SCOTUS: Patent Trolls’ Loss is a Win for Honest Commerce

English: The Supreme Court of the United State...
The Supreme Court of the United States. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On May 22, the US Supreme Court ruled unanimously — and correctly — on a fairly obscure case that nonetheless has huge implications in an area where millions or even billions of dollars are frequently at stake. In TC Heartland v. Kraft Foods Group Brands, the Court came down against the practice of “forum shopping” in patent disputes. Hopefully this will reduce the incidence of “patent trolling.”

“Forum shopping” is the practice of filing suit in the court where you think you’re most likely to get the result you want. It’s a neat trick if you can get away with it, but in the normal course of things suits must be filed in the jurisdiction where the defendant resides.

Patent trolls exploited a loophole under which they could pick any jurisdiction to sue in so long as they claimed an infringement occurred there. Federal courts in Texas and Delaware became the patent litigation capitals of the US due to their troll-friendly reputations. The Supreme Court ruling restores the requirement that you must sue people where they live, not wherever’s most convenient.

So, what is “patent trolling?”

Article I, Section 8 of the US Constitution empowers Congress to “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” For better or for worse (opponents of “intellectual property” as such say worse), copyright, trademark, and patent are longstanding features of US law pursuant to that power.

Here’s the way patents are supposed to work: You invent something. You register your invention with the US Patent & Trademark Office, and for 20 years after that only you, or people who receive permission from you, may manufacture that invention (if it’s a physical thing), use that invention (if it’s a process), etc.

Here’s the way patent trolling works: The troll procures ownership of a patent by filing it directly with USPTO or purchasing it from its original filer. Then the troll goes around accusing companies of infringing that patent and demanding “licensing fees” or other payoffs on threat of being sued. The troll neither produces, nor pretends to want to produce, anything useful. He’s just running a scam.

Often the victim will pay up on the reasonable supposition that doing so is cheaper than going to court. And of course each victim who does pay up makes the patent troll’s potential legal case against other victims a little more plausible.

Patent trolling works best with very vague, broad specifications. The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s “Stupid Patent of the Month” award recipients include, recently, a patent on dispatching taxi cabs, a patent on storing files in folders, and a patent on carrying trays on carts.

Obviously a little more common sense on the part of the Patent & Trademark Office would go a long way toward ridding us of patent trolls.

Failing that, the Supreme Court’s ban on “forum shopping” will at least make it harder for patent trolls to cash in. That’s a good thing.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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Donald Trump and the Politics of Whine

“No politician in history, and I say this with great surety,” US president Donald Trump told Coast Guard Academy graduates on May 17, “has been treated worse or more unfairly” than himself.

A day later, in the wake of the US Justice Department’s appointment of former FBI director Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate allegations of “Russian meddling” on his behalf in the 2016 presidential election, Trump once again offered a grandiose reference to his place in history, this time via Twitter: “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!”

Poor, poor Donald.  Nobody likes him, everybody hates him, guess he’ll eat some worms. And apparently he’s never heard of Andrew Johnson, Ulysses S. Grant, Warren G. Harding, Richard Nixon, or Bill Clinton, each of whom enjoyed “witch hunts” of their own, with varying justifications and outcomes .

For decades, Trump publicly epitomized Barry Switzer’s observation that “some people are born on third base and go through life thinking they hit a triple.” Now he’s finally made it to the big league and it turns out his whole skill set consists of kicking dirt at the umpire and trying to empty the dugouts for a brawl every time a fastball gets past him.

Irony break: One of the loudest blocs of Trump supporters in last year’s presidential campaign consisted of voters outraged by decades of identity politics and what they considered the Democratic Party’s abusive use of victim groups to gain and hold political power: You know, those spoiled African-Americans whining about being shot dead by police, those evil gay couples demanding to be treated equally in matters of marriage (never mind that The Donald is the most openly pro-LGBTQ candidate ever elected to the office — he came out for marriage equality years before Hillary Clinton did, and draped a rainbow flag over himself at a campaign rally; logic is not those particular supporters’ strong suit), etc.

So here’s their anti-victimhood hero, Little Donald, sitting in the corner of the Oval Office screeching his lungs out, waving his rattle, and waiting for Kellyanne Conway to change his diaper, give him his ba-ba, and rock him to sleep.

That’s not to say that Trump’s complaints are wholly without merit. The “Russian meddling” thing continues to run on fumes and the fervent hope of Democrats that at some point evidence will show up to substantiate it.

But every president has complaints. Pardon us for expecting presidents to handle those complaints like responsible adults instead of like spoiled toddlers.

The Constitution requires the president to be at least 35 years old. Perhaps we need a new amendment likewise requiring the president to act his age. Time to grow up, Mr. President.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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Seth Rich, the DNC, and WikiLeaks: The Plot Thickens

WikiLeaks Retweet of Seth Rich Story
WikiLeaks Retweet of Fox News’s Seth Rich Story

According to the District of Columbia’s Metropolitan Police Department, the nation’s capital reported 135 homicides last year. One of those homicides, the killing of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich on July 10, 2016, continues to make news ten months later.

Who killed Seth Rich, and why? We may never know for sure. On the other hand, a significant piece of the puzzle may have just fallen into place.

Fox News, citing a federal investigator as source, reports that Rich may well — as long rumored — have been the source of DNC emails published by WikiLeaks, less than two weeks after he was shot twice in the back during a robbery in which, curiously, nothing was apparently taken from him.

That email release, which revealed an internal DNC conspiracy to ensure the nomination of Hillary Clinton for president at the expense of her opponent, Bernie Sanders, wounded Clinton’s campaign and cost US Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz her position as DNC chair.

The federal source, as well as an investigator hired by the Rich family (former DC homicide detective Rod Wheeler), claims that Rich communicated with (now deceased) WikiLeaks director Gavin MacFadyen.

WikiLeaks founder/director Julian Assange, in line with the organization’s policy against outing sources, has resolutely declined to confirm or deny Rich as the DNC leaker. On the other hand, WikiLeaks did put up reward money for information leading to the arrest and conviction of his killer or killers — and retweeted, without comment, the Fox News story referenced above.

For every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction. In the case of Bill and Hillary Clinton, the right-wing conspiracy theory project of putting every fatal heart attack and accidental traffic death in America on a constantly updated, Internet-circulated “Clinton Body Count” list tends to make the rest of us cautious about just assuming skulduggery on the part of the Clintons and their associates in any given instance.

Still, it can’t be denied that Hillary Clinton has, as what her husband called his “co-president,” as a US Senator, and as US Secretary of State, proven herself to have both a sense of political entitlement and a distinctly murderous bent. If you doubt this, watch the CBS News video of her giggling “we came, we saw, he died” response to the killing of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Clinton’s publicly flaunted attitudes lend credibility to claims, admittedly listed as “unproven” (not necessarily “false”) by pro-Clinton site Snopes.com, that as Secretary of State she once seriously proposed the assassination of none other than Julian Assange: “Can’t we just drone this guy?”

Is it really that far-fetched to hypothesize that Clinton, or officials in her campaign or party — many of whom are accustomed to exercising power of life and death in when actually in office — wouldn’t quail from likewise killing in pursuit of their political interests? The DNC leak (and therefore the DNC leaker) arguably cost Clinton more than the 80,000 votes or so by which she lost the 2016 presidential election.

As the straight news types like to say: Developing.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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