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April 20, 2004

EFF seeks to bust net patents

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based technology freedom advocacy group, has launched a project under which it will challenge US patents on obvious technologies that are being used to threaten non-profits.

By CBR Staff Writer

The Patent Busting Project will act as a hub for information on technology patents that are arguably obvious but are being enforced by large companies against small businesses, non-profits and individual webmasters.

Faced with million-dollar legal demands, they have no choice but to capitulate and pay license fees – fees that often fund more threat letters and lawsuits, the EFF said in a statement. The harm these patents cause the public is profound.

The project will try to gather information about prior art, which can be used to invalidate the patent on grounds of originality, before filing a reconsideration request with the US Patent and Trademark Office.

We’ve just seen some examples of lawyers sending threatening letters to universities that do distance learning online, saying that if they do testing by distance learning online they have to pay, said EFF attorney Jason Schultz.

The organization also illustrated its point with several well-known patents, including Amazon’s patents on one-click shopping, which many think is an obvious use of cookies, and Acacia Research’s patents on streaming media.

Schultz said that these are just examples. In Amazon’s case, the patent was only enforced against larger companies that Amazon regarded as a threat, notably Barnes & Noble, which was more than capable of defending itself.

Acacia, meanwhile, has been enforcing its streaming patents against large and small companies alike, attracting criticism for first going after small pornographic video web sites, seen as easy, unsympathetic targets.

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The EFF says this kind of action is needed because the US patent system makes it easy to get patents on technologies that are obvious or have badly documented prior art, and the PTO does not have the resources to check.

This article is based on material originally published by ComputerWire

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