juridiko by Sean Hogle


Design patents: be very afraid

I've long been loath to allow my technology development, user interface, graphic arts, and industrial design clients to agree to be responsible for infringements of patents caused by my clients' deliverables, especially US design patents (or the EU-equivalent, design rights/design registrations). The reason: strict liability and the "ordinary observer" test – frightening concepts for artists or engineers that design or develop per the customer's requirements. There is, however, an even more worrisome aspect of design patents: the monetary remedy of total profits attributable to the infringing product or device, regardless of the extent to which the product's value is attributable to the infringing design.

Patent applications covering fundamental tech have been pending before the US PTO for 43 years

According to the Chicago Tribune, inventor Glibert Hyatt is awaiting approval for a patent filed 43 years ago for "electronic signal control of machinery". It took 20 years for Hyatt to be awarded a patent covering "single chip integrated circuit computer architecture," effectively granting to Hyatt a royalty claim to most microprocessors in use (making Hyatt an already wealthy man).  He's also waiting for the grant of a patent application on liquid crystal displays. That application has been pending for 35 years.

Technology historian Ross Bassett is quoted in the Tribune article above as follows (emphasis added):

I respect Gilbert Hyatt's work — the process of engineering is difficult. But innovations are more than ideas. The broader context matters. If Gilbert Hyatt had never existed, I believe the microprocessor would have developed in the same way that it did.

Of course it would have.

To employers: want your employees to be covered by non-compete covenants? You're going to have to pay them for it

An appellate court in Illinois, a state that, unlike California, enforces "reasonable" employment non-compete covenants, has ruled recently that a non-compete covenant must be supported by at least two years worth of employment. Fifield v. Premier Dealer Services, Inc. (IL Ct. App. 2013). Here's a compelling summary by the legal team that successfully prosecuted the case on behalf of the employee. The Supreme Court of Illinois has declined to review the case, making Fifeld the law of the land of Lincoln (at least in large part).

Even if the employee signed the non-compete agreement at the outset of employment, the covenant will not be enforceable until the employee has worked for two consecutive years. In other words, employers cannot hire and fire within a week and expect that employee to be under an enforceable non-compete clause. The result is the same even if the employee resigns.

If more courts across the country adopt the notion that a non-compete covenant in an at-will employment relationship must be supported by more than the mere act of employment, non-competes, as they are now commonly utilized, will either be made extinct or become a compensation-driven topic. It may only be a matter of time before a non-compete covenant, at least among the skilled and professional classes, will be bargained for.

Infringement indemnification exclusion language in technology license agreements

Over the years, I've perfected infringement indemnification exclusion language for use in technology license agreements. I've posted this clause in Redline (http://redlineforlawyers.com). I'd be interested in seeing how this clause can be improved or negotiated against.

Click-accepting online terms sufficient to transfer copyright ownership

In order to transfer copyright ownership, the US Copyright Act requires that the transfer be evidenced by a signed writing. 17 USC 204 (a transfer of one or more of the exclusive rights of copyright by assignment or exclusive license “is not valid unless an instrument of conveyance, or a note or memorandum of the transfer, is in writing and signed by the owner of the rights conveyed or such owner’s duly authorized agent."). A recent decision by the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has now established that online terms of use purporting to assign copyright ownership of user generated content are sufficient to effectuate such a transfer. Metropolitan Regional Information Systems, Inc. v. American Home Realty Network, Inc. (4th Cir. July 17, 2013). 

Are the GPL's inheritance obligations enforceable in Europe after the UsedSoft decision?

On July 3 of last year, the Court of Justice of the European Union issued a decision in UsedSoft GmbH v. Oracle International Corp. that possibly calls into question the enforceability of open source licenses such as the General Public License (GPL). The CJEU held that the provision of software via internet download constituted a sale rather than a license of software, thus exhausting the software licensor's right to control subsequent use and distribution of copies of that software. In so ruling, the CJEU, perhaps inadvertently, cast doubt on the enforceability of inheritance (or so-called "copyleft") obligations of the GPL – or at least one experienced practitioner believes so, as evidenced by a recent posting.

Anti-reverse engineering clauses in technology license agreements

Because relevant US and EU software copyright law permits reverse engineering as "fair use", blanket contractual prohibitions on reverse engineering (eg, "Licensee will not reverse engineer, decompile, decode, decrypt, disassemble, or in any way derive source code from, the Licensed Software") are not likely to be enforced. These jurisdictions countenance reverse engineering as fair use if conducted in order to achieve interoperability between the licensed software and independently created software.

An otherwise unconscionable employment arbitration obligation is saved - by the employer's unilateral right to modify the terms

A recent decision by the California Court of Appeals (Second District) sheds needed light on the issue of the enforceability of arbitration clauses in the employment context, and does so in a surprising way. Employment terms that allow an employer to unilaterally modify them are subject to the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, the court held - thus saving a one-sided arbitration clause that would otherwise be unconscionable.

Submit working code with every software patent application, EFF proposes

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has issued a proposal to the US Patent & Trademark Office that working code must be submitted with every software patent application and published as part of the patent grant. This is the EFF's latest attempt to ameliorate the problem of functional claiming.

Patent license covers reissued patents, Federal Circuit rules

The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (the US appellate court responsible for patent appeals), in the case, Intel Corporation v. Negotiated Data Solutions Inc., has issued an interesting decision regarding the scope of a patent cross license.

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