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Patent Troll Goes After Notebook Cooling 131

Posted by samzenpus
from the cool-before-you dept.
An anonymous reader writes "If you are manufacturing notebooks and you are using hardware that needs to be cooled down occasionally, you may be in the crosshairs of IPventure, which claims patent rights to an approach that is common in all notebooks today. For now, the company appears to be establishing its case by suing Fujitsu and Lenovo over the use of its invention in the Lifebook and Thinkpad series of products."
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Patent Troll Goes After Notebook Cooling

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  • Submarine patent? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Wednesday July 06, 2011 @06:56PM (#36676760)
    So the method is common in notebooks today... meaning it has been in wide use for at least a few years now. The patent holder just waited until everyone had committed to selling that design, so that they could just sue everyone. Submarine patent tactics if I ever saw them.
    • Re:Submarine patent? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by shentino (1139071) on Wednesday July 06, 2011 @07:04PM (#36676820)

      All this "treble damages" stuff for people who willfully infringe is so onesided.

      There should be penalties for patent holders who willfully allow infringement in the name of increased damages.

      • Basically you don't get to keep a patent for doing nothing. Basically I'd do it so that within 6 months of the time you should reasonably be aware there is a product using your patent, you must contact that person about either licensing your patent or discontinuing the use of your technology. Failure to do so renders your patent invalid.

        So you don't have to develop something right away, that's ok, but if someone does develop it, you have to get on talking to them, you can't hide in the tall grass until it i

        • by wagnerrp (1305589)
          The patent was granted two months ago. Two months is well within your six month time frame.
          • by phoomp (1098855)
            Curious to learn how "an approach that is common in all notebooks today" could be granted to a panted only two months ago ...
            • Too lazy to check, but it may have been submitted many years ago and the approval only just went through.
          • by Lanteran (1883836)
            Do prior art or obviousness just not count anymore or what? It seems like these stupid patents are being granted more and more often.
          • by rhook (943951)

            And since the method was already in wide use the patent should have been denied due to prior art.

        • by shentino (1139071)

          Maybe not quite as severe as losing your patent completely, but you definitely shouldn't have the right to sue them for exorbitant damages if you're conniving enough to watch them get away with it until they're ripe to be sued.

          However, patent forfeiture could be used as a punitive measure.

          • by shentino (1139071)

            Maybe not quite as severe as losing your patent completely, but you definitely shouldn't have the right to sue them for exorbitant damages if you're conniving enough to watch them get away with it until they're ripe to be sued.

            However, patent forfeiture could be used as a punitive measure if you DO sue someone past the deadline.

          • Maybe not quite as severe as losing your patent completely, but you definitely shouldn't have the right to sue them for exorbitant damages if you're conniving enough to watch them get away with it until they're ripe to be sued.

            You shouldn't, and you don't. You can't sue for damages that occur between the time that you become aware of the infringement and the time that you file the lawsuit or otherwise notify the infringer (possibly excepting some brief window that allows to get all your paperwork together).

            • by shentino (1139071)

              Unfortunately, until such time as judges become mind readers, the company can always deny all knowledge that inconveniences them.

              • by SharpFang (651121)

                It isn't that bad, and wouldn't be the first case where the state of mind/knowledge of a party decides about guilty/not guilty.

                The example is the crime of "receiving stolen goods." It's a crime if you knowingly receive the goods or have a reasonable suspicion the goods might be stolen. If you had no reason to suspects the goods were stolen, you're not guilty. It's up to the court to establish what you knew or suspected. And while everyone can say "I didn't know it was stolen", fences land in prison all the

      • Re:Submarine patent? (Score:4, Informative)

        by Dachannien (617929) on Wednesday July 06, 2011 @08:30PM (#36677622)

        There is a penalty. It's called the doctrine of laches, and it essentially says that if someone's behavior was damaging to you, but you opted to wait an unreasonable time before suing so that more damages would accrue, then you may forfeit the right to collect some or all of the compensation to which you would otherwise be entitled.

