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Texas Jury Strikes Down Man's Claim to Own the Interactive Web 151

Posted by samzenpus
from the man-who-didn't-own-the-world dept.
ackthpt writes "Sir Tim Berners-Lee traveled to a courtroom in East Texas to give his testimony on how, if upheld, the Eolas Technologies & University of California patent on Web Interactivity could prove to be a major threat to the Internet as it's known today. The Jury deliberated only a few hours before invalidating the patent in question. In a victory Tweet Berners-Lee said, 'Texas jury agreed Eolas 906 patent invalid. Good thing too!' Google, Amazon, Apple, Adobe and a host of other companies, with representatives present, must have given a Texas-size sigh of relief."
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Texas Jury Strikes Down Man's Claim to Own the Interactive Web

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  • by Oswald McWeany (2428506) on Friday February 10, 2012 @10:41AM (#38994769)

    Cue that kids from the Simpsons laughing... Point at Eolas laughing:

    Ha Haa!

  • Just like Billy goat gruff...the troll got thrown off the bridge by the Google goat.
  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Friday February 10, 2012 @10:45AM (#38994825) Journal
    Satan, satan, please check your realm. Is it frozen over or what? Some East Texas jury found for the defendant in a patent law suite. Wondering what happened and how a random act of sanity struck East Texas. I know those guys were upset about their main Rick Perry being laughed off the national stage. Are they taking the first baby steps to acquire some kind of respectability?
    • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Friday February 10, 2012 @10:47AM (#38994851) Journal
      I got it. They all believe Al Gore invented the internet. That is why. Now it makes sense.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 10, 2012 @11:08AM (#38995061)

      The crooked judge (Ward) who ran the Eastern District of Texas recently retired:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T._John_Ward

      Ward steered cases towards the plaintiff since his son was the major plaintiff's lawyer in town. The new judges are less crooked and do not have their children practicing before the court.

    • by Necroman (61604) on Friday February 10, 2012 @11:10AM (#38995099)

      From what I've heard (I recommend listening to NPR's investigation into IV [npr.org]), the district has become one of the best places for patent litigation as the judges are extremely familiar with the topic.

      East Texas started being used as it was one of the few federal districts not backed up with drug related cases. Since then, that courtroom has become one of the defacto places to handle patent lawsuits.

      • by PickyH3D (680158) on Friday February 10, 2012 @11:53AM (#38995557)

        If they are so familiar with the topic, then why do they side with crazy so frequently?

        This appears to have been a case of luck--not experience--that ended Eolas' current tirade through the industry. It's only a matter of time before they appeal the decision, and before the next stupid patent result coming out of East Texas.

        Just to be completely fair, a lot of their decisions may simply fall on the side of stupidity because much of the system is broken, but there have been numerous patent cases running through East Texas that have had proven-prior art that was ignored for whatever reason.

        • by flanders123 (871781) on Friday February 10, 2012 @12:25PM (#38995989)

          If they are so familiar with the topic, then why do they side with crazy so frequently?

          One theory I've heard is this "industry" is a huge boon for the town. All the local businesses (false fronts and not) setting up shop, all the lawyers flying in and out of town...this puts big $$ into the local economy. The region knows they own this niche market, and want the customers to return.

          Its no different than locals supporting regional activities that could be questionable to the big picture....such as for argument's sake, big oil, coal mining, big corn, improper fishing, etc.

        • by icebike (68054) *

          If they are so familiar with the topic, then why do they side with crazy so frequently?

          This appears to have been a case of luck--not experience--that ended Eolas' current tirade through the industry. It's only a matter of time before they appeal the decision, and before the next stupid patent result coming out of East Texas.

          Exactly my thoughts.

          This is bound to be an unpopular post, but if Eolas's patent was invalid due to prior art, THAT ALONE should have been the deciding factor.

          On the other hand, TBL arguing that the patent, if valid, would be a problem for the web, amounts to further evidence that the patent was unique, inventive, non-obvious, non-trivial, and fully patent worthy. He essentially made an impassioned plea for something akin to Jury Nullification.

          He set the grounds for appeal.

          There is nothing in paten

          • by dcollins (135727)

            "On the other hand, TBL arguing that the patent, if valid, would be a problem for the web, amounts to further evidence that the patent was unique, inventive, non-obvious, non-trivial, and fully patent worthy."

            If P->Q, then X.

            That logical inference is so wildly invalid, there's not even a name for it.

          • On the other hand, TBL arguing that the patent, if valid, would be a problem for the web, amounts to further evidence that the patent was unique, inventive, non-obvious, non-trivial, and fully patent worthy. He essentially made an impassioned plea for something akin to Jury Nullification.

