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Oprah Sued For Infringing "Touch and Feel" Patent 249

Posted by kdawson
from the where-the-money-is dept.
I Don't Believe in Imaginary Property writes "Oprah Winfrey, or to be more precise, Oprah's Book Club, is being sued by the inventor/patent attorney Scott C. Harris for infringing upon his patent for 'Enhancing Touch and Feel on the Internet.' So Oprah's Book Club is now one of many people and entities being sued over this patent because they allow people to view part, but not all, of a book online before purchasing it. Mr. Harris also sued Google Books for infringing upon this patent. He actually was fired from his position as partner at Fish & Richardson for that, because Google is a client of that law firm and they had conflict of interest rules to uphold." It would be entertaining to see Oprah give very wide and mainstream publicity to the abuses enabled by our current patent system.

Update: 01/07 22:03 GMT by KD : The blog author Joe Mullin wrote to point out that the lawsuit was not filed by the inventor, Scott C. Harris, but rather by the shell company Illinois Computer Research, which seems to exist for the purpose of filing lawsuits based on this particular patent.
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Oprah Sued For Infringing "Touch and Feel" Patent

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  • by yotto (590067) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @12:06AM (#26353959) Homepage

    It would be entertaining to see Oprah give very wide and mainstream publicity to the abuses enabled by our current patent system.
     
    It's more likely she'd just give him a car.

    • HAHAHAHA (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @12:12AM (#26354001)

      He filed a frivolous law suit against....Oprah

      Like her or not, she is one of the most influential, and hence powerful, women on the planet.

      Of course she will fight it. She will also win. A mouse just picked a fight with a dragon.

       

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by MaskedSlacker (911878)

        Only in our dreams will he get roasted for it like he deserves though.

        • Re:HAHAHAHA (Score:5, Insightful)

          by ta bu shi da yu (687699) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @12:38AM (#26354183) Homepage

          No, he's going to get roasted. I've been waiting for a patent troll to piss off the wrong person. Looks like that day has arrived. I guess I never thought it would be Oprah Winfrey though.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by multisync (218450) *

            We'll see. I would tend to think she doesn't need the negative publicity, and she certainly has plenty of money to just pay the guy to go away.

          • Re:HAHAHAHA (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Ethanol-fueled (1125189) * on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @01:37AM (#26354555) Homepage Journal
            Not only Oprah's book club, but GOOGLE and SONY among others! This guy threw away a job with a law firm which had GOOGLE as a client!
            • Re:HAHAHAHA (Score:4, Informative)

              by Gerzel (240421) * <<brollyferret> <at> <gmail.com>> on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @02:04AM (#26354673) Journal

              He may actually have a case.

              It is theoretically possible that it is a good case even outside his own head.

              It is possible still that he may win and status-quo be affirmed.

              Oprah, Sony and Google are all powerful but they also all depend on IP laws themselves.

              • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                Oprah is a public figure who actually has the ability to bring awareness of patent laws (and how ridiculous they are) to huge number of people who never even /considered/ that patents may affect their lives.

                In fact, I hope she loses the case on its merits. If she does, you can be pretty sure that changes to patent law will follow.

              • Yes, under the current patent infrastructure, he might have a legally sound case. And he might even win. This only proves (further) that the current scheme has gone nuts.
                I hope some people take note on this, and push towards reforming the patent system. In my book, this would clearly sound as an obvious thing, not even an invention... Still, a patent was granted.
                However, I do not hold very high hopes on it. I think this will be silently ignored. If anything, many media people will say, "oh, I didn't know I

                • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                  by Repossessed (1117929)

                  His case is, in my not actually a lawyer opinion, completely bogus. The patent would likely be tossed out. Eventually. The catch is, it'd take ~5 million to do so, and he's probably more than happy to settle for 3 million. This is the very nature of patent trolling.

          • Re:HAHAHAHA (Score:4, Funny)

            by laejoh (648921) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @01:53AM (#26354629)

            So what you're really saying is that Oprah is Trogdor in disguise?

