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Communications Patents

U.S. Bans Some Cellphones For Patent Reasons 173

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the keeping-them-honest dept.
runner_one writes "According to the New York Times, A federal agency has banned imports of new cellphones made with Qualcomm semiconductors because the chips violate a patent held by Broadcom. The International Trade Commission said today that the import ban would not apply to mobile phone models that were imported on or before June 7." Update: 06/08 13:05 GMT by KD : Glenn Fleishman notes that Apple's iPhone will be allowed into the country, since it doesn't use any 3G chips. He adds that Apple "might have the most advanced smartphone on the market unless President Bush or his trade representative overturn the ruling (which they have the power to do)."
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U.S. Bans Some Cellphones For Patent Reasons

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  • Message to Qualcomm. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Whiney Mac Fanboy (963289) * <whineymacfanboy@gmail.com> on Friday June 08, 2007 @02:19AM (#19434557) Homepage Journal
    Play with patent fire and you're going to get burned. Remember Qualcomm suing Nokia? [qualcomm.com], Qualcomm suing GTE Wireless [qualcomm.com], Qualcomm suing Maxim [qualcomm.com], Qualcomm suing Motorolla [qualcomm.com], Qualcomm suing Ericsson [qualcomm.com], Qualcomm suing Broadcom [qualcomm.com]?

    Everytime a large corporation loses a big case like this, I feel we're a step closer to sane patent reform. Hopefully someone will win a patent against Broadcomm next.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Every time they issue a patent that's later invalidated, they should pay compensation for issuing the patent.

      The problem here, has and always will be the over willingness of the patent office to issue patents when the invention preexists but is not documented publicly, or where it's a minor increment of an existing variation. It's in the law that they have to test for obviousness and prior art, but they so narrowly define those terms as to remove the tests.

      The free market will fix it, make them pay for thei
      • by Henry V .009 (518000) on Friday June 08, 2007 @02:46AM (#19434693) Journal

        "The free market will fix it..."

        How exactly does the free market go about fixing limited duration government granted monopolies (a.k.a. patents)?
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward
          It will give USPTO an incentive to thoroughly check their patents before issuing them, to avoid the penalty. As the next step, I'd introduce the right for any professional body to issue patents in their own field. Again they would only be able to issue them in exchange for covering their liability for bad choices. Each body would determine HOW it checks for prior art and obviousness, competing choices would result in a better solution. I'd let patent agencies die, and their patents become unenforceable, if
          • by DarkVader (121278)
            I'm not sure if you're just trolling, but the concept of a patent is the antithesis of a free market. Where there is a patent, there can be no free market, because there is a government-granted monopoly.

            So asking a free market to fix patents is insane. A free market by definition can have no patents.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Sancho (17056)
              He's obviously suggesting that there is a value to patents, so long as there are consequences for issuing bad patents. Perhaps his use of the term "free market" is unfortunate, however his point stands.

              If there were penalties for issuing patents which are later invalidated, we'd see the USPTO put more effort into researching the patents they receive, rejection of overly broad patents, and probably eventually start seeing fewer patents requested in general. Then truly innovative inventions would receive pa
            • by dfghjk (711126)
              Not at all. The patent system exists to encourage the exchange of knowledge and technology so that "free market" grows stronger faster. Patents temporarily exchange some of the freeness of the market for the longer term strength of it. Patents are not the antithesis of a free market at all since without them the free market would be worse off.
          • by dfghjk (711126)
            How is it a penalty for the US government to fine itself? Just where does that money go, right back into the same fund it came out of?

            "As the next step, I'd introduce the right for any professional body to issue patents in their own field."

            Of course, because we all know that professional organizations can never be corrupt. Patent abuse doesn't have to take the form of issuing invalid and obvious patents, it can also mean only issuing patents to favored members. Let's exchange a flawed system for a totall
        • by rucs_hack (784150) on Friday June 08, 2007 @05:54AM (#19435325)
          From what I understand, intellectual property is the only US export that is making a reasonable profit at the moment, so it makes sense that the rules would be tightened to ensure the saleability of products with currently approved patents and discriminate against those that are in breach of those patents.

