26 February 2010

Facebook granted a dubious patent

what shows up in your newsfeedphoto © 2009 Cambodia4kids.org Beth Kanter | more info (via: Wylio)

The readers of the Reguligence Weblog are familiar with the fact that I am not a supporter of software and business method patents. Moreover, I am rather a doubter as to those patents’ furtherance to the Information Technology at all. Nevertheless, I should be grateful to Facebook for giving me an occasion to have another post on this issue.

As you might have already perceived, Facebook has been granted the patent #7669123 for “dynamically providing a newsfeed about a user of a social network”. Basically, Facebook has patented the news feed that provides a user of their social network with the information about what other users are currently doing or at best have done on that network.

To me this is a trivial patent par excellence. While the patent eligibility could be easily satisfied under the Federal Circuit’s holding in Bilski, in pursuance to which “a method claim is surely patentable subject matter if (1) it is tied to a particular machine or apparatus, or (2) it transforms a particular article into a different state or thing. ” and a social network could (arguably) serve as an “apparatus”, there are some doubts with respect to that patent’s novelty and non-obviousness. According to GIGAOM, the social network Multiply.com had a similar interface for keeping track of friends’ actions before Facebook launched its own. As regards the inventive step applied, I believe that aforementioned “invention” would be laughably obvious even to a person having just basic knowledge in social networks, not to mention a “person skilled in the art”.

Notwithstanding, the patent, albeit a “weak” one, has been granted and – unless successfully challenged and invalidated- will be valid for the next 17-18 years. I am personally curious whether Facebook will at some time take the risk and attempt enforcement, and hence share the destiny of Amazon and their one-click-patent.


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29 January 2010

Whose iPad is it anyway?

iPad Casephoto © 2010 Yutaka Tsutano | more info (via: Wylio)

You have certainly heard, seen or otherwise perceived (by the way who hasn’t?) that couple of days ago Apple presented its iPad to the public. However surprisingly, the fancy product name “iPad” that seems to perfectly fit into the iFamily of “iBook”, “iPod” and “iPhone”, could now enter the hostile territory of trade mark infringement.

It is funny, but the sign “iPad” has in recent years been really coveted by enterprises around the globe . So much, as some of these have undertaken trade mark registrations under different jurisdictions. For instance, the The Trade Marks and Designs Registration Office of the European Union  (OHIM) has granted the word mark “iPAD” for motors, engines and drives to Siemens and the word mark “IPAD” to the French Company STMICROELECTRONICS SA for, in particular, integrated circuits and termination lines that, however, may be also applied in cellular phones, computers and computer peripherals.

OHIM has further received an application for registration on 18 January 2010 and this is  filed by a US company named IP Application LLC. The application covers products and services classes such as computers, printed matter, toys, telecommunications and web services that just hardly fail to fit into Apple’s marketing target. It has been said in news reports that in 2009 Apple have used a proxy to file for a registration on Trinidad and Tobago in order to secure a priority date. This same Trinidadian registration is mentioned in IP Applications LLC’s application before OHIM. Any doubts why may be behind that act?

The above application, however, may cause some problems to its applicant. The Community Trade Mark Regulation states a so called relative ground for refusal where a trade mark applied for is identical with an earlier trade mark and the goods or services for which registration is sought are identical with the goods or services for which the earlier trade mark is protected. Consequently, STMICROELECTRONICS SA might successfully oppose Apple’s European registration.

As if that were not enough, the war clouds for Apple are gathering over another – much more promising – battlespace.

2002 Fujitsu came up with a handheld computer named “iPad” for use by shop assistants and has since then attempted to file for a trade mark registration with the US Patent and Trade Mark Office (USPTO).

Fujitsu iPad. Courtesy to TheRegister

Fujitsu’s application to register iPad name was deterred by an earlier filing by Magtek, an information technology security company based in Seal Beach, California, for a handheld number-encrypting device.

Magtek IPAD. Courtesy to Magtek.

The consequence was that the USPTO listed Fujitsu’s application as abandoned in the beginning of 2009, but the Tokyo company managed to revive its application in June 2009. In the autumn of the same year, Apple is believed to have filed requests of opposition before the USPTO and has now time until 28 February 2010 to submit its final opposition statement.

See whether the Canadian lingerie manufacturing company Coconut Grove, to which the USPTO assigned the trade mark “IPAD” for padded bras, will join the technology giants’ war game.


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