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Dept. of Homeland Security Enforces Expired Patent 1006

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the tax-dollars-well-misspent dept.
Fouquet writes "Apparently the Department of Homeland Security does not have enough to do in keeping the US safe, and now is enforcing copyright law as well. The AP reports that a toy store owner in Oregon was requested by Homeland Security officials to remove a potentially copyright-infringing Rubik's cube-like toy from her shelves. The patent for Rubik's cube was issued in 1980, and so it is expired."
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Dept. of Homeland Security Enforces Expired Patent

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  • Fear of powers (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fembots (753724) on Thursday October 28, 2004 @11:43PM (#10660086) Homepage
    In normal cases, people will just consult a lawyer (the shop owner did call her supplier, later), or at least ask for supporting documents before they complied to requests from officials. For example, you tend to ask for a search warranty if someone wants to search your house.

    However with all the terrorism and patriotism nowdays, peasants can't afford to not cooperate, "just in case" you got blamed for being terrorist or unpatriotic.

    Next thing we know, IRS burst into a kindergarten arresting several 5-year-old's for not calculating and paying proper tax while playing Monopoly, just to protect the integrity of the economy and nation's financial systems. "If they can't do tax at age of 5, will you trust them to pay tax 20 years later?!"
  • Just Wow. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Ryvar (122400) on Thursday October 28, 2004 @11:47PM (#10660116) Homepage
    Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said agents went to Pufferbelly based on a trademark infringement complaint filed in the agency's intellectual property rights center in Washington, D.C.


    "One of the things that our agency's responsible for doing is protecting the integrity of the economy and our nation's financial systems and obviously trademark infringement does have significant economic implications," she said.


    This sounds like really great news. What next? Every person who downloads MP3s is automatically branded a 'terrorist' because they might be threatening the integrity of the economy? Even if they own the CD in question (which is analogous here, because legally there's nothing wrong with the Majick Cube either now that the Rubik's patent has expired)?

    --Ryvar
  • Re:rUSsiA (Score:5, Interesting)

    by boredMDer (640516) <pmohr+slashdot@boredmder.com> on Thursday October 28, 2004 @11:51PM (#10660131)
    You think that's bad?

    Check this [livejournal.com] out.

    Excerpt:

    A couple of weeks ago, following the last presidential debate, I said some rather inflammatory things about George W. Bush in a public post in my LJ, done in a satirical style. We laughed, we ranted, we all said some things. I thought it was a fairly harmless (and rather obvious) attempt at humor in the face of annoyance, and while a couple of people were offended, as is typical behavior from me, I saw something shiny and forgot about it, thinking that the whole thing was over and done and nothing else would come of what I said.

    I was wrong.

    At 9:45 last night, the Secret Service showed up on my mother's front door to talk to me about what I said about the President
  • Nothing to see here (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sulli (195030) * on Thursday October 28, 2004 @11:55PM (#10660153) Journal
    These are US Customs agents. Customs agents enforce, among other things, import regulations against counterfiet goods.

    The Customs Service is now part of Homeland Security. Ergo, DHS agents were the ones who investigated this incident.

  • I want one (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gooman (709147) on Thursday October 28, 2004 @11:57PM (#10660171) Journal
    Oh man, I want one of those Magic Cubes so bad, which is funny, because I hated the Rubiks Cube (not because it was hard, it was just too popular).
    So how about it ThinkGeek? I want "the toy the government doesn't want you to know about".
    How cool would that be.

