Monthly Archives: July 2011

An inside scoop on technology patents

This American Life is one of Public Radio International’s most iconic, unusual and stimulating programs, and producer Ira Glass has turned his eye on a hotly debated aspect of the patent system – the acquisition and management of IP by non-operating entities (NPEs), often referred to as “patent trolls”.  You can listen to this fascinating and informative one-hour program HERE.

The program explains the origin of the term “troll” (the toy of an Intel lawyer’s young daughter); follows the trials and tribulations of several individual inventors (including Jeff Kelling of internet company Fototime), and interviews Nathan Myhrvold, the founder of Intellectual Ventures (IV), described by one patent lawyer as “a troll on steroids”.

Patent reform activist David Martin, CEO of M•CAM weighs in and demonstrates his DOORS analytic software to show that 30% of patents are worthless, often because they are not “novel” (e.g., patent 6,080,436 was granted in 2000 for “bread refreshing method”; that turns out to be toast!).  And for insight into one of IV’s many lawsuits (IV v. Hynix Semiconductor et al) you can download an M•CAM analysis (one of the Patently Obvious® series) HERE.

The program explains why the buying and selling of patents is likely to continue as a profitable and controversial business that affects the entire tech industry.  The targets of NPEs like IV, along with many observers, believe that the practices investigated in the program discourage innovation and impose a huge burden (the time and cost of litigation) on innovators, and especially on vulnerable tech start-ups.

IV claims to help inventors move their innovations into the market place.  But IV is not buying inventions; they are, for the most part, buying patents, many of which may belong in Martin’s 30%.  And while IV’s stated intention is to license these patents, they often sue without any attempt to negotiate a license; the threat of litigation can cower start-ups into paying royalties even when the outcome of an IV claim is uncertain. IV owns 35,000 patents and informants describe how the company effectively licenses their portfolio to third parties for use in quashing competition or for defensive purposes.

Last but not least, the $4.5 billion sale of Nortel’s patent portfolio that was acquired recently by a consortium including Apple and Microsoft for defensive purposes is discussed.

Complex?  Yes, very.  But listening to the entrepreneurs, inventors and lawyers who are interviewed on This American Life brings the subject into perspective.

Post written by Peter Bloch

Genetic resources and integrated seed sector development training

Wageningen is offering a programme during April/May 2012 on approaches in genetic resources conservation and use, and integrated seed sector development in the context of climate change.

The programme consists of two three-week courses offered in parallel sessions: (1) Genetic resource policies and genetic resource management strategies, and (2) Integrated and participatory approaches in agrobiodiversity management. Additionally, one-day workshops on special topics are organised in which the participants of both courses will join.

The brochure goes on to explain:

 “The objective of the [first]… course of the training programme is to enhance participants’ capabilities to more effectively manage plant genetic resource conservation programmes and to use various strategies to support the sustainable use of genetic resources, whilst the objective of the other course is to strengthen participants’ knowledge and capabilities to support the concept of integrated seed sector development. In both courses relevant policies receive special attention…

…the training programme is designed for mid-career professionals working in genetic resource conservation or seed sector development, from policy, research, education or development arenas”

For more details visit their website HERE.  Also, see the course brochure for details of fellowships available via the Netherlands Fellowship Programme (NFP) for nationals of certain countries.

Food security and the need to educate the public

In the May/June issue of Foreign Policy, Lester Brown, President of the Earth Policy Institute writes about The New Geopolitics of Food.

Brown’s launching pad:

Already in 2011, the U.N. Food Price Index has eclipsed its previous all-time global high; as of March it had climbed for eight consecutive months. With this year’s harvest predicted to fall short, with governments in the Middle East and Africa teetering as a result of the price spikes, and with anxious markets sustaining one shock after another, food has quickly become the hidden driver of world politics. And crises like these are going to become increasingly common. The new geopolitics of food looks a whole lot more volatile — and a whole lot more contentious — than it used to. Scarcity is the new norm.

The bottom line?  Consumers in the North will be the last to feel the impact of increasing commodity prices, while – as we know from food riots over the last few years – consumers in the South feel these impacts immediately.  Positioning the acquisition of agricultural land in Africa by countries like China, Saudi Arabia and South Korea, Brown argues persuasively that we have now entered an era in which the food supply, rather than oil, will be the key geopolitical driver of the global economy.

Food Ark (National Geographic, July 2011) addresses a more mainstream audience and approaches the same challenge.  Its tight focus is, however, on the increasing threats to biodiversity and on the key role of seed.

The headline for this comprehensible primer:

A crisis is looming: To feed our growing population, we’ll need to double food production. Yet crop yields aren’t increasing fast enough, and climate change and new diseases threaten the limited varieties we’ve come to depend on for food. Luckily we still have the seeds and breeds to ensure our future food supply—but we must take steps to save them.

What is of note is that both articles address non-scientific audiences and both explain the role of agricultural research, underlining the need for more of it.  As “food security” hits the mainstream, it seems important that consumers understand the issues and the critical role that research plays.  This may be a good time for the ag research community to get involved in further increasing public awareness.  It’s not just about money; an informed press and public can create an environment in which challenges to progress can be more easily navigated.  It’s called public relations.

Post written by Peter Bloch

Can a monkey own copyrights?

A great copyright dilemma discussed on the 1709 blog about a photo taken by a monkey.  Quite a good picture too, good enough to be published in a newspaper under a copyright notice.  But who really owns the copyright?  The post “Monkey See, Monkey Do, Monkey get Copyright, too?” explores the issues involved…

The plot thickens (probably more than it needed to) if you read Techdirt item “Monkeys Don’t Do Fair Use; News Agency Tells Techdirt To Remove Photos” This moves the debate on to the principle of Fair Use, and also highlights the dangers of quick-fire email replies.

You can see the works of art in question by reading the item: “Cheeky monkey! Macaque borrows photographer’s camera to take hilarious self-portraits.” Not sure I am entirely convinced it’s a genuine story, but that is another debate entirely…!

New bills to change the US patent system

Quick update on patent reform in the USA from an opinion piece in Business Week: “Let the Patent Office Keep Its Money”  

The writer’s point of view is clearly against any kind of fee diversion from the patent office.  He says the USPTO’s inability to increase staff to match the increase in patent/trademark applications has led to severe delays.  Apparently the Senate doesn’t allow the office to keep all of the fees collected and so:

 “…it now takes nearly three years for patent applications to be evaluated. This means that high-tech companies must make investment decisions without knowing for several years if their intellectual property will be protected. It’s not surprising that this uncertainty is making some of them reluctant to invest in new products and services.”

We have frequently blogged news about calls for reform to the system in the US.  There might not be consensus on exactly which reforms should be implemented, but there plenty of voices agreeing that something needs to be done to improve the current system.

(thanks to Peter Bloch for sending me this link)

Funding opportunities for post-doc and PhD fellowships in various IP policy areas

I was sent this earlier today, and thought it might be of interest to readers.  A notice for post-doc and PhD fellowship at BIOGOV research unit Universite catholique de Louvain, Belgium.

“funding opportunities for post-docs and PhD Fellowships in the policy areas of global commons and global public goods, global governance, science and technology policy and international law, including intellectual property and access and benefit sharing…”

Please note, the deadline for application is: 15 September 2011.

You can download the full announcement here.  Thanks to the Bioversity Capacity Development Unit for circulating this notice.  This, and similar announcements have also been posted on the Bioversity International website.