patent struck down in US court

Filed under: Technology by Branko Collin @ 11:21 am

mark-zuckerberg-elaine-and-priscilla-chanEarlier this year Facebook was sued by American patent trolls Rembrandt IP, allegedly representing the deceased Jos van der Meer.

Van der Meer’s heirs claim that the Dutchman invented the concept of Facebook in 2001, calling it Surfbook. The Register reports that an American jury disagreed in no uncertain terms: “the Eastern District of Virginia jury decided that the patents were “shabby” and shouldn’t have been granted”.

In 2001, a full two years before Facebook was founded, Van der Meer had patented things like keeping a personal diary on the web. Damning evidence indeed if you squint your eyes for a moment and forget that Geocities was founded in 1994 and the word ‘weblog’ was coined in 1997.

On its website Rembrandt IP writes: “[our company] undertakes a rigorous diligence process to investigate all intellectual property it considers for enforcement actions. […] Due to the high level of internal resources needed to complete this in-depth process, we are very selective when determining which opportunities to consider.”

Did their process fail them this time around or did Rembrandt IP expect to lose? Given that they started a lawsuit in January against another tech giant, Apple (PDF), a reasonable person would probably forgive me for thinking that they start these cases for the publicity it generates. (I am not sure how effective a strategy it is to lose your cases).

See also:

(Photo of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg by Elaine and Priscilla Chan, some rights reserved)

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June 12, 2014

Facebook on trial for infringing Dutch patent

Filed under: Online by Orangemaster @ 10:58 am

More than a decade ago, Dutch computer programmer Jos van der Meer originally thought up and eventually patented his Surfbook site in 2001 and 2002 before Facebook launched it site in 2003. Surfbook let users share their information with selected people, approve posts using a ‘like’ button and link to external information. Van der Meer passed away in 2004 aged 44, but in Feburary 2013 the patent holders, Rembrandt Social Media run by his elder brother Wil van der Meer, filed a lawsuit against Facebook for infringement just as the latter hit the stock market. Van der Meer said that it is about recognition, not about the money.

Although Facebook usually swats its opponents out of the way like flies, this case has made it all the way to a federal jury trial in the US, which is extremely rare. And even though Rembrandt Social Media can prove it was first, Facebook can claim that the market was going that way anyways and swat another fly. If RSM were to win its case, it would probably be paid money for damages and the Dutch could lay claim to Facebook down the pub.

US sources read as if RSM is just a patent troll trying to make money off the Van der Meer family and that Facebook is so big it does whatever it wants anyways.

(Links: phys.org, www.nrc.nl)

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September 13, 2008

Copyright judges: “copying unnecessarily is always bad”

Filed under: General by Branko Collin @ 10:51 am

Copyright law professor Dirk Visser interviewed 17 judges of so-called “intellectual property” cases (copyrights, patents, trademarks) and found some remarkable similarities:

  • Cases are mostly decided in the first instance (usually of a Kort Geding, the fast track for law suits that demand speedy attention),
  • Judges feel that creating confusion or misleading is always wrong,
  • Judges feel that copying in itself is not bad, but copying unnecessarily is.

Unfortunately the article with the results is behind a pay wall, so I have to rely on this summary by Boek 9 (Dutch). The suggestion though seems to be that cases are decided on moral, rather than sound legal or economic grounds.

According to Boek 9, public research and expert opinion barely influence the judges—their experience being that such studies and statements are almost always imprecise, manipulated, one-sided or contradictory.

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August 4, 2008

Medicine makers not innovative enough

Filed under: General by Branko Collin @ 9:06 am

Nefarma (the industry association for innovative medicine) and its members are found not innovative enough. In a study commissioned by Nefarma itself Amsterdam marketing research agency Motivaction further concludes that manufacturers shirk their social responsibility, and are not transparent about their price-making process. Nefarma itself is portrayed as a messenger boy for the industry, with lack of clout, and invisible in the public debate.

Motivaction came to its conclusions after holding fourteen interviews with politicians, civil servants, doctors and pharmacists. “A step-by-step improvement of existing drugs is generally not seen as real innovation, but rather as a clever marketing trick”, the report says.

An interesting aside: proponents of a (stronger) patent system have argued for years that patents—government granted monopolies on inventions—are important because they allow the pharmaceutical industry to come up with life-saving innovations. There goes that argument.

(Link: Trouw (Dutch). Photo by Tom Varco, published under a Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license)

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