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Otherwise, the employer may just be setting itself up for wage-hour suits based on the premise that the after-hours use constitutes uncompensated overtime, says Mitch Danzig, "an attorney in the San Diego office of Boston-based Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo. Danzig advises his clients to give BlackBerrys only to employees who are exempt from overtime laws. 'Plaintiffs' firms are trolling for this,' he said. 'Now what you're seeing on [plaintiffs'] firms' Web sites are, "Have you been assigned a BlackBerry or a phone? If so, give us a call."'" (Ashby Jones, WSJ law blog, Apr. 22). More: Jeffrey Hirsch, Workplace Prof Blog.

"The unlucky troll"

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It must be frustrating to own (or, depending on how one views the legalities, "own") a patent on the JPEG photo format technology but then not actually be able to move in to collect royalties from "just about every web site that uses an image". (Asher Hawkins, Forbes, May 5).

A cease and desist letter from Monster Cable to Blue Jeans Cable, alleging various sorts of infringement of Monster's intellectual property, draws a ferocious response from Blue Jeans' president Kurt Denke, formerly a practicing lawyer. "Let me begin by stating, without equivocation, that I have no interest whatsoever in infringing upon any intellectual property belonging to Monster Cable. Indeed, the less my customers think my products resemble Monster's, in form or in function, the better ... It may be that my inability to see the pragmatic value of settling frivolous claims is a deep character flaw, and I am sure a few of the insurance carriers for whom I have done work have seen it that way; but it is how I have done business for the last quarter-century and you are not going to change my mind." And much more (Audioholics; Slashdot).

Both via Ron Coleman: "Deutsche Telekom / T-Mobile demands Engadget Mobile discontinue using the color magenta" (Engadget, Mar. 31)(via). And Major League Baseball apparently makes bold to own all combinations of characteristic team colors and "baseball lettering" on shirts, even when the actual shirt message is something unrelated to baseball, such as "Obama" (Susan Scafidi/CounterfeitChic, Mar. 18) (via).

"The builders of the world's biggest particle collider are being sued in federal court over fears that the experiment might create globe-gobbling black holes or never-before-seen strains of matter that would destroy the planet. ... The Large Hadron Collider, or LHC, is due for startup later this year at CERN's headquarters on the French-Swiss border." Among the concerns of critics who are suing in federal court in Hawaii: "Could quarks recombine into 'strangelets' that would turn the whole Earth into one big lump of exotic matter?" (Alan Boyle, CosmicLog, MSNBC, Mar. 27; Dennis Overbye, "Asking a Judge to Save the World, and Maybe a Whole Lot More", New York Times, Mar. 29).

More: Sundries Shack ("For goodness sake, one of the plaintiffs calls himself an 'author and researcher on time travel'"); Adler @ Volokh. The liberal site Lawyers, Guns & Money, perhaps serving in this instance as a Strange Attractor, attracts a commenter who seems to agree with the lawsuit-filers that it's better to be safe than sorry -- the Precautionary Principle lives! And from our comments, links to the complaint, Ted on jurisdiction, and thoughts on the effectiveness of litigation in obtaining free publicity. well as your keychain drives, backup tapes, laptops and network servers. New rules of federal procedure will make it more likely that a litigation opponent will show up on your doorstep with such a demand. (Martha Neil, "Opponent Computer Searches Likelier Under Revised Civ Pro Rule", ABA Journal, Mar. 12; Nolan M. Goldberg, "Is Your Data Wide Open to Your Opponent?", National Law Journal, Mar. 12).

The Troll Tracker blog is down shortly after (or before?) a lawsuit filed by a plaintiffs' attorney and son of federal judge T. John Ward, Jr. sued the blogger and his employer, Cisco, over a post critical of Ward and attorney Eric Albritton. [Prior Art blog via ATL] I couldn't find the complaint on-line, but I'll track it down over the weekend. Earlier: Feb. 26; earlier in the series.

Ending software patents


Has the time come? (Roger Parloff, Fortune "Legal Pad", Feb. 28).

Just as I was about to say I needed to revise my top-ten blog list to include the excellent anony-blogger Patent Troll-Tracker, I learned from today's Recorder and WSJ that he has revealed himself as Rick Frenkel, Cisco IP attorney.