        Now, it doesn't always work, because it's an affirmative defense, which means the defendant bears the initial burden to show that the plaintiff slept on their rights when they could have sued earlier. Some defendants look at that risk and opt to settle instead of trying it out on a jury.

      • by russotto (537200) on Wednesday July 06, 2011 @10:00PM (#36678390) Journal

        There should be penalties for patent holders who willfully allow infringement in the name of increased damages.

        There should be even bigger penalties for patent holders who acquire obvious BS patents and try to make a fortune off of them. I'm thinking start with "death" and go up from there.

        • by shentino (1139071)

          Make them burn in hell for one year for every BS patent they acquire?

          Besides, if it's a BS patent it should never have been issued in the first place.

      • by tnk1 (899206)

        Thing is... good luck proving that they knew about it before they say they did. Designs are not exactly publicized, and it takes time to learn about possible offenders, and then pull the things apart and prove that the infringers are infringing.

        Of course, I imagine that there are many patent trolls that are purposely using submarine tactics to maximize their return, but as we found out in the Casey Anthony case, it's not what you know, it's what you can prove in a court of law that matters.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Quick, somebody patent Submarine Patent Tactics.

      (for maximum damages, wait till someone rich tries to use it)

    • by c++0xFF (1758032) on Wednesday July 06, 2011 @07:13PM (#36676892)

      FTFA:

      The company claims that two patents are affected. Patent 7,506,190, awarded in March 2009, and patent 7,937,599, awarded in May of this year. Both patents describe “thermal and power management for computer systems.”

      While this clearly has been a novel approach, it is questionable if it was novel when the original patent claimed by IPventure was filed on June 22, 2007 and there may be a good chance that prior art could invalidate both of its patents.

      It's almost the opposite, actually. They sued almost as soon as one of the patents was awarded.

      On the other hand, the older of the two was filed in 2007, while SpeedStep was introduced on the Pentium III in about 2000 or 2001. What their patents describe is essentially the thermostat logic: step down frequency when the temperature gets too hot. Surely that idea has existed from the introduction of dynamic frequency scaling?!?

      But, the patents also talk about fan speed control ... I'm pretty sure that was the whole point of AMD's Cool'n'quiet.

      • by Fluffeh (1273756)

        I know that I am a skeptic by nature and have no time for fools, but I seriously wonder if I should get a job in the US patent office. I am not quite sure what I would do with all that blow and all those hookers, but surely they come with the position?

        Seriously though, I do wonder if anyone in a position to change/improve the patent system ever wonders how all these asinine patents are awarded when there is so much clear prior art or they are so ludicrously common sense applications.

        • I am not quite sure what I would do with all that blow and all those hookers, but surely they come with the position?

          .

          Foolish child. That's for management. You're supposed to just sit there and approve the patents. You get nothing.

        • The greatest harm is not really from questionable patents being awarded, but from them being upheld by the courts.
          • I still have a working laptop from 2001 which has a stepping CPU and variable fan speed, both of which are controlled on basis of the temperature sensor, which I will happily donate to the defense as an example of prior art.

          • by Jerry (6400) on Wednesday July 06, 2011 @08:13PM (#36677460)

            "upheld by the courts"

            A sober thought when one considers that US Supreme Court ruled last year that a corporation could bribe our elected representatives with as much money as would get their special legislation enacted, and there didn't have to be any accounting to anyone as to how much or to whom. These bribes are euphemistically called "campaign donations", but if the politician retires s/he can convert those funds to private use.

          • No it's from them being awarded. By the time it goes to court the defendants have paid out thousands of dollars, regardless of the court's decision. THAT is the problem.

        • by Nick Ives (317)

          My understanding is that patent examiners simply go off the information that's filed alongside the patent. If a patent isn't really novel, they wait until a re-examination request comes in - usually as a result of litigation around the patent.