          Like it or not, patents are a mainstay of the US economy. It may be several years before things in the computing industry start to stabilise and such controls become less necessary or seem less daft, but if they did nothing and let patents be flouted the situation would become untenable.

          It would be nice perhaps, at least in thought experiment terms if patents weren't an issue, but that's nieve. Patents are here to stay, and the only way a business can currently ensure a profit from their research.

          Scurrilous patent claims are another issue, one that needs a solution. I speculate that patents which are held purely to extort money will eventually become so easily invalidated that their use in this manner will become a thing of the past.
          • by Dunbal (464142) on Friday June 08, 2007 @08:14AM (#19436129)
            Like it or not, patents are a mainstay of the US economy.

                  So, uhhh, how many years before the US economy expires?
            • by moxley (895517)
              Years?

              I think that we're looking at months....
            • by suggsjc (726146)
              In the context of the GP, I think this is either Interesting or Insightful.
              Seriously, if the only value we hold is IP that is locked in patents then what happens to our value when those patents do expire?

              That said, I think we have a little more value than JUST our IP, so I don't think our economy is expiring any time soon (just don't ask for a definition of soon).
              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                Seriously, if the only value we hold is IP that is locked in patents then what happens to our value when those patents do expire?

                We will just stop them from expiring, like our perpetually extended copyrights.
          • The US once led the world in industrial output.
            Then we decided that we would move industry overseas, and our primary output would be capital manipulation.
            Now, we've decided that we'll neither make things or manipulate capital, but instead sue people who actually make things, move capital, invent things, or make entertainment. Parasites on the world.

            The next step for the top 5 percenters is to just sit in a chair and demand people give them stuff because they deserve it for being them. What do we need them f
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by evilviper (135110)

          How exactly does the free market go about fixing limited duration government granted monopolies (a.k.a. patents)?

          Umm, isn't it obvious?

          Alternative methods to accomplish the same goal have been used as patent work-arounds from the earliest days. If not for someone working-around the Wright Brother's patents, jets would be using "wing warping" instead of "flaps."

          Besides that, the free market constantly lobbies the government... if they get bit by broad patents enough times, they'll put their efforts towards

          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward
            Besides that, the free market constantly lobbies the government... if they get bit by broad patents enough times, they'll put their efforts towards ending that.

            And finally, if numerous companies go out of business, the patent office will no longer be over-loaded...


            Two major flaws with your argument. One, you are treating the "free market" as if it were one monolithic organization with a single obejctive. The reality is that each and every company within the free market will feel differently about paten
          • by mr3038 (121693) on Friday June 08, 2007 @08:06AM (#19436031)

            How exactly does the free market go about fixing limited duration government granted monopolies (a.k.a. patents)?
            Alternative methods to accomplish the same goal have been used as patent work-arounds from the earliest days. If not for someone working-around the Wright Brother's patents, jets would be using "wing warping" instead of "flaps."

            Yes, that is a work-around. Notice, however, that the whole patent system was originally created to help sharing of information, namely inventions. If you made an invention and made it publicly available, in return the government granted you a limited monopoly.

            Nowadays, this has twisted into reality where government grants you a monopoly and you absolute do not share your "invention". Instead, you use your monopoly to prevent related innovation by others. The government grants you (limited) monopoly and in return you share a piece of document that, more often than not, shares zero information about the real invention you possibly did. In case of software, the only thing that really could describe your invention correctly would be the source code. However, that is not required to get a software patent. That's where the problem is - you can get a patent to protect your invention without disclosing that very same invention.

            • by MightyYar (622222)
              I think we should go back to the old system where you have to submit a working model of whatever you are trying to patent. For big or expensive things we might make an exception where you can pay to have the patent office come to you. You are absolutely right - patents sometimes don't really disclose as much as they should.
              • by dfghjk (711126)
                "You are absolutely right - patents sometimes don't really disclose as much as they should."

                That's not what he said. He said you could get a patent without disclosing an invention AT ALL. It is up to the examiner to determine if a patent is valid and if it is sufficiently described. It is not required of anyone in the system to make it so an uneducated /. reader can understand it.