            Seriously? How about "the patent, if valid, would be a problem for the web, amounts to further evidence that the patent was ubiquitous, uninventive, obvious, trivial, and fully un-patent-worthy."

            • by icebike (68054) *

              How can you possibly come up with that?

              Start with the assumption that it is valid, which also means, by definition, it pre-dates all the thing we see on the web today.
              Then add the fact that almost everything on the web we see today depends on the invention in that patent?

              How, then, can you arrive at the assumption that it was ubiquitous, uninventive, obvious, trivial, when, by definition everything on the web depends on that patent?

              You can't look backward and say, well, certainly this would have been inven

      • by interval1066 (668936) on Friday February 10, 2012 @12:54PM (#38996347) Homepage Journal
        The reason East Texas is popular for patent litigation is because its the one place in the country where any lawyer from any state bar can practice, and it alone has a set of rules that govern how patent cases are to be run that favour the plaintiffs.
    • by Hoi Polloi (522990) on Friday February 10, 2012 @11:12AM (#38995127) Journal

      Really, can we get rid of the legal gimmick of cherry picking where you want the trial held because you know certain areas in the country are biased?

    • by Grishnakh (216268) on Friday February 10, 2012 @11:59AM (#38995631)

      I was actually kinda hoping Eolas would win, and start demanding insanely high license fees, effectively shutting down the internet, at least in the USA. Then maybe the rest of the world would finally turn their backs on us until we fix our broken IP laws.

      • So was I, except I knew that would never happen.

        You don't keep any unfair or ridiculous laws alive by letting someone run around and hit everyone on the head with them. Instead you pick your battles and try not to make too much fuss about the situation.

        If the police crack down on every person who accidentally speeds through part of a little country town because the limit drops from 70mph to 50mph to 30mph in less than one mile, then the people will fix the issue, space out the speed drops, build a byp

    • Simple. In this case the defendant had more cash. A LOT more cash.

      • by semiotec (948062)
        You mean Microsoft didn't have enough money when they went up against Eolas and lost?
        • by Coren22 (1625475)

          Microsoft didn't lose, they settled out of court rather than continuing fighting the troll.

    • Note, that it was a jury trial. Had it been a non-jury trial, the judge probably would have been paid off. "You find for me, Your Honor, and it's worth tens of millions to your favorite charity IN YOUR NAME!" Or, something similar . . . .

      • by cusco (717999)
        More like, "So where is this ranch your daughter wants to sell us for our new data center?" When WalMart came to the town where my mother lives there were zoning issues. 'No development allowed ever' type zoning issues. A year or two later they came back and reapplied and the county commission granted the zoning variance. Oddly enough the adjoining land, needed for the parking lot, had just changed hands. One of the commissioner's business partner had just coincidentally purchased that parcel, and paid
    • The jury was distracted by a flock of flying pigs.

  • Common Sense Rules (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Gr8Apes (679165) on Friday February 10, 2012 @10:46AM (#38994833)

    I was originally going to submit the story yesterday with the comment "how could they consider this patentable? We had windows with full 3D manipulation going on prior to 1991. We ran Patran via X11 and to the layman that would appear as a "super" browser window. It covered all aspects of any interactive patent by having full 2-way communication, visualization, and interaction. The only thing it didn't do was run over HTTP."

    But it looks like common sense ruled and the jury did the right thing for once, even in Tyler.

    • The summary suggests the jury based their decision on the patent's validity determining the existence of our internet. This is a terrible idea, and most likely not what happened. The effect on a patent validity decision should not be a part of the process, and based on the article's description Tim had no business there giving any opinion. Only facts about what was in place at the time, as it pertains to prior art.

      Also, the company only wanted money according to the article. It did not want to shut down

      • by jank1887 (815982)

        well put. the logical fallacy of "X must be true, because if it isn't the result Y would be unpalatable" should have no place in determining patent validity. It should most definitely be part of defining patent law, because you'd hope they are creating laws to produce acceptable results. But given current law, if I patent something and in the process of trying to license it everybody and their mother starts using it, a court had better determine that I get paid by those who used it without license. 'Oh, it

        • did you actually read the article you linked all the way through? No-one is saying 'it would break the internet for the patent to be valid, therefore it isn't'. They're saying 'it would break the internet for the plantiffs to win this case, so they shouldn't'. [in the past tense, obviously, since the case has now been concluded]

          Further, the very last section of that article:

          In law, an argument from inconvenience or argumentum ab inconvenienti, is a valid type of appeal to consequences. Such an argument would seek to show that a proposed action would have unreasonably inconvenient consequences

          supports the view that a legal ruling which would have ridiculous consequences ought not to be made simply because the consequences wo

      • by icebike (68054) *

        The effect on a patent validity decision should not be a part of the process, and based on the article's description Tim had no business there giving any opinion.