  • POE (Score:3, Interesting)

    by paulydavis (91113) on Friday October 29, 2004 @12:06AM (#10660221)
    I was watching a movie on the american poet Poe and he was impoverished most of his life becasue he was so vocal about copyright (pro copyright) that knowbody would hire him. We have come full circle.
  • Re:rUSsiA (Score:5, Interesting)

    by OneArmedMan (606657) on Friday October 29, 2004 @12:09AM (#10660243)
    a buddy of mine just came back from Canada, via USA

    Zandecks [easyjournal.com]

    **Snip--From the end of the Blog**

    After about half an hour of searching they let me go and everything was ok. The customs girl who searched me was really nice and I've got nothing against her, but now there is a file on me that they found traces of cocain in my bag. I thought about how the hell this could happen, and when I got home I realised that the lock on my bag was missing (I had noticed earlier but forgot when I was being searched). I opened up my bag again and found a note from US customs. Apparently they had broken open my bag to search it. I guess ing these fuckers searched my bag and accidently contaminated my bag with some cocain they found on an ealier search. Thanks guys...

    **Snap**
  • by clusterix (606570) on Friday October 29, 2004 @12:13AM (#10660275)
    What the hell? Trademark, copyright, and patent must all be the same according to the submitter. Hmm, why are they called different things then?

    OK, so US Customs is enforcing a trademark violation. Fine.

    What is wrong is that Customs does not have jurisdiction inside the US only coming and going from it. Once in the US, it is a civil case that would need at least a hearing or court order to remove merchandise from the store. More than likely, an authorized local authority would then execute the court order(not actual agents).

    It is disturbing that Homeland Security did think that Magic Cube and Rubik's Cube are similar in name or that they don't understand what a trademark is. Most disturbing is that Homeland Security obviously does not understand the laws they are trying to enforce or how to legally enforce them.

    The only 'wrong' thing going on is that Rubik or whoever reported it is intentionally damaging and interfering with Magic Cubes and Pufferbelly Toys businesses. Homeland Security should immediately return the items to Pufferbelly Toys and apologize. I don't think there is much Pufferbelly Toys can do for restitution directly against Homeland Security. It would be nice to be able to sue the government for incompetence, but then there would be no government left.

  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Friday October 29, 2004 @12:18AM (#10660299) Homepage Journal
    The Secret Service is security for Treasury. Since they're the only "police" authorized to shoot fleeing suspects on only "suspicion" of guilt, rather than higher standards of evidence or eyewitness, they are used to protect the president. Department of Homeland Security has been given such broad powers, with so little accountability, that they are being used to enforce even nonexistent IP rights. That's why today's lawyer politicians are always talking about getting legal "tools" from Congress. Once they have the tool, they can use it for whatever they please. They're law hackers, with 1337 b51b357 5k177z.
  • Re:rUSsiA (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 29, 2004 @12:26AM (#10660350)
    Give me a break.

    That is so over the top and sarcastic, not to mention a "prayer" rather than some planned action, that I have a hard time believing anyone is so dense they don't understand it as a joke.

    I guess there are some highly stupid people out there with limited senses of humour.

    It's definitely not borderline nutty. It can't be construed as a threat against the president... unless you have reason to believe she had access to a mountain of cocaine and a black male prostitute :)
  • by donutello (88309) on Friday October 29, 2004 @12:30AM (#10660376) Homepage
    Actually, according to John Kerry, it was HIS idea to create the Department of Homeland Security and George Bush opposed it.

    That completely aside from the fact that you're a moron and you seem have no idea what the Department of Homeland Security is or what it does.

    The DHS does a lot more than fight terrorism.
  • Re:rUSsiA (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 29, 2004 @12:32AM (#10660387)
    That person's an idiot. They mention that apparently their was mention of a gun in the offending post. The Secret Service does not take any threats to the president lightly (regardless of which party the sitting president belongs to and will investigate). These guys don't have a sense of humor when it comes to such matters. Making the statement that was made about the president is along the same lines as talking about a bomb when you're trying to board a flight at the airport. Very dumb.

    When Clinton was president, a group of young republicans had a turkey shooting competition. Guess what image they used for the target? Needless to say they got a visit and the competition was cancelled.

    -AC
  • more on corruption (Score:3, Interesting)

    by gad_zuki! (70830) on Friday October 29, 2004 @12:48AM (#10660476)
    Here's the corruption from this week alone. [everythingisnt.com] Its not laziness at work here.
  • by mindriot (96208) on Friday October 29, 2004 @12:56AM (#10660523)
    What you need to do is to stop terrorists at their source not after they've gotten their goods into the harbours.