                A patent system that's incapable of responding to the application demand is an ineffective one. Not saying our current system
                • by MightyYar (622222)
                  The problem with the "obviousness" requirement is that "obvious" is such an ambiguous word. What is obvious? Great, now we need a court case to decide.

                  If you make someone actually demonstrate that an idea works, instead of just masturbating onto a patent application and giving a lawyer a couple of thousand dollars, it makes the "obviousness" test simpler... just a matter of "has anyone built this particular do-dad before"?

                  You can't possibly expect the patent office to be staffed with enough knowledgeable pe
            • by dfghjk (711126)
              That's total bullshit. The documentation of your invention is, and always has been, the means of sharing. The purpose of the limited monopoly is not the enable you to share your invention but to restrict its commercialization without your benefit. It works exactly how it's supposed to.

              Your notion that source code is required to teach a software is also ridiculous. How would any software textbook work then?

              "That's where the problem is - you can get a patent to protect your invention without disclosing th
          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            by Lumbergh (1053438)

            If not for someone working-around the Wright Brother's patents, jets would be using "wing warping" instead of "flaps."

            I hate to nitpick, but wing warping in a biplane controls the roll of the aircraft. Flaps provide additional lift and reduce the stall speed of an aircraft. The word you were looking for was "aileron". See: Wing Warping [wikipedia.org] vs. Aileron [wikipedia.org] vs. Flaps [wikipedia.org].

          • If not for someone working-around the Wright Brother's patents, jets would be using "wing warping" instead of "flaps."

            It is a good thing those Wright Brothers patents have expired: wing warping [af.mil].

          • by dfghjk (711126)
            "Alternative methods to accomplish the same goal have been used as patent work-arounds from the earliest days. If not for someone working-around the Wright Brother's patents, jets would be using "wing warping" instead of "flaps.""

            Any patents the Wright brothers received would be out of force long before today. In fact, the Wright brothers are a great example of why patents work. We granted them a limited monopoly so that our society could more quickly understand how their invention worked. As a result, m
        • "The free market will fix it..."

          How exactly does the free market go about fixing limited duration government granted monopolies (a.k.a. patents)?
          The free market is the god of capitalism.
          It will fix everything, and if it doesn't, god works on his divine plan in mysterious ways.
      • by oliverthered (187439) <[moc.liamtoh] [ta] [derehtrevilo]> on Friday June 08, 2007 @05:01AM (#19435203) Journal
        a recent ruling in the uk [out-law.com] stated that compensation should be paid on a patent that's been granted even if that patent is subsequently found to be invalid.

        Now that sucks
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        Every time they issue a patent that's later invalidated, they should pay compensation for issuing the patent.


        Oh, no. I've got a better idea. Every patent that gets invalidated should result in not only the USPTO paying a fine, but the company that was issued the patent should have to pay a massive fine as well for wasting everybody's time.

        How quickly do you think patent trolls will suddenly start disappearing if this occured?
        • he company that was issued the patent should have to pay a massive fine. How quickly do you think patent trolls will suddenly start disappearing if this occured?

          By "patent trolls", you mean the large companies that have the money to hire tons of patent lawyers and win these court cases? In that case, no I don't see them disappearing. Your new system--where filing patents to protect your inventions can lead to people taking you to court and trying to get tons of money out of you for having a patent they don't like--will only hurt the small inventors that patents are supposed to protect. They won't be able to take the risk that that Microsoft or whoever will take th

      • by general_re (8883) on Friday June 08, 2007 @07:51AM (#19435915) Homepage

        Every time they issue a patent that's later invalidated, they should pay compensation for issuing the patent.

        The problem here, has and always will be the over willingness of the patent office to issue patents when the invention preexists but is not documented publicly, or where it's a minor increment of an existing variation. It's in the law that they have to test for obviousness and prior art, but they so narrowly define those terms as to remove the tests.