            OPRAH! Burninating the countryside, Burninating the patent trolls. Burninating all the peoples. And their thatched-roof COTTAGES!

            Thatched-roof COTTAGES!

      • Re:HAHAHAHA (Score:4, Interesting)

        by religious freak (1005821) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @01:24AM (#26354449)
        Oprah is very rational in her business decisions, I've studied them a bit. Many times, in these cases, it doesn't make economic sense to hire defense lawyers - cheaper to settle... so I wouldn't count a settlement out. However, if this gains enough publicity (and I think it may have), she'll be forced to fight it, so as not to invite other frivolous lawsuits from those looking for a quick buck.
        • Re:HAHAHAHA (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Jeff DeMaagd (2015) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @01:53AM (#26354625) Homepage Journal

          That's the thing though, I'm surprised more companies don't fight the trolls just to get a reputation among trolls that you're willing to go Thunderdome on them on occasion. Then they'll get the message to find someone else to mess with. The way I see it, the only reason patent trolling is profitable is because companies take a short term view of it and just settle, encouraging the prospect of a death by a thousand paper cuts.

          • Re:HAHAHAHA (Score:4, Insightful)

            by Gerzel (240421) * <<brollyferret> <at> <gmail.com>> on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @02:06AM (#26354687) Journal

            The problem is the companies often ARE the trolls.

            They just do a slightly different version of trolling.

            Fighting sets precedents. precedents set decisions, and while you may want a decision one day the next it will hurt you.

          • by arse maker (1058608) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @05:50AM (#26355759)

            Sure, they maybe getting a reputation of being people who settle out of court.. but imagine if they fought and lost. It would be huge. Can they risk that? Im sure its an important part of their risk management assesment when deciding what to do.

            The increased payout for a loss, the increased publicity showing your company losing, breaking the law. Its a huge risk to take, while its easy to think these cases are thin and you cant lose, thats not true, just check the news.

          • Re:HAHAHAHA (Score:4, Interesting)

            by darkmeridian (119044) <william...chuang@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @12:06PM (#26359307) Homepage

            That's not true. Companies settle because there is typically too much to put in the hands of a relatively uneducated judge and jury, even when you factor in the value of preventing future lawsuits. Patent litigation typically involves a company's most profitable products. Losing a litigation, or even being enjoined from selling the products while the suit is pending, would be disastrous to a company's business. Averting future lawsuits has no value if the current lawsuit bankrupts the company. Also, if you fight to the bitter end and happen to lose, and have to pay a large bounty, there really was no prevention anyway.

            In many cases, the risk is simply untenable on any measure for an intelligent company to litigate patents to a verdict. Frivolous lawsuits are typically brought by "non-practicing entities," the polite term for patent trolls, in pro-plaintiff districts such as the Eastern District of Texas. Taking on all of the patent trolls is ridiculous because they only risk their legal fees while the defendant risks their livelihood. For instance, RIM refused to settle a patent infringement lawsuit targeting the Blackberry until the court threatened to shut off all Blackberries in the United States. RIM had to pay NTP $612 million to settle instead of the $20 million NTP was demanding before the adverse ruling. Microsoft lost a patent infringement lawsuit for $1.52 billion that was later reduced on appeal to $500 million. If you assume they could have settled the lawsuit for $10 million, the general counsel who lost the company $490 million would have a hard time explaining how that was worth the prevention, in light of the fact that paying out $500 million encourages even more patent trolls to fuck with you.

            In a game theoretical sense, you may want to fight everything to the end. But settlements are usually fair in broad strokes degree because you have businessmen and lawyers calculating the validity and odds of various claims. Otherwise, you have a judge and jury who do not know that much trying to learn the law and the technology deciding the future of your company. If the judge decides to enjoin your product or the jury rules against you for $1 billion, you are shit out of luck.

        • Yes it will come down to business -

          The question will be - Is it worth the cost of defending this in court or should we settle?

          There is also the question of P.R. a court case could dig up something dirty and Oprah has a spotless image.