    Exactly. What you need to do is to stop terrorists at their source, and not terrorize your own people by hurting their privacy rights.

    Tough statement, I know, but really just a logical conclusion from your argument...

    Besides that (and back more on-topic, sorry), I think in this case the nomenclature is just unfortunate with the customs department being part of the DHS. On the other hand, look what this did to the shop owner... scare tactics at work.

  • by Theonewhois (536856) on Friday October 29, 2004 @12:56AM (#10660525) Homepage
    As much as I hate the man, that's not a valid point. The dept. of Homeland Security plans were started during the Clinton Administration. Furthermore, though I can't be sure of this last point, I've been told that Bush actually opposed the DHS at first.

  • Re:Fear of powers (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dj245 (732906) on Friday October 29, 2004 @12:57AM (#10660538) Homepage
    Under the new system, Customs and Immigration (These are two completely different organizations by the way, Customs handles Goods, Immigration handles People) agents are required to be trained to be capable of performing BOTH Customs duties and the duties of an Immigration officer. Each of these individially is a pile of knowledge about Immigration/Customs law, firearms training, etc, and while some of it is applicable to both, much of it is not.

    There is speculation that Customs and Immigration will be soon split into two separate entities again. This is a good thing because it means those agents will have more training for their area of expertise. The law that brought the combining seemed at the time as good as HP-Compaq, but in the end it seems that Customs and Immigration know what is best and should be separate entities.

    I bring this up only because the local new-hirees for Customs/Immigration (They call it Customs and Border Protection now) have pretty much no idea what they are doing, leaving the people about to retire wondering what kind of things will be let through the border once they are gone.

  • Re:OK, so, (Score:3, Interesting)

    by general_re (8883) on Friday October 29, 2004 @01:58AM (#10660812) Homepage
    What happened to due process?

    The first part of that is the investigation of wrongdoing by the appropriate authorities. Hopefully, I don't need to point out that we only have one side of the story here, and the toy store lady is hardly a neutral observer. Customs has the power to seize infringing goods on the spot as part of their investigation, and yet they simply ordered her to take it off the shelves and then left without them? Something doesn't add up there, and I won't be a bit surprised to learn that there's more to the story than she's letting on...

  • Re:Fear of powers (Score:2, Interesting)

    by deke_kun (695166) on Friday October 29, 2004 @04:14AM (#10661227)
    because, quite simply, it IS a police state. I would find it quite interesting to see what happened if someone filed a trademark infringement complaint on the Jewish people (oh i dunno, pointy hats are trademarked by disney or some crap). Clearly homeland security dont investigate claims, they just kick down the door and start scaring people, so maybe making a blatant holocaust reference would make the point that the system is fascist.
  • Re:Fear of powers (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MeanSolutions (218078) on Friday October 29, 2004 @05:13AM (#10661385)
    Could be because whoever came up with the name "Homeland Security" has exceedingly poor imagination but rather a good grasp of history...
  • Re:Huh? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by querencia (625880) on Friday October 29, 2004 @05:45AM (#10661486)
    Either way, it really bugs me that homeland security is even thinking about anything besides terrorism. Why the hell are we paying agents to fly out to bumsville for a da## rubiks cube.. And if we're paying them to do that, why aren't we paying them to research things first?

    When the Dept of Homeland Security was created, lots of existing agencies got rolled in. Including Customs. These weren't some new brand of "terrorist hunter" agent. These were Customs agents (now part of Homeland Security) doing what they always do.