        The free market will fix it, make them pay for their mistakes just like every other professional body.
        I don't know what's more disturbing - the fact that you're this amazingly naive, or the fact that at least one other person out there found this tripe anything but naive. The "free market" will dissuade the USPTO from granting bad patents, will it? And how, pray tell, will it do that when the Patent Office has a legal monopoly on the granting of patents? It's not like there's any competition for them to fear, where you can go to some other agency to get a patent when you're unhappy with the way they grant patents.

        And then, even better, "we" are supposed to punish "them" when "they" fuck up, by fining them. Except that, as a government agency, the USPTO always has access to the biggest ATM in the universe, the American taxpayer. So what you're really proposing is that *I* pay a fine every time the Patent Office fucks up - "we" get to punish ourselves for bad patents. Which is a proposal where I expect most people's reaction will be "are you out of your fucking mind?"

        The only possible solution is to change the laws governing the USPTO if you're unhappy with the way things are currently going. I'm as laissez-faire as the next guy, but there is no "free market" solution to the problem of overbroad or poorly thought-out patents, unless you scrap the whole system. And the odds of that are basically nil, so you're back to changing the laws in order to bring about different outcomes.
        • by MightyYar (622222)
          That's what I thought when I read the parent's comment... how will fining a government agency work? It also creates an avenue for corruption. If I get an evil patent clerk on my side, I might be able to get all sorts of nonsense approved. Later, when the stuff starts getting invalidated, it's me and the clerk's pay-day.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by msouth (10321)

        The free market will fix it, make them pay for their mistakes just like every other professional body.


        When the patent system is abused, it's not a free market. The people attacking the current abusive patent practices a trying to restore the free market.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      Disclaimer: I work for Qualcomm. I'm not going to pretend I'm happy with everything we do in terms of patents, but its par for the course in this very patent-rich field. But your facts are in some cases wrong. GTE sued us, and the Nokia, Motorola, and Broadcom lawsuits were counter-suits.
      • by arivanov (12034) on Friday June 08, 2007 @03:44AM (#19434937) Homepage

        Disclaimer: I used to work in the field (not for qualcom) and I am extremely happy no longer to.

        Anyone working in the field is well aware of the phenomenon known as "visit from Qualcomm" legal department. In fact, it is a most common question asked when discussing a financial plan or investment in a wireless related SMB: "And have you had a visit from Qualcom yet?".

        It is essentially the same tactic as used by IBM in the early 90-es with their PC-based patents. You are left to develop something, start a business and hopla two chaps in black suits show up with a list of patents which you have supposedly infringed. GTE, Nokia, Motorola, Broadcom were simply big enough to tell these chaps to f*** off, and fight it out. Frankly, I can bet that every single one of them fired the legal salvo after a visit from Pan Legalicus Qualcommi. In fact, in Nokia's case it is known to be so as it has happened as a result of Qualcom violating its obligations to license standardised intellectual property on non-discriminatory terms.

        • One sided summary (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Magnus Pym (237274) on Friday June 08, 2007 @07:28AM (#19435745)
          Qualcomm has been aggressive in promoting their patent rights. But to say
          that they are unique in this field is completely ignoring one side of the story.

          Every try to make something in the GSM/UMTS space? You will have about a dozen companies
          approach you with their hands out. Nokia, Qualcomm, Ericcson, Motorola, Lucent, Samsung
          and several others. CDMA royalties are about 5%, almost all paid to Qualcomm. GSM/UMTS
          royalties sum up to about 18%. The only difference is that if you are one of the big guys,
          you "cross-license" your patents so that you don't end up actually paying anything. If you
          are a new entrant... well, you are out of luck.

          What is pissing off the Nokias, Ericcsons and Broadcomms of the world is that in the CDMA space,
          they have no patents at all. None. That is because they fought CDMA every step of the way until Qualcomm
          demonstrated conclusively that it is a commercially practical technology. Then they
          turned around and tried to claim it as their own, and tried to co-opt it by applying it with minor
          modifications to the UMTS space.

          Actually, I am amazed that Broadcomm is getting away with this. Their sum total of contributions to
          the wireless space is close to zero. They have done some work in the wireline world in the early
          years, but they have contributed zip, zilch, nada in the development of wireless IP. They are not
          even a name in the industry. HOwever, it is possible that they have purchased some IPR of late.