          • Re:Submarine patent? (Score:4, Interesting)

            by jamesh (87723) on Wednesday July 06, 2011 @07:47PM (#36677186)

            My understanding is that patent examiners simply go off the information that's filed alongside the patent. If a patent isn't really novel, they wait until a re-examination request comes in - usually as a result of litigation around the patent.

            A penalty for deliberately trying to mislead the patent examiners would go a long way towards resolving this problem...

            • A penalty for deliberately trying to mislead the patent examiners would go a long way towards resolving this problem...

              It's called inequitable conduct, and it can get your patent thrown out if someone else can prove it to a judge.

              • by jamesh (87723)

                A penalty for deliberately trying to mislead the patent examiners would go a long way towards resolving this problem...

                It's called inequitable conduct, and it can get your patent thrown out if someone else can prove it to a judge.

                That's not quite the definition of 'penalty' I was looking for. That would be like the punishment for being caught shoplifting that you have to put the stuff back - the only thing wasted would be the shoplifters time and bus fare into town, and they could just try again tomorrow using a different tactic.

                The definition of 'penalty' I was looking for would be a hefty fine, or maybe an audit/reexamination at their expense on all their existing patents that they wish to keep.

                • by Nick Ives (317)

                  Yea, making patent holders liable for all re-examination costs - including third party costs brought to the attention of the patent office and used as evidence to invalidate a patent - would be a good deterrent from filing obvious patents and then trolling for license fees.

        • by udippel (562132) on Wednesday July 06, 2011 @08:09PM (#36677424)

          If there was booze and hookers in a patent office, I'd probably still be working there ... .
          At least when I was there, it wasn't the officers being keen on granting, actually. At least the large majority wasn't. It was the bean-counters in higher management. Only a granted patent 'produces' more income in form of fees, renewal fees, and so forth. A rejected patent doesn't, except of the initial examination fee.

          Do not always try to blame the poor officers. Try looking at capitalism instead. An office like the patent office ought to be financed by the tax payer, yes, the tax payer, to provide unbiased services. Services in the best interest of the country, that is the tax payer. It should not need to create its own funding, nor be used to create additional cash-flow into the coffers of the state / government.
          In case of the latter two, there will always be politicians in higher position to 'expedite' this cash-flow and that needs granted patents, not rejections.
          Plus, the applicants want patents. Look left and right, and you see many who'd be proud to have one. In our days, you might even need one or more for a position, a tenure, etc. And don't forget the courts who at times create case law that is not necessarily based on sound engineering facts.
          Again, the disease is not in the office, it is a societal disease of prioritizing monetary gains at all cost anywhere.
           

        • You could try it. The first six months are quite an education, and you'll learn why the Slashdot technique for rejecting patent claims doesn't work in the real world.

          If you stick around long enough, the pay and telework options get really good. But that's because the turnover is so high.

      • by Zorpheus (857617)
        Temperature-controlled fans are also pretty old though. I bought such a CPU fan from arctic cooling in 2002. Even my computer from 1993 had a temperature-controlled fan in its power supply. It was just switching on and off, but still temperature-controlled.
      • by sribe (304414)

        But, the patents also talk about fan speed control ... I'm pretty sure that was the whole point of AMD's Cool'n'quiet.

        And I, with absolutely no experience or knowledge of manufacturing, simply cannot believe that dynamic fan speed control based on a temperature input has not been around for at least 50 years. Seriously! (Along with dynamic pump speed control based on temperature and/or pressure. And dynamic valve position based on temperature--ok that one is a little different in that I do know it's been around for a long time.)

        • by cvtan (752695)
          A fellow grad student of mine made a high power op-amp that had temperature-based cooling fan speed control in the enclosure. That was in 1970.
          • by sribe (304414)

            A fellow grad student of mine made a high power op-amp that had temperature-based cooling fan speed control in the enclosure. That was in 1970.

            Uhm, did he publish that work in his thesis? Or, did he get the idea from a published source?