          Throw enough Mud and it sticks !!! (Bad Oprah)

          going on past court cases most large companies like to settle out of court. I cant see why this will be any different.

          01101011 01101001 01100011 01101011 00100000 01101000 01101001 01110011 00100000 01100001 0111

        • Re:HAHAHAHA (Score:4, Interesting)

          by rolfwind (528248) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @05:55AM (#26355791)

          Walmart makes it a policy to fight each and every lawsuit to discourage others from taking them on. Settling may be cheaper in the long term, but what if settlements bring out more leeches hungry for a little blood?

          Anyway, I'm sick of hearing about patents over common sense shit. It's not the underlying technologies that patented, just the applications they now allow (often internet versions of common real life things). I don't like Oprah all that much, but I hope she crushes this little flea.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by hey! (33014)

          Except you have to look at the business she is in. Her career is using her life as a kind of laboratory for generating experiences that are novel, but rooted n approachable sentiments and ideas.

          In a nutshell, Oprah is a professional middle-brow bohemian.

          Doing something that is not entirely sensible because it appeals to a personal sense of what is right is different for her than it would be for you or me. If this makes her mad enough, it's her business to explore her feelings through trying things ordinar

        • Oprah will co-opt him somehow. He'll make a few appearances on the show with tech tips or something like that, and then he'll write a book.
      • Like her or not, she is one of the most influential, and hence powerful, women on the planet.

        How come i needed to google to find out who this "Oprah" is?

      • by Sentry21 (8183)

        This lawyer probably knows a lot more about the law than Oprah does.

        On the other hand, Oprah probably knows a lot more about public relations than this lawyer does. Oh, and she could hire most lawyers in the US. Like, all at once.

        It's like watching one of those videos on YouTube of rednecks doing stupid shit and then getting hurt. It's good, clean fun, and in the end we're all better off for having learned a valuable lesson from someone less fortunate now than they were 30 seconds ago.

      • by macraig (621737)

        Or as Lou Gramm (or Mick Jones?) once penned: "You got a lion on your hands, boy, not a mouse!"

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by thodi (37956)

        Like her or not, she is one of the most influential, and hence powerful, women on the planet.

        s/on the planet/in the USA/

        The rest of the world could care less, thank god.

      • by redxxx (1194349)

        He filed a frivolous law suit against....Oprah

        Like her or not, she is one of the most influential, and hence powerful, women on the planet.

        Of course she will fight it. She will also win. A mouse just picked a fight with a dragon.

        After quitting his lawfirm so he could sue one of their clients, Google.

        The guy's got a pair. I'll give him that.

    • by _Hellfire_ (170113) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @12:51AM (#26354255) Homepage

      It's more likely she'd just give him a car.

      Oprah and this guy are in the pre-trial conference...

      Oprah: "Look under your seat!"

  • Wide? (Score:4, Funny)

    by Gothmolly (148874) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @12:07AM (#26353963)

    Did anyone else read that as : "It would be entertaining to see Oprah get very wide" ?

  • by plover (150551) * on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @12:07AM (#26353967) Homepage Journal

    Dr. Phil! Touch me! Feel me!

    Oh, it's not that kind of lawsuit? Yawn.

  • by greentshirt (1308037) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @12:32AM (#26354147)
    Republicans always find a way to blame something on Democrats. Democrats always find a way to blame something on Republicans. Jews kill Arabs, Arabs kill Jews, people sue over patent infringement and lawyers are often assholes. Oprah seems too busy talking about getting fat again (and acting like it's some kind of horrible fate worse than death) to really do much publicizing of anything else. Tonight on Larry King live, he had 3 guests, Oprahs personal trainer, her spiritual adviser and some other guy, talk at length about GASP, OPRAH GETTING FAT. What the hell is wrong with our world, I don't know where to begin anymore.
  • Only in America. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by joocemann (1273720) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @12:33AM (#26354153)

    The land of too many lawyers without enough viable work to find.

    Oh the opportunities that have been missed or shut down for fear of litigious people and the grinning lawyers that represent them.

