Back in 2018, the disgraced biotech company Theranos sold its patent portfolio to Fortress Investment Group, a division of Softbank. Now two of those patents have wound up in the hands of a little-known firm called Labrador Diagnostics—and Labrador is suing a company called BioFire Diagnostics that makes medical testing equipment.And not just any medical testing equipment: BioFire recently announced it had developed three tests for COVID-19 using its hardware—tests that are due out later this month. But Labrador is asking a Delaware federal court to block the company from using its technology—presumably including the new coronavirus tests. As Stanford patent scholar Mark Lemley puts it, “this could be the most tone-deaf IP suit in history.”
Business Insider Italia explains that even though the original manufacturer was unable to supply the part, it refused to share the relevant 3D file with Fracassi to help him print the valve. It even went so far as to threaten him for patent infringement if he tried to do so on his own. Since lives were at stake, he went ahead anyway, creating the 3D file from scratch. According to the Metro article, he produced an initial batch of ten, and then 100 more, all for free. Fracassi admits that his 3D-printed versions might not be very durable or re-usable. But when it’s possible to make replacements so cheaply — each 3D-printed part costs just one euro, or roughly a dollar — that isn’t a problem. At least it wouldn’t be, except for that threat of legal action, which is also why Fracassi doesn’t dare share his 3D file with other hospitals, despite their desperate need for these valves. And if you’re wondering why the original manufacturer would risk what is bound to be awful publicity for its actions, over something that only costs one euro to make, a detail in the Business Insider Italia article provides an explanation: the official list price for a single valve is 10,000 euros — about $11,000.
In some fields, software bugs are more than the proverbial pain in the neck. When software has to ensure that an airplane lands safely, or that a pacemaker keeps operating, there’s no room for error.The idea that mathematical proofs could be used to prove that software is error-free has been around since the 1970s, and is known as “formal verification.” But like a lot of technologies that some visionaries saw coming, it took time to develop. In recent years, computing power has become cheap enough for formal verification to become practical for more software applications.Unfortunately, last month, the field had a monkey wrench thrown into it, in the form of U.S. Patent No. 10,109,010, which the patent office awarded to a U.K.-based company called Aesthetic Integration Ltd.
Whitaker played a key role in a patent promotion scam company that was recently fined millions of dollars by the FTC. And, Whitaker apparently used his former job as an Assistant US Attorney to try to intimidate an unhappy “customer” of this firm away from filing a Better Business Bureau complaint. In other words, not only is Whitaker associated with a scammy patent marketing company, he also abused his former title in an effort to create a chilling effect on someone’s speech.
Today, we’re going to focus on Raniere’s U.S. Patent No. 9,421,447, a “method and apparatus for improving performance.” The patent simply adds trivial limitations to the basic functioning of a treadmill, like timing the user and recording certain parameters (speed, heart rate, or turnover rate.) Since most modern treadmills allow users to precisely measure performance on a variety of metrics, the patent is arguably broad enough that it could be used to sue treadmill manufacturers or sellers.Given Raniere’s litigation history, that’s not such a remote possibility. NXIVM has sued its critics for defamation—enough that the Albany Times-Union called NIXVM a “Litigation Machine.” And Raniere sued both AT&T and Microsoft for infringement of some patents relating to video conferencing. The latter suit ended very badly for Raniere, who was ordered to pay attorneys’ fees after he couldn’t prove that he still had ownership of the patents in question. So it’s worth taking a look at how Raniere got the ‘447 patent.
DMCA 1201 allows the Copyright Office to grant “use” exemptions, but not “tools” exemptions. That means that if the Copyright Office likes your proposal, they can give you permission to jailbreak your gadgets to make some use (say, install third-party apps on your phone, or record clips from your DVDs to use in film studies classes), but they can’t give anyone the right to give you the tool needed to make that use (law professor and EFF board member Pam Samuelson argues that the Copyright Office can go farther than this, at least some of the time, but the Copyright Office disagrees).