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Monthly Archives: May 2014

29
May
2014

Long Debated and Awaited Patent Troll Bill Fizzles in Senate

by Bill

patent trollPatent trolling, an increasing nuisance in the tech sector in recent years due to the rise of “patent assertion entities,” usually corporate organizations that acquire patents from failed businesses for the sole purpose of threatening litigation from other businesses in order to extract a monetary settlement and/or a licensing fee. Suits from Patent Assertion Entities (PAE), unheard of a decade ago, now account for between 40-60% of all patent suits, and multiple empirical studies have shown that 90% of the time, PAEs lose their suits when the clam is actually adjudicated by a judge of jury.

Some of the largest players in the tech sector, who are often the target of patent infringement suits, are also participants on the other side of the equation, witness the Rockstar Consortium, a patent assertion entity made up of Apple, Microsoft, BlackBerry, Ericsson and Sony among others, who bought approximately 6000 patents from the bankrupt Canadian telecom company Nortel for $4.5 billion in 2011, and has proceeded to bring suits against Google and nearly every manufacturer of Android smartphone devices, as well as bring a separate patent lawsuit against Google, , claiming that Google’s targeted advertising and AdWords system infringes on patents issued to Nortel for an “associative search engine.”

While the big boys fighting each other over patents is nothing new, and of course, Google is quite capable of defending itself, the rise of the “patent assertion entity” has led to significant abuses, as the patent litigation is expensive, and particularly for companies that don’t have the deep pockets and legal teams that the major players can muster, these patent trolling entities, often present their targets with a scenario where fighting even a spurious or tenuous patent infringement claim is more expensive than just settling quickly, and paying off the claimant.

A bill to curtail the abuses that have come to light, included provisions that would have allowed companies to shield their customers from patent suits and required those filing suits, to detail the time of filing, exactly how the defendant had violated a particular patent, and most importantly included a mechanism where the plaintiff would be on the hook to the defendant’s legal costs to defend the suit. In a rare case of bipartisan support, the bill, H.R 3309, dubbed the Innovation Act was supported by both President Obama and a large majority of house Republicans, passing out of the House with a vote of 325 to 91 back in December, and moving on to the Senate’s Judiciary Committee.

Although the bill had widespread support from the tech industry, as well as intellectual property law professors, some of the bills provisions, such as a requirement to identify those who have a financial interest in the case, and the payment of the defense’s legal fees, which was opposed by the pharmaceutical and university lobbies, both holders of many patents, as well as trial lawyers, who were opposed to the plaintiff being responsible for the successful defendant’s legal fees.

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), announced last week that he had taken the bill off the Senate Judiciary Committee’s agenda, stating: “there has been no agreement on how to combat the scourge of patent trolls on our economy without burdening the companies and universities who rely on the patent system every day to protect their inventions. We have heard repeated concerns that the House-passed bill went beyond the scope of addressing patent trolls, and would have severe unintended consequences on legitimate patent holders.”

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21
May
2014

The Case for Regulating Internet Service More Like a Utility

by Bill

Net NeutralityIn many cases where regulations designed to protect the public domain have been rolled back, private enterprise has taken advantage of that freedom with a seemingly small interest in what benefits the greater good, if any at all.

From the savings and loan system collapse of the 80’s and the mortgage derivatives crisis of the oughts, to the consolidation of hundreds of ISPs into just a few companies that now are demanding higher fees from content providers, in the wake of the collapse of the FCC’s Net Neutrality doctrine – the private sector has shown that profit motives often win out, even when they are starkly in contrast to customer interests public advocates.

The barely regulated consolidation of cable television and internet providers continues unabated, hot on the heels of the proposed Comcast-Time Warner merger comes news that AT&T is looking to buy DirecTV in a deal valued at over $48 billion.

Where there were once hundreds of ISPs competing, consolidation has left just a handful that now dominate more than 90% of the marketplace. It would be one thing if they were consistently providing top-notch service and low pricing, but the exact opposite is the case according to some industry watchdogs. Americans now pay more money for less service than nearly ever other developed nation according to some broadband analysts.

Now the latest net neutrality battle, where Netflix paid Comcast additional fees for its customers to have un-throttled connections to the streaming entertainment giant is another symptom of how the ISP industry appears to only about maximizing profits, while providing as little service as is necessary to placate regulators.

Google, a bandwidth-intensive supplier of content through their YouTube property, has now rolled out Google Fiber, launching gigabit fiber systems in Kansas City and Austin Texas as well as taking over an existing fiber network in Provo, Utah. Google Fiber is currently in the planning stages in nine other small to midsize American cities, and reportedly it is shaking up the complacency of some local ISPs who long maintained that Americans had no use for next generation internet service, as they continued to harvest revenue without investing in enhancing their infrastructure.

