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US Supreme Court Limits Patent Claims 118

Aire Libre and other readers noted a unanimous Supreme Court decision that denied LG Electronics's attempt to evade the first-sale doctrine by use of "business method" patents. LG licensed patents to Intel, then attempted to dictate what use Intel's customers could make of the Intel products incorporating LG patents. The decision (PDF) notes how easily patents can be written up as "business methods" to nullify the first-sale doctrine ("exhaustion") and to give the patent owner perpetual control downstream. Aire Libre adds, "That reasoning bodes well for copyright freedom as well, in light of the growing number of copyright holders who seek to nullify the Copyright Act's limitation on the distribution right by claiming the goods are 'licensed, not sold,' or subject to some restrictive EULA."
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US Supreme Court Limits Patent Claims

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  • That's strange (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Daetrin ( 576516 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @07:18PM (#23717297)
    It clearly seems like LG was in the wrong here, but this was a case where both parties actually produce and sell goods using the patents they own. Has the US Supreme Court had anything to say about the numerous cases involving patent squatters/submarine patents? That seems like it ought to be a more serious issue.
  • Re:Interesting... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 09, 2008 @07:28PM (#23717409)
    True to the trollage, i must say that obama SEEMS less threatening on the freedom of speech side than hillary (the think-of-the-children queen), but i must say that both parties seem to want to limit such freedoms. Its just a question of HOW they are wanting to limit such freedoms.

    Course, not enough of the population seems to care and simply 'roots for their team'. Just an observation from outside your nation.
  • Re:Interesting... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @07:35PM (#23717483) Homepage
    ...that it is the very same conservative US Supreme Court that liberal slashdotters have been damning for years are the ones that strike this blow for freedom.

    Haha, actually I've been cheering them because despite being stacked with conservatives, they have still handed Bush his most significant legal setbacks of his entire eight years. Something the majority Democrat Congress has been unable to do. It's the Republicans who have been gnashing their teeth at the Supreme Court for being 'activist judges' when they won't let Congress or the President do something for no more reason than the Constitution says they can't.

    Personally, I just take this to mean that in the eyes of the least politically motivated branch of government, even when stacked with conservative opinions, Bush is way out on the right on a great many things. Yet another sign of how our country's "left-right" barometer is currently skewed heavily to the right. So don't worry. Even when some liberal justices get appointed, it won't cause the court to significantly skew to the left. While in some ways counter-intuitive, it's amazing how our least Democratic branch of government is in a unique position to protect our Democracy.
  • by Enleth ( 947766 ) <> on Monday June 09, 2008 @08:03PM (#23717775) Homepage
    As far as I know, selling processors and chipsets to other manufacturers making the actual computers is a major business for Intel, probably even much bigger than direct consumer sales. It's damn obvious then, that whatever Intel sells, most of it will be incorporated in a product of its own ans sold again by other companies and that's the whole purpose of Intel producing most of its inventory at all (chipsets etc.).

    Taking that into consideration, isn't Intel likely to go medieval at anyone mobbing their most important customers with such a blatantly bogus claim? Sure, LG is big - but probably not big enough to stand chances with Intel if they were to release the hell hou^W^W^W^W^W^W lawyers...
  • by wamerocity ( 1106155 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @08:14PM (#23717883) Journal
    Wow, two good rulings in the space of 30 days. I might just start regaining faith in the judicial process again. Between this and the suit between Autodesk (autocad) and that guy on eBay who was told he couldn't sell used copies online. I thought that the eventuality of that decision was going to be tougher DRM restrictions from the software makers that make sold software impossible to install without some kind of online verification. But this ruling looks like the ball may be rolling in the right direction. Maybe I'll just wait to see what pans out before I get too excited... I've been severely disappointed in our government many times...
  • by Enleth ( 947766 ) <> on Monday June 09, 2008 @08:34PM (#23718025) Homepage
    Oh, and there's something else that caught my attention.

    From the court decision (actually, the license agreement between LG and Intel):

    "[the license] is granted by either party hereto . . . to any third party for the combination by a third party of Licensed Products of either party with items, components, or the like acquired . . . from sources other than a partyhereto, or for the use, import, offer for sale or sale of such combination." Brief for Petitioners 8 (quoting App. 164).

