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Encyclopedia Britannica Loses Information-Retrieval Patent Ruling 95

angry tapir writes with a snippet from Good Gear Guide: "A notorious patent case about a technology that allows people to search multimedia content may finally be coming to a close. Earlier this week, a judge ruled that two patents initially awarded to Encyclopedia Britannica are invalid. The patents were built on the infamous 5,241,671 patent first unveiled by Compton's NewMedia in 1993 at the Comdex trade show. That patent, which covered the retrieval of information from multimedia content and is now owned by Britannica, would have been relevant to the many companies selling multimedia CD-ROMs at the time."
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Encyclopedia Britannica Loses Information-Retrieval Patent Ruling

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  • by Fluffeh ( 1273756 ) on Monday August 10, 2009 @02:12AM (#29008121)
    I always wonder in these sort of over-rulings where common sense has prevailed, how it sits with the other companies who DIDN'T have the patent at the time.

    Is there now a resource that those companies can sue Britannica for possibly not ALLOWING them to conduct business as normal due to Britannica having a patent that's invalid?

    If I wanted to make a CDROM with some info on it, and these guys jumped in and stopped me due to a patent, and now I found out the patent is invalid, I would be (pretty rightly) pissed off.

    Any lawyers/patent-know-it-all's in the house?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 10, 2009 @02:51AM (#29008257)

    a great big "fuck you".

    Fuck you for taking my freedom.

    Fuck you for engaging in a game where the rich steal from the poor, because the rich can afford longer law suits.

    Fuck you for capitalizing on the ineptitude of the USPTO.

    Fuck you for standing on the shoulders of giants, and patenting everything you can reach from there, so that no one can stand on your shoulders.

    So protecting your work is evil but knocking off some one else's hard work is good? If I spend five years developing a device but some one else can knock it off in a matter of months then what's the point of developing anything new? I loose my development money plus some foreign company under prices me and I never make money at all. Patents are out of control but some encourage innovation and development of new technologies and they aren't all held by big corporations or trolls. Do you honestly believe the computer you are typing on now would exist without patents or be afordable enough that the average person could own one? The point is to use common sense when issuing patents not just scrap the system. Some things might get cheaper as companies knock off products but innovation would largely dry up. How would you feel if you'd spent every cent on an invention only to have it stole and knocked off shortly after you brought it to market? What protection do you have? Patents.

  • Why Britannica (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Kupfernigk ( 1190345 ) on Monday August 10, 2009 @03:23AM (#29008387)
    (Incidentally it's a US company despite the name). Isn't this a case where the US Government should be sued since they own the USPTO? The publishers of Brittanica shouldn't be sued because they didn't grant the patent. I think this is a really interesting idea. Companies affected by piss-poor patent granting by the USPTO should start a class action against the US Government to enforce proper patent investigation. Up till now large companies have been beneficiaries of the system more than losers, so have had no incentive to rock the boat. Small companies may have stayed quiet in case they came across a doubtfully patentable but potentially profitable idea. But once bad patents start to be invalidated, they are potentially losers, and so the balance swings towards trying to reform the system.
  • Re:Why Britannica (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Jurily ( 900488 ) <<moc.liamg> <ta> <yliruj>> on Monday August 10, 2009 @04:30AM (#29008647)

    The publishers of Brittanica shouldn't be sued because they didn't grant the patent.

    Exactly. For all intents and purposes, they did have that patent, so there's nothing wrong if they enforced it.

    What we need is to prevent companies from getting questionable patents in the first place. Make a law saying a company holding a later invalidated patent will be fined 1% of their profits that year, and I promise you, this shit will stop. If you're worried about legitimate patents getting screwed, make this fine non-cumulative.

    Alternatively, get the USPTO to hire some clerks that actually know what they're deciding about, and tell them to throw out anything with excessive legalese in it.

  • Re:Adios (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 10, 2009 @05:09AM (#29008775)

    Wikipedia is much closer to "literally EVERYTHING" than Britannica, but still hugely short of such a goal (except that neither actually HAS such a goal)

    That's much better achieved by the Internet, which owing to its lack of any coherent systemisation is able to include instructions for making children's stuffed toys, video of teenagers dancing to popular music, the source code to several operating systems and so on.

    An encyclopedia, even one on the scale of Wikipedia, must have scope rules. You can't write an article about your not very notable grandfather, who owned a greengrocer shop in a small village. If you write it, Wikipedia's editors will delete it, quite rightly, as non-notable. It's outside their scope.

    The bulk of Britannica's activities are redundant. We don't need encyclopedia salesmen, or publishers, or printers. We don't need someone to solicit prestigious men and women to write their opinion on one topic or another. So the only valuable contribution was editorial.

    And the truth is that Britannica's editorial position hurt as often as it helped. That "young kid" brought up with a mid-20th century Britannica, if she happened to be a girl, would see no female role models in science. Not because there weren't any female scientists of note, but because Britannica editorial policy tended to minimise them. A man trying to educate his kids about equality despite Jim Crow laws would find that his expensive encyclopedia describes the KKK positively and argues that blacks are inherently inferior. The contrary opinion was already held by many scientists, but editorial policy preferred the political status quo.

    It was too expensive to update the Britannica as often as would be ideal. And then it became too expensive to update it as often as really necessary. And finally it has become too expensive to update it even when the lack of updates makes it a laughing stock. Several friends have related tales about entries for their towns or cities of birth, where if someone tried to sell them a Britannica, they'd ask if it was kept up to date, then ask to see the entry for the place they knew so well. And they'd begin by praising the entry "It's just like I remember" and then they'd drive in the knife, "but I haven't been there for 20 years, half this stuff is now wrong.".

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 10, 2009 @05:19AM (#29008819)

    And finally, what's wrong with software patents?

    Some people (me included) think that it is currently not possible to write a non-trivial application without unknowingly infringing a patent. All signs point to the total amount of active patents growing significantly in the future as well.

    Does that sound like well thought out system to you?

  • Re:Why Britannica (Score:3, Interesting)

    by guruevi ( 827432 ) <`moc.stiucricve' `ta' `ive'> on Monday August 10, 2009 @08:49AM (#29009499) Homepage

    Make a law saying a company holding a later invalidated patent will be fined 1% of their profits that year, and I promise you, this shit will stop.

    No it won't. The only thing this will do is get even more companies to set up shell companies to hold their patents for them. Those companies won't be making any profit so even if you fined 50% of it you still won't be getting any of it. They already do it for questionable legal procedures (RIAA), questionable monetary flows (Cayman Islands, products sold in Cuba) or for questionable products (Made in China) thus leaving the parent company protected from any blame or harm. All the parent company does is say: it was our vendor/upstream sales/foreign manufacturer that did it, we promise we will be more careful in the future and we won't be buying from them again.

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