Cynics argue that Google is only shaming other ISPs because it benefits their own content-theft practices but there seems to be a consensus forming that the impact is now being felt by lethargic ISPs. City governments have also come to realize that providing internet service is a boon for their local economies, as 50 municipalities in the United States offer free WiFi to those within city limits, and Chattanooga has their own municipal fiber broadband that offers gigabit service for just $70 a month. That’s 1000 megabits per second, compared to the average US connection speed of only 9.8 megabits per second. The City of Chattanooga had to contend with lawsuits from its local incumbent cable operator, Comcast, however it prevailed in court, and as of this writing it serves over 57,000 households and 5,000 businesses, providing a bundled “triple-play” package just like the private ISPs, though over 100 times faster and at a significantly lower price. Fast and inexpensive internet service in Chattanooga is credited with attracting a growing local tech sector and bringing in new businesses that rely on fast inexpensive internet service.

In the digital age those regions with substandard internet infrastructure will lose out to those with truly-broad broadband and the incumbent ISPs don’t seem to see it as something they have a stake in providing. Some advocates have now made the case that broadband connectivity is also a human rights issue, and as the internet has become so critical to living in this modern world – the case against leaving it all in the hands of unregulated monoliths may now be gaining momentum.

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13
May
2014

Dissolution of Net Neutrality: Looking At The New Internet Landscape

by Bill

Internet profitsThe impending dissolution of Net Neutrality continues to make news as more than 100 internet companies signed a letter to the Federal Communications Commission beseeching the FCC to “take the necessary steps to ensure that the Internet remains an open platform for speech and commerce so that America continues to lead the world in technology markets.”

Digital Trends reported a symbolic gesture by web hosting companies throttling connections of FCC IP addresses to 28.8 kbps as a show of what losing net neutrality may soon do to the companies the FCC is failing to regulate.

Level 3 Communications, a major internet backbone provider has released their data on where bottlenecks are occurring, and all of them they attribute to local ISPs with near monopoly coverage in the particular market, leading to what Level 3 characterizes as intentional foot-dragging and holding traffic in ransom for a juicy “internet fast lane” payment.

Meanwhile, Netflix has announced that they would be raising prices, not only for US customers, but for Netflix subscriptions in the UK and the EU, which begs the question of whether Europeans are being hit with, what may be, a surcharge for the US failure to adhere to the principles of Net Neutrality. While some might be inclined to dismiss the price increase as mere coincidence, others think that it’s telling that Netflix is also rolling out a discounted pricing plan which aligns with the old pricing structure but limits user bandwidth consumption by restricting streaming videos to one at a time at SD resolution rather than HD.

Back in the days of dial-up, consumers had literally thousands of ISPs competing to provide connections which for the most part kept any one service from overreaching and kept prices competitive. When broadband rolled out, the FCC, rather than keeping the regulations that kept the dial-up market competitive, listened to telecom industry lobbyists who argued that having competition would be a disincentive to their making the necessary investments required to make broadband available to their subscribers. While the idea might have had some merit, the US telecom industry has used their monopolistic control of the ISP market to provide internet service that is demonstrably slower and more expensive than other first-world markets and have used the tremendous cash flow to enrich their shareholders or to fund more consolidation, worsening the diversity of choices for consumers in the ISP marketplace.

Now with near-monopolistic control of many of the country’s markets, the notion of content providers being forced into a new “pay to play” scheme with little to no fear of losing customers, the telecoms are tapping another new revenue stream – charging twice for their services, as if they were charging the caller and receiver of a call, which might make shareholders cheer, but leaves virtually everyone else stuck with no options but to pay up. The one glimmer of hope is the increasing mobilization among consumers and content providers alike, who are pressuring the FCC to provide proper regulatory oversight on this critical utility of the modern era.

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07
May
2014

Military Tech WiFi Innovation: Cognitive Radio

by Bill

cognitive radioIt’s no secret that much of today’s technology that we are dependent upon, and has revolutionized our modern lives was developed by and for the military. From global positioning satellites (GPS) which were originally designed to guide intercontinental ballistic missiles during the cold war, now utilized in a myriad of ways by every smartphone; to the internet itself, devised during the same period as ARPANET to provide a packet-switching network among several US Defense Department facilities, the military finds technological solutions to problems of strategic importance, and the private sector unleashes those solutions for the benefit of the consumer-driven economy.

Concerned with radio frequency jamming of its aircraft within hostile territory, the US Air Force is investing $2.7 million in developing what is called “Cognitive Radio,” an idea that has been around for a while, but has never been developed beyond the conceptual stages as it runs up against FCC’s antiquated broadcast spectrum rules that date back to the day when all transmissions were analog.

The FCCs frequency spectrum rules date from a different era when there was a need to provide space between broadcast channels lest there be bleed-through and interference with other signals, and as a result there is a great deal of available “white space” that is unnecessary in this digital age. Cognitive Radio, like the name would imply, is smart radio, via its software, able to analyze the conditions under which it’s operating and adjusting on the fly to communicate with networks using whatever frequencies and networking protocols are clearest, giving access to the entire spectrum for every device to use intelligently, without interfering with other transmissions.

No longer constrained to a narrow band of frequencies as WiFi is today, the developers are projecting a 10-fold increase in transmission speed over wireless networks. While cognitive radio has regulatory hurdles to surmount, it’s not presently allowed under FCC rules, with the Air Force developing it into a working, presumably robust system for combat deployment, it’s only a matter of time before it reaches civilian hands; in fact a working prototype cognitive radio system was submitted to the FCC for approval by Microsoft as “Super WiFi” back in 2007.

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