    As true as this is, I will probably be modded a flamer.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by exley (221867)

      -1, Gay

    • by Sentry21 (8183) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @03:28AM (#26355171) Journal

      In this economic depression, it only makes sense for people with no skill or talent to take money from companies that actually provide tangible benefits to society and take part in our economy in exchange for doing no work and little forethought.

      The American patent system is designed to reward inventors, even if they never have any intention or desire to make anything of their patent, by ensuring that anyone can patent anything. As a result the secret to success, like in relationships, is finding your perfect match. They're out there somewhere, and they're infringing on a patent that any sane person could come up with over a pint of Guinness and a plate of chips. Go get what you've earned, tiger!

    • by tehcyder (746570)
      I don't think you're likely to be modded down for insulting lawyers on slashdot.
  • by Michael Woodhams (112247) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @12:49AM (#26354237) Journal

    I've just skimmed the patent. The basic situation is they have the entire book on computer, you can choose any pages to view, but once you've viewed a certain number, it won't let you view any more. There was also a bit of stuff about supplying image and text in different formats/resolutions, and (I think) using keys to scroll around the image of one page.

    How do they know that it is you, not someone else asking for more pages? They specifically include the use of cookies, but allow for other methods. There is no mention of (e.g.) using IP addresses, but I expect this would be covered. The interesting problems (How do you know the user isn't deleting the cookies? How do you know whether there are 200 people behind that single IP address?) are not addressed.

    IANAL, and I didn't read it carefully, so I might be wrong about some details.

    • Prior Art? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mutantSushi (950662)
      This is the operating procedure of an Ice Cream shop. Yes, you can sample this. That too. That. That.... But once you've had "enough" samples, you need to buy something. So the only specifics he's proposing in the patent are: Using Cookies exactly how browser cookies are supposed to be used. I hope Oprah makes a show out of this, and connects it with the rest of the IP-ocracy. Y'know, invite on some poor moms sued by the RIAA, farmers fucked by GMO-Corps, doctors from 3rd world countries that can't aff
      • Re:Prior Art? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Kalriath (849904) * on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @02:10AM (#26354713)

        This is the operating procedure of an Ice Cream shop.
        Yes, you can sample this. That too. That. That....
        But once you've had "enough" samples, you need to buy something.

        So, essentially, this patent is... "Something that's already happened for hundreds of years... on the internet"

        • by zooblethorpe (686757) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @03:20AM (#26355121)

          Regardless of the underlying ironic humour in the parent post, Kalriath really comes across (to me at least) more as insightful than funny. This case is another prime exemplification of how bizarre the legal situation becomes once any activity takes place via the internet, as if engaging in business online somehow changes everything (beyond just the medium of exchange).

          Cheers,

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        Amen. When Oprah goes for blood, she goes straight for the jugular.

        I remember when she read Elie Wiesel's book Night... she did a huge show on it, went to Germany and toured the concentration camps, talked with the author, and really did her best to show exactly the face of evil.

        I hope she tries to show the face of corruption and incompetence in the patent system. If anyone in America has the audience and the skills to effectively portray this to the public, it'd be Oprah.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by SMS_Design (879582)
        It's also the same idea as a bookstore.

        Read a bit of the book. Get a feel for it. Don't sit there and read the WHOLE damn thing, though.
      • This is the operating procedure of an Ice Cream shop. Yes, you can sample this. That too. That. That.... But once you've had "enough" samples, you need to buy something. So the only specifics he's proposing in the patent are:

        ... transmitting a plurality of images from a server to a client over a network responsive to a request unless a request threshold has been reached.

        If your ice cream shop isn't using a server, network, or plurality of images representing pages of a book, then it's not prior art.

    • by russotto (537200)

      It doesn't really matter whether the method disclosed in the patent is very good or not.