      • by wvmarle (1070040)

        TFA already mentions that there is a great likelihood to invalidated these two patents based on prior art.

        After reading this article, I started to wonder. Now they sued right away, it seems without even informing potential infringers that they were infringing on the patent, let alone trying to negotiate an out-of-court deal with them.

        These patents were in the making since 2007, that's enough time to at least warn infringing manufacturers that their method of cooling was patent pending, and that they may h

      • by bhtooefr (649901)

        I had a ThinkPad X21 from 2001 that actually underclocked below even the SpeedStep minimum speed when overheating. Which, I think, is what this patent describes.

    • Yes, it's a dirty, rotten tactic, but I believe there's a provision in the law that prevents jerks like them from succeeding. It's called Equitable Estoppel [wikipedia.org].

      So, IPventure should be estopped from suing Fujitsu and Lenovo because of their prior inaction.

      • by hedwards (940851)

        Prior inaction? They were just granted the patent a couple months ago. You can't file a patent suit until you've been granted the patent. Hence why so many trolls deliberately delay the process as much as possible.

    • by pclminion (145572)

      From TFA:

      IPventure was granted its patent on May 3, 2011 and the suit was filed on July 5.

      Two months between grant and lawsuit. That is NOT submarining.

      • Yes, it is submarining in the subtle sense.

        What happens in the worst submarine patents [wikipedia.org] is that company files the initial patent, then repeatedly updates and amends it before its granted. Those updates and amendments track industry practices. After a few years, the patent is granted, but the date of original filing still applies.

        It hasn't been as readily possible to do this since 2000, but something like it still happens.

    • by Darinbob (1142669)

      Not just notebooks. We did the same thing in another product, although we did all the logic in software instead of hardware.

    • So the method is common in notebooks today... meaning it has been in wide use for at least a few years now. The patent holder just waited until everyone had committed to selling that design, so that they could just sue everyone. Submarine patent tactics if I ever saw them.

      I'm just wondering how they received it in the first place. Processor activity/thermal throttling is, um, not exactly news. Dynamic clocking for power savings was an option starting with some of the P3s. All the P4s have done thermal protection underclocking(and a fair few have needed it) and those were released in 2000. This isn't even counting the sort of stuff that presumably has been going on rather longer in embedded devices, which have always been greatly power and/or heat constrained.

    • by t2t10 (1909766)

      If it was filed in 2007, it wasn't a "submarine patent", it was fraud.

  • by errandum (2014454) on Wednesday July 06, 2011 @07:03PM (#36676802)

    This patent will go nowhere.

    They are suing companies that have enough money to defend themselves, and will invalidate it by claiming prior art (this system has been used for a long time now).

    It's patent troll 1 - 0 - 1, sue those without enough money to a lengthy court battle so you can charge a "reasonable" amount to forget the whole thing.

    Trolls and idiots, I say

    • by pclminion (145572)
      Every time one of these stories pops somebody says that. And yet where are the stories about patents being overturned because of prior art? Maybe it happens but I never hear of it.
      • by c++0xFF (1758032) on Wednesday July 06, 2011 @07:30PM (#36677034)

        http://yro.slashdot.org/story/11/06/23/1419230/USPTO-Rejects-Many-of-Oracles-Android-Claims [slashdot.org]

        Not all of the patents have been overturned yet, mind you, but the case isn't looking good for Oracle.

        I think there's two reasons you don't hear of this happening: first, I think a lot of companies just settle out of court instead of going through the mess. Second, and more significantly, I think it has to be a high-profile case with companies that Slashdot cares about (such as Google).

        • by cgenman (325138)

          Settling out of court doesn't invalidate the patent, it just reduces the likelyhood that the patent holder will sue with it. But if they know they are losing, it is in the patent holder's best interests to settle quickly rather than lose that weapon.

