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Details You're Not Supposed To See From Boston U's Patent Settlements 130

Posted by timothy
from the those-lights-can-be-infuriating-at-night dept.
curtwoodward (2147628) writes "In January, Boston University settled lawsuits against two dozen big technology companies for allegedly using its patented blue LED technology without permission. But apparently, the school's lawyers were a little too forthcoming for everyone's tastes — they recently asked a federal judge to delete a court filing that spelled out all of the companies who settled. Luckily, we still had the unredacted version, which shows that Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Motorola and many more are on the list, even if they don't want you to know it."
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Details You're Not Supposed To See From Boston U's Patent Settlements

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 03, 2014 @01:00PM (#46650739)

    Universities should serve the public good. Anything created there should go into the public commons and be available to anybody and everybody to use. When you make the choice to be, or work at, a university you trade profit for service. If you can't accept that, then work somewhere else, or be some other type of an institution than a university.

  • by brainboyz (114458) on Thursday April 03, 2014 @01:05PM (#46650795) Homepage

    Agreed, double dipping on "private" profits and public funds seems a little...what do they always call the private sector?...Oh yeah, greedy.

  • by TheGratefulNet (143330) on Thursday April 03, 2014 @01:08PM (#46650827)

    students and alumni?

    or, has the model of 'students pay to atten' no longer enough to keep the uni's afloat?

    given how much textbooks cost these days, you'd think they'd all be rolling in money and not need to sue companies.

    then again, any time a company of large size is sued, god saves the life of a puppy. so there's that going for it; which is nice.

  • by Silas is back (765580) on Thursday April 03, 2014 @01:26PM (#46651023) Homepage Journal
    When Universities invent something, like blue LEDs, and put it out there "for free", it doesn't serve the public good. What it will serve is the large companies who need the technology and now get it for free, paid for by taxpayer money. The University gets nothing from the invention, the students don't get to profit from lower tuition fees (no, tuition fees are by far not enough to cover a University's expenses) and the public good gets nothing else than to pay taxes and the possibility to build a company assembling blue LEDs without having to worry about patents. Well, I guess that's something.
  • by RenderSeven (938535) on Thursday April 03, 2014 @02:03PM (#46651443)
    As NPR pointed out a few months ago, "Do universities really need a Director of Diversity at $175,000 per year?"
  • by mysidia (191772) on Thursday April 03, 2014 @02:15PM (#46651515)

    Universities should serve the public good. Anything created there should go into the public commons and be available to anybody and everybody to use.

    They do serve the public good; they are non-profit in the sense that the license proceeds are funding more academic research and the administrative costs / management overhead. Everything created there is available to the public; you can read all about it, if you just pay the proper academic journal for the article. If you want to use it commercially for profit, you just need to pay a small licensing fee for each user, each copy you make, each unit you sell, or each seat that you license --- in order to help pay for more research.

  • by Grishnakh (216268) on Thursday April 03, 2014 @03:05PM (#46652027)

    Oh please, what a load of crap. Yes, large companies will get the tech for free (though they'll only get the very basics, they'll still have to develop manufacturing techniques, which the university research isn't going to help them with that much). But it's not just one company, it's ALL companies that have a desire to use this tech. And then the rest of society benefits from having the knowledge, and the technology cheaply available since all competitors now have it.

    It's no different than open-source software. Having it out there enriches everyone, even when big companies use it for their own purposes, or build products based on it. It advances the state of the art faster, increases quality, and reduces costs (resulting in reduced prices to end-users). You really think we'd be better off if all our consumer routers and various other devices had to pay $$$ for VxWorks licenses rather than having Linux and BSD available for free?

    The University gets recognition for their invention.

    and the possibility to build a company assembling blue LEDs without having to worry about patents. Well, I guess that's something.

    That's a very big something; it's the whole idea. Patented tech with high license fees doesn't benefit us as much as freely-available tech.

  • Really? (and I say that as a genuine question, not some snarky reply)

    I always thought you could "make your own" from patent filings, you just couldn't sell/trade/traffic/commercialize it. So if I wanted to construct a swing in my backyard and use it in a sideways motion (with or without the Tarzan yell), such as currently under patent http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi... [uspto.gov] , I could do so without fear of repercussion, but I could not sell such a swing setup to others without violating the rights of the patent owner. Your definition of "use" would prevent such a project in my back yard.

    Yes, you are incorrect there. The statute is 35 USC 271 [cornell.edu] and states:

    Except as otherwise provided in this title, whoever without authority makes, uses, offers to sell, or sells any patented invention, within the United States or imports into the United States any patented invention during the term of the patent therefor, infringes the patent.

    Note that there's no commercial requirement - this is unlike trademark law, where infringement has to include commercial use, because federal trademark law comes out of the commerce clause, while patents are under Article 1, section 8, clause 8. Merely using a patented invention is infringement, even if it's for completely non-commercial gain. In fact, this why there was the whole big controversy over the BRCA1 gene in Assoc. for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics: one of the concerns was that if Myriad could patent an isolated gene, then scientists couldn't use that isolated gene even in their non-profit research on cancer cures.

    Two things, though: first, that swinging on a swing patent has been invalidated. ;)
    Second, for the most part, if you're making something for personal use in your home, the patent owner may never find out about it, so while you may be infringing, you're unlikely to get sued. Even if you do, the reasonable royalty for private, personal home use may be negligible. Let's pretend that the swinging patent was still valid and you did it... What's a reasonable royalty? A nickel? Maybe an entire quarter? It's going to cost someone at least $50k to file suit for infringement, and even if by some incredible odds you were found to willfully infringe and be held liable for their attorney fees, they'd still lose money, just due to inflation and lost investment opportunity. Plus, a judge would probably refuse the attorney's fees, because someone who sues over twenty-five cents is someone who is wasting the court's time, so why should they end up anywhere close to whole?

    I don't buy the auto analogy, mainly because the insurance companies have nothing to do with the suit, except though my contract with them for payment of an award. The only reason their lawyers get involved is because it's their money.

    But they have no right to interfere in the suit, even if it's their money, unless they can be made a party. That's what FRCP rule 14 is all about. As a result, they do have something to do with the suit, albeit indirectly to the main controversy. Civil procedure is weird that way.

    I have a buffalo wireless router I purchased many years ago, and if the courts interpret "use" as you say, then I am in direct violation of several patents (since Buffalo, afaik, never paid for the patents they used)

    Yes, quite possibly. It would depend on the claims at issue, of course.
    Specifically, some claims are written from an active client perspective - "receiving, by a router, a wireless communication; processing, by the router, the communication to do something really awesome; etc." Buffalo may make routers, but do they infringe such a claim?

  • by infinitelink (963279) on Friday April 04, 2014 @12:26AM (#46657995) Homepage Journal
    It goes to administration, which like HR professionals always expands its own class, hence pay and lobbying power, hence tentacles through a system, and then repeat. Give all a raise--and throw-in tenured profs (especially those with admin privilges themselves) for good measure, and repeat again.

    To adapt Reagan's motto: "defund the [administrative class]."

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