        .

        Exactly so, in fact, Tim may have handed them grounds for appeal. http://yro.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=2664719&cid=38997547 [slashdot.org]

      • by JDG1980 (2438906)

        The effect on a patent validity decision should not be a part of the process, and based on the article's description Tim had no business there giving any opinion. Only facts about what was in place at the time, as it pertains to prior art. Also, the company only wanted money according to the article. It did not want to shut down the internet. So in this specific case, the same is true. It's irrelevant, and the 'what if' case should not be considered.

        I disagree. The Constitution makes it clear that copyri

  • What? (Score:4, Funny)

    by blind biker (1066130) on Friday February 10, 2012 @10:46AM (#38994849) Journal

    A frivolous patent troll's suit is stricken down in a Texas court?

    What is the world coming to??

    • by ackthpt (218170)

      A frivolous patent troll's suit is stricken down in a Texas court?

      What is the world coming to??

      Despite their reputation as a back-roads people (who are now depended upon for a number of Patent Trolling cases), they got it. Does this restore some faith in mankind? I'd certainly like it to. Suggests to me these people are a cut above. Well done them. May diminish Tyler, Texas as a place to set up 1 room offices with a sole employee, placed there so Patent Trolls can try their luck at suckering judges and juries for really big zorkmids.

    • Re:What? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anubis IV (1279820) on Friday February 10, 2012 @01:17PM (#38996691)

      I know that /. loves to paint Texans, especially those in East Texas, as backwards folks with backwards ways, but the trope has gotten old, and I'd even suggest that it's harmful. We're using East Texas as a scapegoat to vent our frustration, but that only serves to draw attention away from the real threats that should be the targets of our ire. It's time /. moved on from blaming East Texas for patent cases gone awry.

      In case you want some more though, the facts simply don't line up with your snark. The percentage of patent cases where the plaintiff succeeded at trial was, over the period from 1995-2009, in line with the national average [pwc.com] (66.7% trial success in East Texas vs. 66% nationwide), and by all indications it hasn't changed from that in the last few years (as a point of comparison, Florida Middle District Court had an 80% trial success rate for plaintiffs over that same period). Admittedly, East Texas did have a blip for about a year in the mid-2000s where the plaintiffs won more frequently, and that's when it deservedly earned its reputation, but its rates have since then returned to levels that are in line with other district courts.

      Despite that, there is still a mistaken perception that the East Texas courts are plaintiff friendly, but that's all it is now: a perception. In fact, for NPEs (i.e. non-practicing entities, a.k.a. patent trolls), the Florida Middle District and the Delaware District courts had overall success rates (i.e. including summary judgments) that were about 11% and 7% higher, respectively, than East Texas over the period from 1995-2009.

      That said, the East Texas courts do make for an ideal venue for trying patent cases, even if they're not as one-sided as people here seem to think. The district has faster turnaround times than many other federal districts, the judges are well-versed in patent cases and have indicated an interest in handling them expeditiously, and there are local laws permitting lawyers from any bar association, not just the Texas bar, from trying their cases there, making it easier to use than some of the other districts. The fact that the judges are knowledgeable is especially important, because many of the corporations being sued prefer to have their cases tried there, rather than getting them transferred to their home district where an ignorant judge can add a major level of uncertainty to the equation (in fact, in one case involving 112 defendents a few months ago, the East Texas judge was able to dismiss 99 of the defendents immediately because they weren't infringing and didn't request transfers to other districts). As a result, more cases that start in the district tend to stay in the district than you might otherwise see, creating a larger volume of cases that reach a conclusion.

      Any court will make rulings we disagree with, but the rulings we disagree with make big headlines every time, get brought up frequently, and linger for quite awhile in our collective minds, while the ones we agree with tend to disappear and not be brought up over and over again. Since East Texas has so many patent cases, they naturally have more cases that we hear about, but we latch onto the ones that we disagree with and use them to confirm our past belief - now mistaken - that East Texas is a plaintiff's playground.

      They have a term for that: confirmation bias.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Please site your sources.