      • by hedwards (940851)

        In this case there's a lot of prior art. My circa 2002 VAIO had a Pentium 4 m processor with speedstep technology that could do that. I think that AMD's cool 'n' quite can as well. On top of that, I'd really love to hear them explain how these patents are different from either of those technologies.

    • by udippel (562132)

      You don't the point, fully. Yes. it might be overturned. But you sound like that was 'okay'. It isn't. Most SMEs simply lack the funds, it hampers innovation, it increases the end users' costs since the expenditure has to be recovered.
      Your point is correct, but the 'help' of invalidating is more often than not impossible to achieve.
      Don't cure the symptoms. Cure the root cause: Have only valid applications granted.

  • It's obvious we need to find a new way how to make money
  • by Trillan (597339)

    The patent is on a technique old enough that I think my PowerBook 540 would have violated it back in 1994.

    (I'm not claiming this was the first machine to do this, just that it was the first one I owned that I knew did so.)

    • Odd that the article doesn't mention the patents at hand are continuations from 5,752,011 dating from in fact 1994.

      I do also note the very long list of prior art on each patent. They were found to be novel or inventive over all that prior art. One would have to read the entire file wrapper on PAIR to understand why they were granted over that. Not a fun/easy/quick job.

      • Continuations from 1994? Submarine patenting at its worst!
      • by wvmarle (1070040)

        Isn't there something like a "grant report" that comes with the granted patent, that explicitly lists which bits and pieces were found to be novel, and what the patent is granted upon? Would make life a lot easier for many people. And the examiner must have read it all, and figured out the novel bits, already.

  • ... explain how our current system of IP law "promote[s] the Progress of Science and useful Arts."

    Come on, guys. Don't disappoint me.

    • Come on, guys. Don't disappoint me.

      [Eeyore] Soooorrryy, Daniel. We've got nothing.[/Eeyore]

  • by Anonymous Coward

    While this clearly has been a novel approach,

    No, it completely fails to be a novel idea. When you are running anything (from an engine to your body) fast and it starts to overheat, you slow it down. It is common sense to anyone. Everyone does this instinctively. It is not a new idea. Patenting that as a novel process is as ridiculous as patenting driving at lower RPMs when your car gets close to overheating.

  • From TFA: "original patent claimed by IPventure was filed on June 22, 2007"

    The Apple MacBook introduced in May 2006 did this. I'm sure there were many others before, that's just one clear example.

    • by Gerocrack (979018)
      Filing date doesn't matter... it's the priority date. This patent was filed as a continuation of a much older patent, so you have to look much further back to find your killer prior art.
      • Well, I don't remember if they all used fans for cooling, but every Mac laptop since the 500 series in 1994 used CPU clock throttling to manage heat and power consumption. If the patent goes back much prior to that, it will be expired. They're gonna have to come up with something really surprising to avoid getting that patent thrown out due to prior art.
  • From the article:

    "However, when prolonged activity (i.e., sustained fast clock frequency) causes the processor’s temperature to become dangerously high for proper operation, the clock frequency is reduced so as to maintain processing speed at a reduced speed while preventing overheating".

    This reminds me about this classic Tom's Hardware video [youtube.com] about what happens to a CPU when the heat sink is removed.
    • gee, if X gets too hot, turn X down.

      there! grant ME the damned patent.

      (so, when is the revolution? hope I see it in my lifetime. getting tired of the status quo.)

      • Hey, Doc, it hurts when I do X.
        Then don't do X!

        Clearly, application of this logic is non obvious, to anyone skilled in the art of X non iterative.
        Oh, that's right, I forgot -- The non-obviousness tests are not applied to patents because they don't exist...

  • by Anonymous Coward

    patent filed in 2007, rewarded in 2009
    I just checked a pentium4 datasheet, marked copyright november 2000 it describes exactly what that patent is about, reducing clock frequency in response to temperature.