When I started the blog, I did so mainly out of frustration. I was shocked to learn that a huge portion of the tech industry's patent disputes were with companies that were shells, with little cash and assets other than patents and a desire to litigate, and did not make and had never made any products. Yet when I would search the Internet for information about these putative licensors, I could find nothing. I was frustrated by the lack of information, and also by the vast array of anti-patent-reform bloggers out there, without a voice supporting what I did believe and still believe is meaningful reform.
(For the record, I liked the blog even before they praised me.) Plaintiffs' attorney Ray Niro had put a bounty on the identity of the Troll Tracker, who had been critical of Niro's tactics (as have Walter and I). Frenkel is considering shutting down his blog now that he is out of the closet; one hopes someone else picks up the torch, because he was performing a valuable service, to the extent that I had limited my blogging about it because he had the subject-area covered so well.

I missed the debate in November among Dennis Crouch, Michael Smith, and Frenkel on whether the Eastern District of Texas is "waning" as a magnet jurisdiction for patent plaintiffs (May 2006, Dec. 2005, Jan. 2005), or I might have made reference to it in my latest Liability Outlook on patent reform. Frenkel seems to have the best of that debate, and follows up:

Let’s highlight one really outstanding statistic from November: The number of defendants sued in the Eastern District of Texas in November 2007: 244. The number of defendants sued in Los Angeles, San Francisco/Silicon Valley, New York City, Chicago, Delaware, and New Jersey combined in November 2007: 162.
Patent lawyers often seem to be of a different stripe than other lawyers, and there is a similar patent-law-blogging community largely separate from the other law-bloggers. The commenters go mad at Crouch's blog over the Frenkel revelation because Cisco is a strong patent reform supporter. Elsewhere: IPBiz; TechDailyDose; NetworkWorld; 271Blog; Mises Blog; and the anti-reform Patent Prospector.

The Patent Reform Act of 2007


My latest Liability Outlook is on the Patent Reform Act of 2007:

Despite some in the media calling patent reform dead, on January 24, 2008, the Senate placed S. 1145, the Patent Reform Act of 2007, on the general calendar. The next few weeks will be critical to the legislation, which the House passed in September. Although much of the discussion has focused on the different perspectives and concerns that the high tech and the biotech/pharma industries have about the legislation, the fact remains that the patent litigation system is broken. Congress should make every effort to fix it by writing into this legislation reasonable formulas for damage awards and venue rules that discourage forum-shopping. ...

Affiliates of Erich Spangenberg’s Plutus IP have sued 476 different defendants in 42 lawsuits. The vast majority of those lawsuits allege infringements of patents that Plutus IP purchased for $1,000. The use of invalid patents in litigation is more than theoretical. Philip Jackson sued his attorneys, Chicago plaintiffs firm Niro, Scavone, Haller & Niro, for malpractice after his $12.1 million jury verdict against Glenayre Electronics Inc. was reduced to under $3 million; Niro challenged the malpractice suit by claiming that th e patent Jackson had successfully enforced was invalid. In 2006, approximately 6,000 defendants were sued in 2,800 patent cases; in 2007, the six thousand mark was reached in early October, implying a 30 percent increase in patent litigation in a single year. Such litigation stifles substantial technological innovation. Patent trolls claim to block entire fields, and one cannot hope to innovate in these areas without the financial capital to handle the threat of patent litigation. IBM has 370 corporate patent attorneys, not just to avoid the pitfalls of infringement, but to create a patent portfolio that can provide counterclaims (or cross-licensing opportunities) if a commercial entity were to sue them for infringement. Since the late 1990s, patent litigation costs have outstripped patent profits.

Lost laptop = $54 million?

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Bob Sullivan, MSNBC "Red Tape", Feb. 12:

How much compensation does a consumer deserve for the loss of a laptop computer loaded with personal information? Raelyn Campbell figures it’s $54 million -- if you throw in a little extra for lost time and frustration.

Six months after bringing a damaged laptop computer into a Best Buy electronics store for repairs, and three months after the firm admitted losing it, Campbell filed the whopper of a lawsuit recently in Washington, D.C., Superior Court....

In 2005 the makers of Grand Theft Auto, Take-Two Interactive and its subsidiary RockStar Games, acknowledged that the wildly popular game included a hidden "mod" which when activated revealed a scene of simulated sex. As readers may recall from our 2005 coverage (here, here, and here), class action lawyers immediately hopped on the story, filing suits on behalf of purchasers who were purportedly outraged at the inclusion of one more lurid fillip in a game already known for its lurid content, and who wanted refunds and other legally ordered relief. Now Robert Ambrogi at Legal Blog Watch (Feb. 1) has details on a settlement that will shower buyers with $5 coupons and other goodies (it helps if they've saved the store receipt) and enable them to "get a replacement disk, sans sex scenes" -- just what so many players want! -- while bringing the lawyers a fee haul of $1 million.