    A literal (as requred for the licensish newspeak) interpretation quickly reveals that is's FRICKIN' IMPOSSIBLE to not infringe on the LG patents. Intel doesn't make capacitors, resistors, connectors, laminate sheets, transistors, voltage regulators, fasteners and LOADS of other crap that make up a single mainboard, no matter how "all-Intel" it is.

    In short, the relevant part of the agreement is plain idiotic.
  • by thtrgremlin ( 1158085 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @08:48PM (#23718137) Homepage Journal
    ... will likely make its way to the supreme court. The complexity of the case, and the controversy over YOUR Intellectual Property versus MY culture. Lawrence Lessig is on staff for RDR Books defending, the same lawyer that fought (ok, and lost) in Eldred v. Ashcroft. I know this is too much to ask, but I see no reason not to revert back to the Statute of Anne. Give copyright holders a FIRM grip over their IP to allow them to reap its rewards and present it the way they desire, BUT, after a "Limited Period of Time", give it to the people to let it grow and thrive.

    Unless we are going to argue reincarnation, this lifetime is the only one I have. 'Forever' is my entire lifetime, or anyone elses. Nothing that is part of my culture can be remixed or reused by myself or virtually any generation I will ever see when there is a term limit of life + 70 years / 120 years.

    Anyway, Lessig and others learned some HARD lessons, such as the power of money among other things, not to mention the series of some good small wins for EFF over the past year, for GPL and such, showing the value free and freedom to the public.

    In light of the entire history of supreme court they can seem small, they have ruled on the side of reason defying long standing law, and majority opinion: Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954), United States v. Causby, 328 U.S. 256 (1946). United States v. Miller, 317 U. S. 369. While Miller had to do with government taking, why can not the same PROPERTY law apply as they keep arguing. "It is the owner's loss, not the taker's gain, which is the measure of the value of the property taken." was ruled. As for Rowling v. RDR Books, IMO, an idea only becomes culture AFTER it is given to the public. And you CAN'T copyright an IDEA. Making cultural references to an idea aren't piracy, and not even plagiarism, it is literature in its absolute meaning.

    So I hope that this case shows that the supreme court is ready to rule on the side of reason that Congress CAN NOT hide away like it did after LaMacchia with the NET Act. Eldred v. Ashcroft 537 U.S. 186 (2003) ruled the way it did because the argument made could not beat the argument of big money, so YES, I think this case COULD have major implications in the near future over copyright.

    The only circumstances under which I could be persuaded otherwise would be if they tax this PROPERTY progressively with respect to the amount of time on copyright, gross value earned from copyright, and number of copyrights held by a person. This would make it EQUAL with real property. At present, any vaguely original though or artistry I express in a tangible way has GREATER protection than the home for my family. And before I am accused of making a straw man, consider the ways you can loose and reclaim an IP versus the way you can loose and reclaim your house.

    Hope that wasn't too off topic for anyone, just my thoughts on the supreme court and reason.
  • by TekPolitik ( 147802 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @09:23PM (#23718365) Journal

    That reasoning bodes well for copyright freedom as well...
    Reason has no place in a legal proceeding.

    I agree that the reasoning does not bode anything for copyright freedom, but not for the reasons you indicate. Reasoning is actually very important to legal proceedings. Evidential issues can often get in the way, but if the evidence produces a clear set of facts then with very few exceptions, reasoning will provide a clear answer. It's comparatively rare to see this in court because usually when a case makes it all the way to a court decision the reason is that either there is a dispute about the evidence or the case is one that is close to the boundaries. In the remaining cases you have a butthead litigant with a butthead lawyer who is happy to use the court procedure as a weapon to drain and defeat their opponent even though their opponent should clearly win on the facts and the evidence.

    The reason this doesn't mean anything for copyright freedom (at least in the way the summary suggests) is that the "licensed vs sold" distinction isn't as great as it might seem. You own the physical copy you buy, but you have to have a license to make copies of that. When you run software in (or install software on) a computer the computer makes copies, and you need a licence to do that. This is really not legally controversial. There may be an implied license in the circumstances, but it is quite possible for the implied license to be excluded, depending on all the circumstances.

