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.
On August 29, 2017, the Patent Office issued U.S. Patent No. 9,747,468 (the ’468 patent) to JP Morgan Chase Bank, titled “System and Method for Communication Among Mobile Applications.” The patent covers the simple idea of a user giving a mobile application permission to communicate with another application. This idea was obvious when JP Morgan applied for the patent in June 2013. Even worse, it had already been implemented by numerous mobile applications. The Patent Office handed out a broad software monopoly while ignoring both common sense and the real world.
A vaccine that shows great promise against the devastating Zika virus, which can cause microcephaly, blindness, deafness, and calcification of the brain in children whose mothers were infected during their pregnancy. If effective, such a vaccine could be a tremendous boon not just for developing countries, but for Western ones too, since the Zika virus has already begun to spread in the US, and Europe. The vaccine was developed at the Walter Reed Army Institute for Research, and the Department of the Army funded its development. Great news, you might think: the US public paid for it, so it’s only right that it should have low-cost access to it. Moreover, as an act of compassion — and to burnish its international image — the US could allow other countries to produce it cheaply too. But an article in The Nation reports that the US Army has other ideas:
the Army is planning to grant exclusive rights to this potentially groundbreaking medicine — along with as much as $173 million in funding from the Department of Health and Human Services — to the French pharmaceutical corporation Sanofi Pasteur. Sanofi manufactures a number of vaccines, but it’s also faced repeated allegations of overcharges and fraud. Should the vaccine prove effective, Sanofi would be free to charge whatever it wants for it in the United States. Ultimately, the vaccine could end up being unaffordable for those most vulnerable to Zika, and for cash-strapped states.
This month’s stupid patent, like many stupid patents before it, simply claims the idea of using a computer for basic calculations. U.S. Patent No. 6,817,863 (the ’863 patent) is titled “Computer program, method, and system for monitoring nutrition content of consumables and for facilitating menu planning.” It claims the process of using a computer to track nutrition information like calorie or vitamin intake. It is difficult to think of a more basic and trivial use for a computer.The ’863 patent is owned by a patent troll called Dynamic Nutrition Information, LLC. Dynamic Nutrition filed a lawsuit this month in the Eastern District of Texas accusing Australian company Fatsecret of infringing the ’863 patent. Dynamic Nutrition had filed four other lawsuits. Consistent with a pattern of nuisance litigation, each of those earlier suits settled very quickly.