Mary Jo Pletz, who lives north of Allentown, Pa., made a very successful time of it accepting people's consigned items and selling them on eBay. Now the state of Pennsylvania is proceeding against her for not taking out an auctioneer's license, though it denies that it is seeking the $10 million in fines that her lawyer alleges. (Bob Fernandez, "Pennsylvania takes on online auctions", Philadelphia Inquirer, Jan. 30). Earlier similarly: Feb. 26, 2006 (California); Oct. 13, 2005 (North Dakota); Mar. 21, 2005 (Ohio).

It seems Chicago attorney Raymond Niro has doubled the bounty to $10,000 for anyone who will bring him the identity of the blogger who's often been critical of his courtroom activities. (Ameet Sachdev, "Patent licencers raising some ire", Chicago Tribune, Jan. 22). Earlier: Dec. 10.

The retailer quickly modified its web site after it was pointed out that unauthorized users might get it to cough up records of homeowners' past purchases. The law firm of KamberEdelson LLC quickly hopped on the case with a class action demanding millions, saying bad guys might use the information on past lawn mower purchases and the like to trick homeowners into divulging more serious financial data, though its complaint cited no instances where anything of the sort had actually happened. ("Sears Accused Of Violating Consumer Fraud Law", Reuters/New York Times, Jan. 7; Chicago lawyer/blogger David Fish isn't impressed with the turn to legal action, asking, "Are you legally damaged because your nosy neighbor found out how much your washing machine cost?" (Jan. 10).

America's Future Foundation is holding a January 16 panel on this topic:

In less than a decade, Google has grown from a Ph.D. research project to be the indispensable tool of the information economy. With the objective of making all information instantly and universally accessible, Google now controls the principal index to the internet and the email traffic of millions, while adding new features such as maps replete with street-level photos cataloging the non-virtual world. As governments around the world seek to harness this information for good or evil, please join us on January 16th to discuss what we stand to gain and lose from this relentless indexing of information.

Joining us in the discussion will be Marc Rotenberg, Executive Director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), Cord Blomquist of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and Amber Taylor of O'Melveny & Myers LLP. Moderating this discussion will be Chris Pope of the American Enterprise Institute.

Free for AFF members, $5 for non-members.

"On Monday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Barbara Major sanctioned five attorneys from Day Casebeer Madrid & Batchelder and one from Heller Ehrman for their roles in 'monumental' discovery violations in a patent infringement case between Qualcomm Inc. and Broadcom Corp. She also sanctioned Qualcomm for intentionally withholding 'tens of thousands of e-mails' that it should've turned over during the litigation. ... Major wrote that the attorneys may have violated California Rules of Professional Conduct that prohibit lawyers from suppressing evidence (5-220) and misleading a judge or a jury by false statements (5-200)." (Zusha Elinson, "Will Harsh Ruling Over Qualcomm Discovery Increase Chances of Bar Discipline?", The Recorder, Jan. 9; "Six Lawyers in Qualcomm Case Sanctioned for 'Monumental' Discovery Violations", Jan. 8; WSJ law blog)

Thank you, Patent Troll Tracker (Jan. 4).

Was the litigation a factor? The UK's Daily Mail is reporting that Apple is developing a way for future iPods and iPhones to turn down volumes automatically after a certain period of use to protect users from endangering their hearing. One columnist predicts that the feature if implemented "will be hacked in a matter of minutes" by users who don't want the protection. (Christopher Breen, "Auto-volume may be a turn-off for some", MacWorld, Dec. 26).

Watch what you say about lawyers, a continuing feature: the blog Troll Tracker has been critical of firms that make a practice of buying up patent rights to sue on them. Now co-founder Ray Niro of the Chicago plaintiffs firm Niro, Scavone, Haller & Niro is threatening to sue Troll Tracker for alleged infringement of a patent on a technique sometimes used in web graphics, JPEG decompression. (If a website posts graphics at all, there is a good chance that it is in similar violation of this asserted patent.) Niro also wants the anonymous blawger's identity unmasked and is offering a bounty toward that end. (TrollTracker, Dec. 4; John Bringardner, "A Bounty of $5,000 to Name Troll Tracker", IP Law & Business, Dec. 4; via Ambrogi, who appends an extensive list of blogs commenting on the story).

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