    Does it mean anything for the first sale doctrine in the US as it applies to copyright? Maybe, maybe not. Ask an American lawyer. From my antipodeon viewpoint it seems that first sale doctrine is really just a rule of interpreting licences and determining the existence of and scope of implied licences. This case dealt with a situation where Intel was granted a license and a separate agreement between Intel and the plaintiffs purported to restrict any implied licenses associated with it. It seems, from reading the headnotes, that this is a case that really revolved around its circumstances and if the plaintiff had limited the scope of the original license the outcome might be different.

  • by thtrgremlin ( 1158085 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @09:44PM (#23718505) Homepage Journal
    I am not sure I understand. I was arguing for a reasonable, fix period of time without respect to the life of the author. When an employee is making content for a company, that content gets a fixed 95 years from time of publication, or 120 years max. However, profit wise, I am sure the content industry is aware of "The Long Tail", even if it is an issue they like to avoid. In this respect the content industry is interested in control, not profit, when making purchases, as copyright value for an individual work is limited to 4 years for most works, and 7 in the rarest of circumstances.

    The only other part about lifetime I was arguing was that the in Eldred the supreme court said that the constitutions "limited period" means congress can set any period of time such that it is not "forever". I was arguing existentially that a term greater than my lifetime IS forever.
  • Re:Interesting... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by HikingStick ( 878216 ) <> on Monday June 09, 2008 @10:03PM (#23718663)
    If you read and interpret the document within the context of its writing, the meaning remains clear. The right to keep and bear arms does not automatically extend to thermonuclear weapons, because it could not have meant such to the framers. Examined in context, the framers were clearly referring to arms (contemporary to the day) that would have been in the hands of the average person. This would have included firearms, knives, and swords. [I don't know if it wouild have included items afforded by wealth, such as cannons.]

    While one can reason that this right to keep and bear arms would expand to include modern weapons, I believe that the historical record is clear enough to rule out the expansion of such rights to weapons of mass destruction as are nuclear weapons. One could argue, however, that the States could retain a nuclear arsenal, as a deterrent against the misuse of the national army against the States (a frightening thought, but one that seems to be in line with the intent of the framers).
  • by thtrgremlin ( 1158085 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @10:37PM (#23718993) Homepage Journal
    The only empirical evidence where data was used to calculate maximum profitability for a creative work was in The Long Tail, and to the authors surprise, he concluded that the most reasonable copyright term would be 4 years, 3 years renewable for a max term of 7 years. Anything longer was pointless and hindered progress.

    I have no desire to see copyright widdled away towards something reasonable. It was extended past 14 years through a corrupted process people are recognizing, and it is time for it to be fixed!
  • by Kopiok ( 898028 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @10:55PM (#23719133)
    The Supreme Court, from what I have seen, generally makes well reasoned, intelligent, and in general good decisions about the cases they hear. The problem is it's so expensive, and so hard to get your case heard that they don't decide on nearly as many cases as I think they should. Of course, there's only one Supreme Court of the United States, so it'd be tough to hear every case.
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @11:19PM (#23719353) Homepage

    This further limits any legal action Apple might take against Psystar for shipping computers that run retail copies of the MacOS.

    Apple is limited on the copyright front by antitrust law; the requirement in the EULA that purports to require that the software only be run on Apple hardware is probably an illegal tying arrangement. (Don't argue otherwise without doing some reading first. There's a history of relevant cases and the party trying to enforce the tying terms usually loses.)

    With this decision, Apple is also limited on the patent front. Apple's patent rights were "exhausted" when the boxed copy of the MacOS was sold. They can't raise a patent claim based on some restriction on later use of the software, not even for "method" claims.

  • by Ed Avis ( 5917 ) <> on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @08:00AM (#23723297) Homepage
    Oh, I see what you meant: if the copyright term is the author's lifetime, then a work produced by a 20 year old has more value than one produced by a 70 year old. It's a fair point but somehow people feel that it is fair for authors to exercise control over their work while they live.

    I think the original formulation struck a good balance: 14 years, extensible for another 14 while the author is alive. This still has a bias towards younger authors but it's less.
  • by jadavis ( 473492 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @10:30AM (#23725649)
    I assume you're referring to Kelo v. New London. The interesting thing about that case is that all the dissenters were the conservatives. O'Connor, Rhenquist, Scalia, and Thomas all dissented from that horrible opinion.

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