        In case you want some more though, the facts simply don't line up with your snark. The percentage of patent cases where the plaintiff succeeded at trial was, over the period from 1995-2009, in line with the national average [pwc.com] (66.7% trial success in East Texas vs. 66% nationwide), and by all indications it hasn't changed from that in the last few years (as a point of comparison, Florida Middle District Court had an 80% trial success rate for plaintiffs over that same period).

        According to:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T._John_Ward

        Since Ward initially joined the Eastern District of Texas, the district has seen a tenfold increase in cases since 1999.[8] There were 14 patent cases in 1999,[8] 32 in 2002,[1] 155 in 2005,[8] and 234 in 2006.[1] The district is one of eight with more than 100 new patent filings each year.[8] Ward heard more than 160 patent cases in his first seven years on the bench.[3] He had been handling 90% of the patent cases in Marshall,

        • No, they are not off. Yours are four years outdated, and I already mentioned everything you brought up.

          Please site your sources.

          I did. Note the use of a link to a 2010 survey covering the period I was discussing (ironically, you even quoted the link). Nearly everything I mentioned is from there, though I'll admit to having pulled a few general assertions (e.g. higher volume of patent cases) from uncited sources.

          Since Ward initially joined the Eastern District of Texas, the district has seen a tenfold increase in cases since 1999.[8] There were 14 patent cases in 1999,[8] 32 in 2002,[1] 155 in 2005,[8] and 234 in 2006.[1] The district is one of eight with more than 100 new patent filings each year.[8] Ward heard more than 160 patent cases in his first seven years on the bench.[3] He had been handling 90% of the patent cases in Marshall, but later was reduced to 60%.[6]

          I'm confused. I said that the East Texas district has a high volume of patent cases at the end of my fourth paragraph, and

    • by dissy (172727)

      Don't worry, tomorrow they are going to put TWO mentally deficient children in the electric chair to balance everything out.

      Apparently the two children were in the leg-up program at their school, and finger painted a red bus on an otherwise white sheet of paper, and so committed gross copyright infringement. If they don't rehabilitate them now and teach them a lesson, next they might move on to downloading sesame street!

  • by FatLittleMonkey (1341387) on Friday February 10, 2012 @10:54AM (#38994931)

    Sir, I've met Al Gore, and you're no Al Gore.

  • by Viol8 (599362) on Friday February 10, 2012 @10:59AM (#38994977)

    Since US patents have no validity outside US borders the rest of the world would have just collectively rolled its eyes yet again at daft US patents and moved on if he had have won.

    • Since US patents have no validity outside US borders the rest of the world would have just collectively rolled its eyes yet again at daft US patents and moved on if he had have won.

      But any multinational with a toehold within US would have been subject to the outcome, no matter how odious. It is by these means US law may be employed to guide business and government beyond US borders.

  • Keep Going (Score:4, Funny)

    by lazarus (2879) on Friday February 10, 2012 @11:02AM (#38995007) Journal

    Let's keep up the momentum and invalidate a host of other stupid patents.

  • Juror 1: "If we say this patent is valid, they'll take our internet away!"
    Jurors: "Hell no!"
    Juror 1: "I guess we should shoot the breeze for a couple hours so they will think we thought hard about this."

    • by JWW (79176)

      I know you're joking, but your post hits on a point.

      The internet was created and thrived as a free and open environment. That the jury could see this lawsuit as a threat to that is commendable.

      Now the next thing that needs to be explained is how something set up by congress to "Promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts," is currently being wielded as a weapon of technological mass destruction.

      It is obvious to anyone paying any attention at all that software patents are evil and do not promote progres

    • Not sure if this is so much as funny as more like close to what they really said.

    • by idontgno (624372)

      That's a good point. I wouldn't be surprised if the verdict came down to perceiving the threat to Facebook (or, more specifically, Farmville).

      If Sir Tim said anything in his testimony that might wink-and-nod hint at the END OF THE INTARWEBS as we know it, the jury could have decided out of pure self-defense.

      If that's true, Eolas was doomed before they started. Once the road is a popular 12-lane superhighway, it's a little late to try to stick a tollboth on it.

      • by gtall (79522)

        Nonsense, it threatened internet porn...a force mightier than, well, everything.

    • by JDG1980 (2438906)

      Juror 1: "If we say this patent is valid, they'll take our internet away!"
      Jurors: "Hell no!"
      Juror 1: "I guess we should shoot the breeze for a couple hours so they will think we thought hard about this

      As an AC poster further down pointed out, this is really no different than what appellate courts do. The decisions made by the Supreme Court have a lot more to do with their personal policy preferences than with black-letter law. This is, in part, because all the obvious slam-dunk cases are resolved at the

  • Relevance (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Hognoxious (631665) on Friday February 10, 2012 @11:52AM (#38995537) Homepage Journal

    Sir Tim Berners-Lee traveled to a courtroom in East Texas to give his testimony on how, if upheld, the Eolas Technologies & University of California patent on Web Interactivity could prove to be a major threat to the Internet as it's known today.

