Patents, Patents, Copyright, Patents (and an antitrust suit)

This week we saw a slew of intellectual property debates in and out of court. From a former Senate sponsor admitting the SOPA/PIPA bills were risky to the Internet, to a jury handing down a decision in the patent half of the Oracle v. Google trial, no stone of tech intellectual property was left unturned. Even rickrolling took a hit when AVG Technologies filed a copyright claim. Here are some of this week’s best stories on the legal side of tech:

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Extra lane: how Comcast assures that Xfinity TV on Xbox 360 works well

Recently, a few bloggers conducted tests that seem to show Comcast’s traffic to its Xbox 360 running Xfinity TV On Demand, which does not count against a user’s usage cap (as announced in March), uses a different type of traffic routing. The effect is that the Xfinity TV service has its own dedicated channel on a given Internet connection, through what Comcast calls a “separate service flow.” At the time, Comcast claimed it was serving its Xfinity TV service through a “private IP network” rather than the public Internet. But it’s claim that appears to not actually be true.

Many argued this means Comcast is prioritizing traffic, a charge the company denies. So what exactly is Comcast doing? Who’s right, and why does it matter?

The short answer: Comcast is doing some type of traffic management. It comes down to how “prioritization” is defined—if the company would be found to be favoring one type of traffic over another that would be violation of federal regulations.

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ITC judge says Apple, RIM still aren’t violating Kodak patent

The US International Trade Commission has again sided with Apple and Research In Motion in their patent disputes with Kodak. ITC administrative law judge Thomas Pender posted his initial determination (PDF) today. In the document, Pender states the two companies did infringe on one claim within the patent, but that this should be considered invalid “for obviousness.” Overall, Pender’s determination supported the ITC’s decision from last year, stating neither company infringed on a Kodak patent related to mobile devices.

Kodak’s original lawsuit against Apple and RIM was filed in January 2010. The company claimed that iPhones and BlackBerrys violated a number of both hardware and software patents.  At the time, Kodak went as far as to file a complaint with the ITC to block the import and sale of iPhones and BlackBerrys believed to be infringing on its imaging patents. The company’s claim included “Electronic Camera for Initiating Capture of Still Images while Previewing Motion Images” (US Patent #6,292,218)—the specific patent Judge Pender commented on today.

In January 2011, an ITC administrative law judge found no violation of the patent. The ITC’s commission later opted to review that decision however, and the situation was drawn out further by the retirement of the ITC’s chief administrative law judge (and then the corresponding transfer of the case to Pender). Today’s ruling is only preliminary and approval from the full ITC commission is still to come. Final ruling in the case is due by September 21, 2012.

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Bad romance: Internet scammers prey on the love-struck and lonely

You’re not the kind of person who would ever fall for a “relationship scammer” on the Internet, of course, so you might wonder whether anyone actually sends tens of thousands of dollars in gifts to a romantic partner they have met only online. The answer is: yes, yes they would. And it happens far more often—and involves far more money—than you might suspect.

Case in point: back in 2005, in the great state of California, a woman named Paula met a “man” named Jesse while participating in an online discussion forum around the show Deadwood. Paula fell in love. Hard. But “Jesse” wasn’t a man; she was apparently a woman named Janna, who lived in Batavia, Illinois—just up the road from me and right next to the Fermilab research complex.

This led, eventually, to a lawsuit. Here’s how an Illinois appeals court summed up the complex claims that Paula made in the case. (Pardon the length, but it’s needed to convey the full-on bizarreness of what happened.)

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Record companies score infringement victory over "Russian Facebook"

Russian social media site vKontakte—a platform with 135 million accounts across Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus—has lost its court appeal seeking to overturn an earlier ruling against it stating that the company was infringing copyright by allowing file-sharing services to integrate with vKontakte’s user-uploaded media libraries.

On May 17, Russia’s Commercial Court of St. Petersburg reaffirmed a lower court’s January ruling in favor of SBA Music Publishing and Gala Records, a Russian subsidiary of EMI, which claimed that vKontakte was liable for all the copyright infringement taking place on its site. The Facebook-like site (even down to the design) will most likely be required to shutter or severely restrict its file-sharing services.

vKontakte is more popular in Russia than Facebook is, and the company has been valued at $1.5 billion to $3 billion, according to a release provided by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (which sided with SBA and Gala in the court proceedings). According to PaidContent, vKontakte’s advantage over other similar platforms in Eastern Europe has been this music-sharing function.

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Exporting copyright: Inside the secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership

The scene last week at the Intercontinental Dallas Hotel looked like any generic corporate event held in any generic hotel ballroom—until the protesters crashed the party.

Trade officials from countries scattered around the Pacific Rim mingled in business attire. Ron Kirk, current US Trade Representative and former mayor of Dallas, welcomed everyone to the the latest round of negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The crowd applauded, and Kirk stepped down, ready to continue with the festivities, when a man strode confidently to the podium and introduced himself as “Git Haversall,” president of the “Texas Corporate Power Partnership.”

“I would like to personally thank the negotiators for their relentless efforts,” he said into the microphone. “The TPP agreement is shaping up to be a great way for us to maximize our profits regardless of whether the public of this nation, or any other nation, thinks it’s right.”

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How to harden your smartphone against stalkers—Android edition

Stalking via mobile phone has become a favorite activity of the mentally unhinged everywhere—jilted wives, jealous boyfriends, or any one person who cannot stop obsessing over another. Most smartphones today contain everything a stalker needs to keep solid tabs on their mark, and, in contrast to iPhones and iOS, the Android platform is much more open.

Android users can easily root their phones, sideload apps, and use all of Google’s services to communicate reams of information. This flexibility is great when used for good, creative purposes. But it’s also very easy to turn them around and use them against someone. A stalker can place an Android phone user in a compromised position simply by getting their Google account password or getting access to the phone itself, even for only a minute or two.

What follows is a guide to taking ownership of your Android phone aimed mostly at less savvy users, especially those who many have had their phone set up for them by someone else. Of course, it’s a bad idea to let something as sensitive as a smartphone leave your sight for even a minute, as physical access gives malefactors a lot of leeway. Someone who is your friend now might not be your friend forever—according to a 2009 report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, nearly 75 percent of stalking victims know their stalker in some capacity. Most people with smartphones rarely give what the phone is doing or information that it is communicating a second thought beyond e-mails and texts, playing a game or two, and making phone calls. But given how powerful smartphones are, it’s important for every user to take ownership of their device and monitor it carefully—stalking doesn’t always mean direct harassment.

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Oracle to pursue longshot claim for copyright damages

In the Oracle v. Google lawsuit, Judge William Alsup has been making it clear that Oracle is unlikely to get much money out of its copyright win, since the jury is split over the issue of fair use. Nevertheless, today Oracle’s legal team pushed forward with a demand for damages based on the one clear win it had—the jury’s verdict on a smaller question, finding that Google infringed copyright in a nine-line function called rangeCheck().

Oracle lawyer David Boies made it clear in court today that his client wants to pursue a claim for “infringer’s profits” over rangeCheck(). He persisted despite the fact that Alsup had earlier shut down the idea of pursuing anything more than statutory damages, which would be capped at $150,000. “We think under the law we have a claim for infringer’s profits,” said Boies. “We’re not asking for all their profits, we’re not asking for most of their profits. We may not even be asking for much of their profits.” Still, Boies argued that under the law, the burden of proof was on Google to show that it should not have to pay a portion of its profits to Oracle.

Alsup’s reaction was skeptical but he promised Boies he’d get to take his shot.

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