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[FYI] Patent Lawyers Run Amok - With USPTO Help


Patent Lawyers Run Amok - With USPTO

How are Jeff Bezos, Al Gore, G.W. Bush connected
together? And why does the open source community
care? Because, according to Richard Stallman and
many other Open Source advocates, Bezos and his
lawyers are trying to hijack the Internet. Stallman
wants a boycott. But Bezos isn't the problem, the US
Patent Office is. And Gore and Bush are the only
people in a position to fix it. That might mean firing the
guy who critics say has turned the Patent Office into
an accomplice to corporate robbery. 

Over the last couple of years the US patent system
has been managed by Todd Dickinson. Before coming
to the Patent Office, Dickinson worked for several oil
companies and had a lengthy career at Baxter
Travenol, a frequent litigator before the Patent Office
with a track record of claiming all sorts of fascinating
reasons for patents and arguing for their almost
indefinite extensions. Dickinson has never done any
work on behalf of any public advocacy groups, but has
a tight relationship to patent attorneys. The Patent
office now provides direct links to private patent
attorneys' offices. 


Amazon is hardly alone, and it's not the worst of the
patent abusers. A firm called Fantasy Sports Online
has claimed that online fantasy sports is patentable
and sued Yahoo. Juno grabbed a patent for "offline"
ads, Gigex in won a patent last June for scrolling
tickers on Web sites, despite the fact that the idea has
been around for ages. Priceline won patent 5,794,207
for reverse auctions, an idea that has been around for
centuries (but not on the net). Netcentives grabbed a
patent for rewards programs on online shopping sites.
Last March, Open Market announced that it had won
three patents on widely-used methods of conducting
electronic commerce. How bad is it? Patent No.
5,715,314 gives its holder a monopoly over
"network-based sales systems," and Patent No.
4,949,257 covers the purchase of software... over a

Many critics trace this explosion in patents to
Dickinson's willingness to extend every courtesy to
America's patent lawyers while ignoring their efforts to
claim as someone's intellectual property virtually every
activity one can imagine doing online. Professor Larry
Lessig, the well-known cyber legal beagle, wrote in The
Standard some months ago about the extent to which
the patent system was being abused by the software
industry. But Lessig has had trouble getting an
audience among political leaders. 


Kristian Köhntopp, NetUSE Kommunikationstechnologie GmbH
Siemenswall, D-24107 Kiel, Germany, +49 431 386 436 00
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