    If there hadn't been a bureaucratic reshuffling of federal agencies, perhaps Cowboy Neal wouldn't be so confused, and this wouldn't make the front page.
  • by 1lus10n (586635) on Friday October 29, 2004 @06:26AM (#10661609) Journal
    "No matter what we do, it affects the outside world. For example: Alan Greenspan decides to change interest rates to promote domestic growth, and millions of dollars of global investment funds start flowing in new directions, affecting financial markets world over. McDonalds decides to discontinue the happy meal, and millions of factory workers in china lose their job. America sneezes, and the world is shaken. The world today is too intricately interdependent for us to step out and live an isolated, blinkered existence."

    Sorry, Osama (and the like) doesnt give a flying fuck about the fed raising intrest rates. He does however care about the fact that we have been imposing our will by force (killing millions of innocents) in the middle east for 50 plus years.

    The world is not as dependant on us as we are on the world, because ..... we made it that way. The ownership class in this country has built our entire economy on exploiting other countries, our government is enforcing their will because they have lobbying parties, and a fuckton of money.

    The government does not exist to cater to the rich and pander to the mega-corps. The entire principle of this government is to protect the PEOPLE. Mainly from each other, but also from forgiegn invaders, hostile parties, unjust laws, unjust influence (hello church, meet mr state. Stay the fsck away.) etc etc

    We need a government that leaves the rest of the world alone, because no matter what we do internationally we WILL piss someone off, and we gain what in the end ? GM makes an extra $200 per car because it was made overseas ? Nothing gets cheaper for us, it gets cheaper (or more profitable) for the ownership class.

    Just so you know (I do believe the backyard bombing thing was in reference to pearl harbor) we broke a deal with the japanese BEFORE they bombed pearl harbor. Thats WHY they bombed pearl harbor. So we werent minding our own business and playing fair. We were fucking other countries over. Exactly like we are now.
  • Civil vs Criminal (Score:4, Interesting)

    by zerofoo (262795) on Friday October 29, 2004 @07:47AM (#10661799)
    I'm no attorney, but it appears any department enforcing patents, copyrights, and trademarks like this is overstepping their jurisdiction.

    These laws are written to protect products and ideas in CIVIL cases. If your protected idea or product is infringed upon, you go to CIVIL court, sue someone's ass off, get a cease and desist order and walk away with a nice fat stack of cash.

    Disobeying the court's ruling might land you some criminal charges, but that requires a court order and cops.

    If my understanding of this is wrong, hopefully an attorney will correct me.

    -ted
  • Back to Basics (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ReadParse (38517) <john.funnycow@com> on Friday October 29, 2004 @08:04AM (#10661853) Homepage
    Many of the specifics of this case don't really matter, I think. What everybody in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) needs to realize is that they now work in the most intimidating department of the federal government, because of stories like this and worse ones... whether true or not, the stories of people being taken away and held without bond, the blanket superuser authority of DHS officials is scary to anybody.

    Because of the fear involved in their department, they need to be very careful the way they deal with the public, especially when the public they're dealing with is obviously and completely unrelated to a serious threat against the Homeland (and I'm not talking about a minor "economic" threat like selling cheap copies of toys). Of course, this won't matter to many of them, because unfortunately there are many in law enforcement at all levels who do it because of the power they can yield by flashing a badge, turning on a blue light, or calling somebody on the telephone and dropping the name of their agency.

    I am voting for Bush next Tuesday for a variety of reasons (please try not to get inflamed about my choice, which might be different than yours) and I often defend the actions of the DHS (although I wasn't convinced and am still not convinced that we needed a new cabinet-level department to keep us safe) and I often defend the Patriot Act (though I have an open mind about parts of it that might need to be ammended). But I'm not going to be partisan and find an imaginary way to defend anybody from the DHS contacting a retailer and making them remove an item from their shelves without clearly and kindly demonstrating the reasons for the removal, just because I think that's supporting my candidate. These guys would have gotten all the response that they wanted from the retailer by simply saying they were with the Customs Service. Suddenly everybody who is a part of the DHS (which is a LOT of people) wants to go around name-dropping so they get an extra little fear out of everybody. It's completely unneccessary and ridiculous. I would say that many, many people in the DHS should never have to tell the public in their introductions what cabinet department they're in. It will inevitably generate more fear and intimidation than is necessary.