      What does matter is whether or not the patent is valid. That is, of patentable subject matter, and novel, non-obvious, and useful. It's certainly useful (even if there are ways around it). It would appear to be of patentable subject matter. Some if it is certainly not novel, however -- several of the claims describe things web servers and browsers have been doing since the early '90s (and Compuserve and AOL and likel

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Theaetetus (590071)

      How do they know that it is you, not someone else asking for more pages? They specifically include the use of cookies, but allow for other methods. There is no mention of (e.g.) using IP addresses, but I expect this would be covered. The interesting problems (How do you know the user isn't deleting the cookies? How do you know whether there are 200 people behind that single IP address?) are not addressed.

      True, they're not addressed, but they don't necessarily need to be. You don't have to solve every problem in a patent - otherwise, you could never have improvements on prior technology.

      Most interesting thing, I think, is that the claims are broad enough to cover 2D representations, though the first half of the description is pointed towards 3D representations. Since this isn't a divisional application, it makes me suspect that there were 3D claims previously but they were rejected.
      Remember - the invention

  • by istartedi (132515) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @02:27AM (#26354799) Journal

    ...at least, not initially.

    Her lawyer will tell her not to comment on the case, and she will follow that advice. She's not stupid.

    However, once the dust is settled it might get more interesting. Some other posters were speculating that "big content" it to Democrats what "big oil" is to Republicans. Perhaps that's true; but this is a patent case we're talking about. Big Content is fueled by copyright, not patents. I don't watch Oprah. Has she tackled pharma companies in the past? That might provide some clue as to whether or not she'll become an advocate for patent reform.

    • by swillden (191260)

      Her lawyer will tell her not to comment on the case, and she will follow that advice. She's not stupid.

      That wouldn't prevent her from commenting about the state of patent law in general, and using other cases to make the point. She could also ask her attorneys to vet everything she says on the subject to make sure it won't be a problem.

      If she wants to talk about it, the legal situation is an obstacle to be worked around, it's not a showstopper.

  • The Root (Score:2, Insightful)

    When will we start fixing the root of the problem: suing and firing moron patent officers that grant amazingly stupid patents, followed by investigations and possible nullifications of the patents they have granted?

    Fight the war on two fronts: kill the patent trolls, and also fire the idiots who keep feeding them!

    Seriously, I know a lot of bullshit must come across their desks at patent offices, but you would think that they'd have figured out how to assign patents of specific types to specialist patent off

    • by pimpimpim (811140)
      In europe you have some pretty hefty tests specific to your area of expertise before you can even become a patent officer. Still, this doesn't stop stupid patents to pass. Work pressure is too high, there are just way too many patents going along. Come to think of it, it just means that there are not enough patent officers to handle all patents. Basically that, and most of our other patent-related problems, can only exit because patents are too cheap. If the price of patents would go up it would probably be
    • If you really want to get to the "root of the problem", start shooting lawyers. If you follow the money trail, it really seems this entire situation was set up so that there would be MORE lawsuits, in which case, it's the lawyers that benefit in general.

      All of american society is being screwed, to the benefit of the ruling class, aka lawyers. I'm sure it was a lawyer who first proposed ridiculous patenting of obvious ideas "on the itarweb", and it's lawyers who vigorously defend idiots who think they are go

  • This is friggen bullshit !!!

    Every weekend I go to National Bookstore at the shopping mall, and browse through the new releases ... before I buy any book, I'll want to read at least the prologue, introduction OR cover ...

    Are you telling me I'm infringing on someones patent if I do the exact same thing online ?

    How do these patents get allowed ?

  • Take a few pictures of the item you sell, add them to your auction description and VOILA! Instant patent infringement! These patents are getting more and more absurd by the day, I tells ya. Penny Arcade had it right: http://penny-arcade.com/comic/2009/1/2/ [penny-arcade.com]
  • For more than a century, it has been standard practice for publishing companies to receive manuscripts in the form of three sample chapters and an outline of the rest of the work in progress. This was done in whatever media was available. I'm sure by the 90's, there were manuscripts being delivered via email in this format.

    So it is an obvious practice to carry this to the consumer. How often do you get samples of food in the grocery store? Sample packets of some skin product in the mail? There is so much "p

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