          I am quite happy to see cracks in the patent edifice as a whole, but making Qualcomm the villain in
          this is not correct. Qualcomm laid many of the foundations for modern wireless communications technology;
          Qualcomm corporate R&D is about as close as you can get to how Bell Labs used to be.
          Lots of Qualcomm's IPR consists of non-trivial, non-obvious, fundamental contributions to communications
          theory. Most other wireless companies, in particular Nokia, Motorola, Ericcson etc have done nothing
          fundamental in the past 15 years. They are product companies whose forte consists of taking old technologies
          and packaging them in crowd-pleasing form factors, or (in the case of Ericcson), maintaining relationships
          with behemoth carriers.

          Magnus
          • by LWATCDR (28044)
            Of course that is just it. These are NOT software patents. Even RMS doesn't have a problem with hardware patents. To me Broadcomm seems more the villain here. Qualcomm did most eh work in CDMA and now the rest of the world is trying to catch up. Yea this is a mess but I wish people wouldn't lump all patents together.
            • by dfghjk (711126)
              The moment hardware patents interfere with RMS gaining free use of all the world's software he will have a problem with them.

              There is nothing wrong with software patents that is not also wrong with hardware patents. The problem is obviousness and a consistent failure to identify prior art. Saying that a programmer is incapable of being an inventor is ridiculous.
    • by pyite (140350)
      Why does Apple hate DRM on audio, but not on Software or Video?

      In reference to your above cited signature, Apple doesn't have DRM on their software. When's the last time you had to enter a code to use OS X, or do some sort of stupid activation? Video is a different matter.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Sancho (17056)
        Ever tried to install OS X on a non-Apple computer?

        No, you don't have to do activation, but they use DRM to restrict installs of OS X to their own iron.
      • by countach (534280)
        Ahem. Ever downloaded an ipod game?
      • by jZnat (793348) *
        You need a serial number for all their pro apps, but that's the extent of their "copy protection". Hell, I've heard that you still get updates from Apple for your pro apps even if you used a pirated serial number! Sure, they do prevent you from using OS X on non-Mac hardware, but as evil as that DRM is, it isn't nearly as bad as what other companies are doing. Getting rid of DRM should start with the gross violators and then expand out when more people know about the defective by design DRM shit. DRM on
    • by ms1234 (211056)
      Funny, nothing about Nokia counter suing Qualcomm on their PR site http://www.mobilemonday.net/news/nokia-counter-sue s-qualcomm-in-wisconsin [mobilemonday.net]
    • by kinglink (195330)
      No, we are only a step closer when people REALIZE they lose the ability. Currently most people don't understand what patents are being used for. They always get the abstract stuff like if I make a part for a computer, you can't make the same part and sell it. They don't understand the stupidity. Three patents that really show that off is.

      Ebay or someone has a patent on the automatic bidding (proxy bidding is what they call it or something). No other site can have that with out getting the license.

      Namco
  • ITC press release (Score:5, Informative)

    by Takichi (1053302) on Friday June 08, 2007 @03:00AM (#19434767)
    You can get a better idea of what happened if you read the International Trade Commission's press release [usitc.gov]. At the bottom of the page is a little background information to get a sense of what happened prior to their decision.

    It says that it found a violation on U.S. Patent No. 6,714,983. Here's the link to the patent [google.com].

    One thing to note is that the ITC investigates and makes recommendations to congress and the president. It's not actually a court of law or policy making body. So I think this from the article:

    A federal agency has banned imports of new cellphones made with Qualcomm semiconductors
    isn't really true. Especially when later in the article it states that the government has 60 days to approve or overturn the order made by the ITC.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Zironic (1112127)
      Wow, me that's completely uneducated in wireless chip design put forward the exact idea that is patented there o.O

      Seriously they've patented everything that can use a battery and reduces power usage by modifying the frequency of scanning for access ports. And then they further patented the ability to shut down unneeded parts of a wireless chip.