     

  • by Anonymous Coward

    This is interesting because it affects the CPUs and the GPUs. But I believe this dates back to at least the Pentium 4 which would slow down if it started to over heat which is what this patent covers. Their going after Fujitsu and Lenovo because they probably know they can't win against Intel or AMD. What the computer manufacturers need to do is to tell a Judge that they unknowingly bought a possibly infringing product from a reputable supplier and that IPventure needs to sue Intel and AMD who are actually

  • I think that Lenovo should, as a sign of friendship and cooperation towards them, replace a Thinkpad's CPU fan and heatsink and replace it with a dead squirrel then mail it to them. You know, to try and prove that they're going to get away from that whole CPU cooling thing.
  • by h1q (2042122) <dragon@gmail.com> on Wednesday July 06, 2011 @07:46PM (#36677168) Journal

    is that there is no adversarial position, as in a civil or criminal lawsuit.

    This means there is no effective counterpoise to the seeker of the frivolous patent, since the patent office itself has nothing to lose from rank incompetence.

    An attorney team whose reward is correlated with the number of patents it gets dismissed or invalidated would be quite interesting.

    Then we need to work on the broad strokes of varying patentable periods depending on the field at hand. Drugs, software, and shoes probably ought to be patentable for differing periods of time.

    • by udippel (562132)

      This means there is no effective counterpoise to the seeker of the frivolous patent, since the patent office itself has nothing to lose from rank incompetence.

      Some with more time on their hands have dug up that the priority date was 17 years in the past. So incompetence of the officers in charge is anything but certain.

      And what do you propose? Make it a criminal offence to file for a frivolous patent? Punishable by what?

      • by Zancarius (414244)

        And what do you propose? Make it a criminal offence to file for a frivolous patent? Punishable by what?

        Death by a thousand copyrights!

    • Then we need to work on the broad strokes of varying patentable periods depending on the field at hand. Drugs and shoes probably ought to be patentable for differing periods of time.

      Fixed that for you. Software should not be patentable at all. It is already protected by copyright.

  • I independently innovated a profile for RivaTuner that uses this exact same technique to cool a GPU in the worst-case scenario, by underclocking it when the fan is already at 100% past a certain threshold. I guess I'm a naughty infringer, too? I'm not even a fully matriculated genius, so if *I* can come up with the idea on my own then just how unique and non-obvious can it be?

    The people who operate IPVentures are the only sort of trolls we should be trying to hunt down with torches. Forum trolls are pin

  • by Attila Dimedici (1036002) on Wednesday July 06, 2011 @08:04PM (#36677380)
    If one looks at the wording of the U.S. Constitution and some of the writings of the time on patents, the purpose of patents in U.S. law is to encourage people to make their inventions known (rather than keeping them as trade secrets). Looked at in this way puts a somewhat different interpretation on "obviousness". If you make something and it is obvious how you did it, it fails the obviousness test. There is no advantage to society from giving you a patent, someone else can duplicate what you have done even if you never tell anyone how you did it.
    • by Dachannien (617929) on Wednesday July 06, 2011 @09:05PM (#36677924)

      Obviousness was one of several patent concepts that arose from the Progress Clause but that wasn't originally a part of the statute. Instead, it was formed as a judicial doctrine that viewed obviousness as contrary to the limits on the patent system in the Progress Clause (in the 1850 Supreme Court case Hotchkiss v. Greenwood [justia.com]).

      The concept of obviousness, along with the general guideline of "obvious to one having ordinary skill in the art", was later incorporated into the statute. In fact, many of the patent eligibility requirements were originally formulated by the courts and later adopted by Congress.

  • The patent shows a SLECTOR whatever that is.
    I suggest they use a MUX or SELECTOR instead. Or atleast describe their solutions as using one.
  • That's what we need to deal with patent trolls; swift, silent, professional. And with their work done: a great leap forward in tech, unfettered by bottom-feeding extortionists.
  • > the company appears to be establishing its case by suing Fujitsu and Lenovo over the use of its invention in the Lifebook and Thinkpad series of products ..

    What 'invention`, a temperature controlled variable CPU clock frequency ...

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