Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Rembrandt vs. Zuck in the Patent Wars: Saoi?

Who initially "invented" social networking?
What about things such as the Facebook "like" button,
"shared news" or a "shared timeline"?

Ever heard of "Jos" van der Meer and Surfbook.com? No one has.
But that makes no difference in the world of patent law.

Outrageously broad patents granted 10 years ago by the USPTO might surreally suggest in the eyes of that existing patent law that the real pioneer "inventor" of important social media technology was the late Dutch inventor Joannes Jozef ["Jos"] Everardus Van Der Meer.

Nonsense, of course, except in our legally warped patent system.

As a consequence of van der Meer's broad patents, Facebook is facing a patent infringement lawsuit filed on February 4, 2013 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, a venue in which Chief Judge Rebecca Beach Smith, the first female federal judge in Virginia, in 2011 upheld Pfizer in a celebrated patent case against generic producer Teva involving a spam champion pharmaceutical product that we do not name here in order not to land in the spam category on many servers. Looks like a good choce of venue for patent trolls.

Ars Technica and RembrandtIP.com have copies of the complaint online.
[Note: "Virginia" is misspelled as "Virgina" on the complaint, which led us to think this might be a post-Pfizer-case hoax. However, the filing law firm Fish & Richardson has a substantiating press release, so that the misspelling on the complaint must be a typo -- or, in a world of remote and improbable coincidences, patent misspelling history repeating? See our previous postings for a clue to that mystery. It put us on the alert.]

One can also read at PR Newswire that:

Fish & Richardson Files Patent Infringement Lawsuit for Rembrandt Social Media in Virginia Against Facebook [ Inc. and] Add This Inc.

The patent infringement cites to U.S. Patents:
originally filed by "Jos" van der Meer with the USPTO on September 1, 1998.

A patent was granted by the USPTO on September 11, 2001 for the '362 patent and on July 2, 2002 for the '316 patent. 

Both patents cover broad aspects of social networking technology that are used by almost all social media today, arguably including things like the Facebook "like" button or "shared news items" and "shared timelines", technology anticipated by, indeed, if we are to follow the legal complaint, patented by van der Meer in his "web diary" patents as cited above.

Facebook is alleged to have infringed both of the above-cited patents while Add This Inc. is alleged to have infringed the "362" patent. In principle, the patents could be said to apply to similar technology used by many modern social networking media portals.

Fish & Richardson have filed the suit in the name of Rembrandt Social Media, LP, assignee of the heirs of the late "Jos" van der Meer, who during his lifetime filed for the domain "Surfbook" at www.surfbook.com several years prior to the existence of Facebook, Inc..

We checked, and The Wayback Machine traces the Surfbook domain back to at least September 25, 2001, whereas Facebook first came into existence in 2003 viz. 2004, depending on the source that one reads.

Fish & Richardson as the filing law firm are not just anybody, but as noted in that report, they are a "global law firm": indeed, they are surely "the largest patent-centric law firm in the country", as noted by Joe Mullin at Ars Technica.

In turn, Rembrandt Social Media, owned by an anonymous sole owner, has been extremely successful in bringing patent-trolling law suits against large companies, which might be an expression of previous expertise in this field. For some reason, upon seeing that RembrandtIP is headquartered in Bala Cynwyd, we were reminded of the song "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too". "Knowledge" is a key word, in a way. Again, we have no proof for that riddle.

Let us say that we remain strong opponents to the granting of these kinds of broad patents by the USPTO or foreign patent offices. The problem is that legislators, judges, legal scholars, patent applicants, patent lawyers and patent offices have created the patent octopus that we have today, so that this case is just one more outgrowth of a greatly flawed patent system.

Accordingly, one can not blame patent holders for taking every advantage that the law gives them. The patent trolls are the smart guys in this game. They are just "playing the system". Nothing wrong with that, I guess. It's legal.