    That's very nice, but is it actually relevant to the case? I'd have thought the case would be decided on its own merits, rather that the consequences.

    • by DM9290 (797337)

      Sir Tim Berners-Lee traveled to a courtroom in East Texas to give his testimony on how, if upheld, the Eolas Technologies & University of California patent on Web Interactivity could prove to be a major threat to the Internet as it's known today.

      That's very nice, but is it actually relevant to the case? I'd have thought the case would be decided on its own merits, rather that the consequences.

      The validity of a patent may depend on ones interpretation of the law.

      One might be arguing that congress or the constitution never intended to give a private party the power to wreak havoc on the entire telecommunications and thus any interpretation of law which ends in that effect must be erroneous somehow. Perhaps you are demonstrating the possible harm that an over liberal interpretation of "non-obvious" could cause.

      you might also be going for jury nullification.

      In any case the opposing side has the righ

  • by Stewie241 (1035724) on Friday February 10, 2012 @12:04PM (#38995677)

    It seems odd that the testimony was 'could prove to be a major threat to the Internet as it's known today'. If we are going to have a patent system it seems unreasonable that the argument that the technology in the patent in question is too critical to the way society operates and is so central should be a reasonable argument for invalidating the patent claim.

    I'm not intending to make any claim about this particular patent. I only wish to say that that seems like a stupid reason to invalidate a patent based on the patent framework that we seem to have.

    • by glop (181086)

      The constitution explicitly says that congress can only allow patents to further progress.
      So a patent that blocks critical progress in our society would mean that the law that allowed the patent is unconstitutional, no?
      So when you interpret the laws, look at the patents, you need to check that you are not interpreting in ways that would violate the constitution.

      So taking into account the effect on society doesn't sound that stupid to me...
       

      • The constitution explicitly says that congress can only allow patents to further progress.
        So a patent that blocks critical progress in our society would mean that the law that allowed the patent is unconstitutional, no?

        Sooo, only patents that can be worked around are constitutional, unless they're worthless, right? After all, society would still run without the "interactive web", you just wouldn't have nice things. I bet that the patent would have stood up in court if it had been enforced much earlier, when it was new and only a few people were using it.

    • It seems odd that the testimony was 'could prove to be a major threat to the Internet as it's known today'. If we are going to have a patent system it seems unreasonable that the argument that the technology in the patent in question is too critical to the way society operates and is so central should be a reasonable argument for invalidating the patent claim.

      I'm not intending to make any claim about this particular patent. I only wish to say that that seems like a stupid reason to invalidate a patent based on the patent framework that we seem to have.

      It is not a decisive legal argument, but it is not without weight. In this case, the patent holder was claiming to have a right to a share of the profits from a huge range of Internet technologies. At the same time, the claimed invention was basically just some minor tweaking of the way the parts of an information browser were integrated. This is a strong indication that the patent is defective (too broad).

      Interestingly the plaintif tried to use the argument you mention. It didn't work because they hadn't a

  • by WindBourne (631190) on Friday February 10, 2012 @12:48PM (#38996287) Journal
    MS plays loads of games with patents now. No doubt they were hoping that this would be used against a number of their enemies (pretty much everybody else). So, did Eola get this wrapeed up so that if the patent was lost, that they did not have to pay back MS? Otherwise, there is a LOAD of money that has to go back to MS.
  • News: Crazy guy... does something crazy... news at 11!

    However when I read into it a bit the same company of paid off by Microsoft for 500m (that's HALF A BILLION!) for a patent.

    With incentive like that, can't blame a guy for tryin'!

  • Tim Berners-Lee Twitter Reference: https://twitter.com/timberners_lee/status/167724524299759616 [twitter.com]
  • Anyone claiming to have patents on fundamental aspects of the internet, even if said patent were valid, would and should not be given any benefit. If their patent is indeed valid, it would have had to have been given well before the internet ever came into being, so most of those patents would have to be well over 10 years ago. That is way too long to be sitting on a patent and not enforcing until now, after everyone has well been using it.
  • How grand of a victory was it if you tweet in celebration?
  • And maybe patent trolls will stop trying to find convoluted justifications for filing their suits in East Texas. A nice win in a "troll friendly" district.

  • East Texas ruled AGAINST a patent troll!

    There's hope for the US yet!

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