    I believe this is not a policy problem, though. This is that rampant problem with the lower levels of law enforcement, the name dropping and ego trip problem. Unfortunately, there's little that can be done about this, except for a change in the culture, which can take decades.

    RP
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 29, 2004 @08:18AM (#10661913)
    I have no idea what a "Magic Cube" looks like in terms of color, and I don't have time to hunt down the information on the Seven Towns lawsuit or the patent.

    However, there may be a genuine question whether or not Rubik's cube has a valid trademark in their cube's "trade dress." You cannot trademark anything that is functional. Therefore, anything covered by the 1980 patent *cannot* be trademarked. My guess is that the trademark extends only to the color combination on the puzzle, not to the fact that it is a cube with rotating faces. If the Magic Cube has different colors, I don't think it could be infringing even if some other "cube" puzzle did infringe.

    Maybe someone with the time to do it could chase down and share the relevant facts.
  • by SquarePants (580774) on Friday October 29, 2004 @08:58AM (#10662129)
    The writer utilizes every form of intellectual property as if they were interchangeable. It demonstrates that the writer does not understand any of them. Its kind of sad for such an intriguing story to make it to slashdot on such a poor introduction. Doesn't anyone edit these things?

    I think there should be a mechanism to mod down an entire story when it is presented like this. Pretty sad.
  • Re:Fear of powers (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Steve525 (236741) on Friday October 29, 2004 @09:59AM (#10662606)
    What you say is probably true, about why the agents were there. However, let's imagine the story going a little differently...

    Agents from the "US Trademark Enforcement" office call up this same lady asking that the toy be removed. The lady would probably answer back: "What are you nuts? Go get a court order. Or at least talk to the manufacturer of the toy first; I only sell the things".

    So the real issue isn't that the agents weren't doing their job. The issue is that trademark enforcement apparently now falls under the juristiction the Department of Homeland Security. The agents can threaten this store owner and get their way without due process. All they need to do is mention which department they are with and hint that they might somehow invoke the terrorism card (which there is almost no defense against).
  • Re:Fear of powers (Score:3, Interesting)

    by AstroDrabb (534369) on Friday October 29, 2004 @10:11AM (#10662677)
    I do hope you are correct. I have heard far too many cases like you mention, though as you point out the media usually just gives the fact that "Corp X ejected a black|old|gay man|women" without givng the reason. It is one of the reason I don't watch the news any more.
  • Hey, wait a minute! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by peebeejay (721789) on Friday October 29, 2004 @10:27AM (#10662801)
    Is it complaining when I mention that I submitted this story yesterday but it was rejected? And I got the original link from the Oregonian [oregonlive.com], too. I'm not bitter - perhaps my comments were not pithy enough for you - but I'd like some credit, too.
  • Re:Fear of powers (Score:3, Interesting)

    by geg81 (816215) on Friday October 29, 2004 @11:54AM (#10663574)
    I see: so Seven Towns manages to abuse the trademark system to extend patent protection on something that should be in the public domain by now, these bogus trademarks get enforced by an agency with special powers granted to it to handle terrorist threats whose mere appearance on someone's doorsteps sends shivers down their spine, and you seem to think that's all just the way it should be. Yes, I think lots of people don't like those facts, and you shouldn't like them either.
  • Trademark? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Whibla (210729) on Friday October 29, 2004 @12:12PM (#10663789)
    Too late for this post to be read I'm sure, but...

    So they've trademarked the appearance of the Rubiks Cube (TM)...

    How?

    As a corporate logo - this I can see.

    As an actual product? You must be joking!

    Still, and I never thought I'd say this, kudos to the lawyer who came up with this innovative solution to patent expiration.

    Can anyone tell me what would happen if these toys were manufactured by a company based outside the US? Would they be banned/confiscated on importation?

    Whibla.

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