      Unless I'm reading the patent wrong which I hope I am.
      • "A pritable data terminal includes at least two communication transeivers having different operating charactrtistics, one for conducting data communications on a wired sub-network and one for conducting data communications on a wireless subnetwork"

        So basically they patented all wired and wireless networks. Isn't just a case of a US company using legislation to impede competitors entry into the market. The whole TRIPS [groklaw.net] thing being designed so any future non-US telecom company will have to pay a tithe to Wa
  • by iamacat (583406) on Friday June 08, 2007 @03:30AM (#19434873)
    Did Qualcomm employees actually read Broadcom's patent and use the helpful diagrams to build the phone chips? I rather suspect not - this is another example of independent discovery. I understand that the patent law doesn't allow that as a defense, as it's hard to prove that someone didn't read the publicly available patent. But the fact that it happens over and over again just shows that the current system blocks progress of art and science rather than encouraging it. We have to start only allowing patents that are judged non-obvious by leading experts in the area.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by OakLEE (91103)

      But the fact that [independent discovery] happens over and over again just shows that the current system blocks progress of art and science rather than encouraging it.

      Really? How does discovering something again lead to progress? I could re-invent the wheel, or prove that 2+2=4 for independently, but neither would advance the fields of engineering or mathematics. Prohibiting independent discovery is not so much the issue, as dealing with the infringing use. It is the potential prohibition of the infringi

      • by iamacat (583406)
        Really? How does discovering something again lead to progress? I could re-invent the wheel, or prove that 2+2=4 for independently, but neither would advance the fields of engineering or mathematics.

        Best: I have no idea of how to push a heavy weight for a long distance. I search the patent database (on the cave celling) for you wheel patent, implement it and solve my problem in exchange for giving you a small piece of meet of every animal that I haul.

        Good: I reinvent the wheel and pay no royalties to you. O
  • broadcom (Score:2, Interesting)

    by DavoMan (759653)
    What is it with Broadcom? This sounds like the same kinda rubbish that is stopping my wireless from working natively in Linux.
    • Re:broadcom (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Tatsh (893946) on Friday June 08, 2007 @07:31AM (#19435767)
      Why did this get rated troll? In all seriousness, Broadcom refuses to write drivers or help or anything to get their wireless cards working natively in Linux. They do not care. Currently the best way to get the BCM43xx chipsets working is to use bcm43xx-fwcutter, but that of course violates patents because it uses the actual firmware of the wireless card to work.
      • by Dunbal (464142)
        Why did this get rated troll?

              You must be new here. 90% of interesting or useful comments receive a Troll, Flamebait or Offtopic mod. This has been the case for the past year or so. But don't worry. The INTELLIGENT readers on slashdot read all comments, at -1, anyway.
      • You made me think of something. With physics and maths (e.g. software), and the general vagueness of patents, I'd propose that with certain rather essential to future development technologies, and ones involving interoperability standards, a patent can cover all physically or mathematically possible implementations of executing a particular idea. Same with pharmacuticals and stuff.

        Now say Microsoft decide to patent something like this, say, develop a wireless standard and make it ubiquitous, licensing it to
  • by Anonymous Coward
    After skimming the patent [google.com] I'm failing to see the IP. Claim 1 basically describes a linking of attempt rate to success rate... and isn't that like the exponential backoff of ethernet? The fact that they then tie this to turning on and off a periphial (the power hungry transmitter) is the kind of optimization that laptop driver authors have been doing of years... so while prior art in the field of mobile phones may be thin on the ground there are examples all over the place.

    The primary and secondary examine
  • by SuperKendall (25149) on Friday June 08, 2007 @10:57AM (#19438589)
    The real question at this point I don't see being asked is, how likley is this to be overturned? Since it has such a broad impact, I would think that the thought might be to overturn this - yet at the same time, you can't just trample on patent owners rights from above every time they become inconvenient, if you were being an idealist you would let the ruling stand and them demand expidited review of the patents in question to be sure they were valid, or overturn them. If they are held to be valid under closer revue then in fact it would seem fair they should stand.

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