As an example, everyone can thus be glad and breathe a sigh of relief, as reported by Joe Mullin at Wired in Texas Jury Strikes Down Patent Troll’s Claim to Own the Interactive Web, that powerful patent troll Eolas recently lost a critical jury trial in Texas. Still, a great number companies headed by weak persons previously "settled" their claims with Eolas [as Mullin writes: "Apple, Argosy Publishing, Blockbuster, Citigroup, eBay, Frito-Lay, JP Morgan Chase, New Frontier Media, Office Depot, Perot Systems, Playboy Enterprises International, Rent-A-Center, Sun Microsystems (bought by Oracle while this litigation was underway), and Texas Instruments."] and thus perhaps put a lot of money into bank accounts just waiting for new patent vistas to conquer. The battle goes on.

If Apple's ridiculously obvious and hence rightly unpatentable "bounce back" patent netted $1 billion against Samsung in the Koh Court in California, then the stakes here for these two van der Meer patents must be worth many times that -- to people "playing the system".

The smart guys are taking all the money, sometimes from each other, while the masses grind away. We are beginning to view this all as an entertaining and curious spectacle.

We repeat our view that patent laws should be amended to permit patenting only of specific, implemented, "working" inventions. Broad claims should be prohibited on the very rational grounds that such expansive claims are claims to ideas only, applying to implementations viz. products that do not exist.

That would eliminate many of the strings of claims that accompany nearly every patent application in our modern world, as inventors invent only "A", but include also non-invented "B to Z" and sometimes ""AA to ZZ as well" in their patent claims, because it can't hurt, and because the USPTO or foreign patent offices often cluelessly grant those overly broad claims by default (or sloth).

For some documentation of this matter, we can point out that

RembrandtIP.com issued a Press Release:
"Press Release
February 5, 2012
Jesse Dungan
Infinite PR
(415) 732-7881

Rembrandt Social Media, LP Files Suit Against Facebook and AddThis, for Patent Infringement

February 5, 2013, Bala Cynwyd, PA — Rembrandt IP Management,  LLC (“Rembrandt”) announced today that its affiliate, Rembrandt Social Media, LP, has filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Facebook, Inc. and AddThis, Inc. in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. The patents at issue involve a “Method and Apparatus for Implementing a Web Page Diary,” (US Patent 6,415,316) and a “System and Method for Generating, Transferring and Using an Annotated Universal Address” (US Patent 6,289,362).

The inventor, “Jos” van der Meer, developed his ideas in his Netherlands-­based company, which now does business as “Aduna.” After Jos’ passing, the van der Meer family, through Aduna, partnered with Rembrandt to enforce the patents and will share in the litigation proceeds.

“Rembrandt strives to help inventors and patent owners receive the credit and compensation they deserve,” said Dr. Paul Schneck, Rembrandt’s Chairman.  “We work to level the playing field for patent owners who do not have the expertise and/or capital, to enforce their rights against companies which use their inventions without paying for them.”

“Years before Facebook and AddThis, Jos van der Meer conceived of and patented core aspects of social media,” Dr. Schneck continues.  “The United States patent system is designed to give inventors an exclusive right to practice their inventions. Facebook and AddThis are using the ideas disclosed in Jos’ patents without permission or payment. Through this litigation, Rembrandt Social Media hopes to recover payment for the unauthorized usage of patents by Facebook and AddThis.”

Rembrandt Social Media, LP is represented in this matter by Fish & Richardson, P.C.

About Rembrandt IP Management, LLC

Since 2004, Rembrandt has provided patent owners with the necessary financial capital, in-­depth research and analysis, industry expertise, and hands-­on litigation management to help monetize their inventions. Rembrandt is comprised of professionals experienced in each of the areas critical to commercializing infringed intellectual property including scientists, attorneys, engineers, licensing executives, and market analysts.
Rembrandt aligns with, or acquires patents from, leading innovative corporations, universities, research institutions, the investment community, and entrepreneurial and creative individuals.  Rembrandt frequently augments its internal team by engaging “best in class” outside legal and technical experts to assess opportunities and provide their talent and knowledge to obtain a return on infringed intellectual property.  For more information please visit www.RembrandtIP.com."
RembrandtIP.com also has a copy of the complaint filed here.

For more news coverage, see: