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).
Have you ever sent a motivational text to a friend? If you have, perhaps you tailored your message to an activity or location by saying “Good luck in the race!” or “Have fun in New York!” Now, imagine doing this automatically with a compuuuter. What a great invention. Actually, no. That’s not a good invention, it’s our latest Stupid Patent of the Month.
It’s been just over a year since HP got caught using dirty tricks to force its customers to use its official, high-priced ink, and now it’s Epson’s turn to get in on the act.Epson claims that ink-cartridges that are compatible with its printers violate a nonspecific patent or patents in nonspecific ways, and on the strength of those vague assertions, they have convinced eBay to remove many third-party ink sellers’ products, without any scrutiny by eBay.