Tiffany has initiated a lawsuit against online auction giant eBay alleging that eBay “facilitates counterfeiting”. According to Tiffany, out of hundreds of purchases made in 2004 by its representatives of “Tiffany” products, less than 25% of the purchases turned out to involve genuine merchandise. eBay claims that it should not incur any liability because does not take title or possession of the goods but rather only operates an online marketplace.
Although I have not researched the issue lately, my recollection is that there were a number of cases involving flea market operators that found that such operators were liable for infringing sales made by their vendors in certain circumstances. So I doubt that Tiffany’s claims are without merit. If Tiffany is successful then other lawsuits could quickly follow from copyright or trademark owners.
I noticed that there were news items back from June 2004 also mentioning a possible lawsuit by Tiffany against eBay.
A district court in Nevada has ruled (pdf) that the Google cache is fair use.
Last Saturday I got a chance to watch the Canadian second season premier of Battlestar Galactica. Of course, if you live outside of Canada, you probably had the opportunity to watch that episode several months ago on the SciFi Channel. However, most Canadians are not so privileged.
You see, notwithstanding trade agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Canada Government negotiated exemptions for its “cultural industries”. That means that US companies like DISH Network and DirectTV are not allowed to offer their services in Canada. Sometimes the result is substandard access to programming. I mean, why should Canadian broadcasters bid for first run programming when the bulk of their market can be made to wait until they acquire cheaper re-runs. This has driven hundreds of thousands of Canadians to risk criminal sanctions in order to operate a grey/black market DirectTV/DISH Network receivers or to engage in copyright infringement by downloading episodes of their favorite programs from P2P networks.
According to the NY Times:
The United States Patent and Trademark Office plans to announce today that it will cooperate with open-source software developers on three initiatives that it says will improve the quality of software patents. … Two of the initiatives would rely on recently developed Internet technologies. An open patent review program would set up a system on the patent office Web site where visitors could submit search criteria and subscribe to electronic alerts about patent applications in specific areas. The third initiative is focused on the creation of a patent quality index that would serve as a tool for patent applicants to use in writing their applications.
Business Week has a viewpoint article, written by a former scientist (who owns some 70 patents) and current VC, about how the current US patent system is hurting innovation. According to Greg Blonder:
The patent system was designed to encourage the free flow of ideas, in exchange for a temporary monopoly. Not all ideas, however, are worth pursuing, worth defending, or worth backing financially. And this gets to what, at bottom, is wrong with the patent system: We issue patents too easily for trivial ideas, thus diminishing protection for true breakthrough ideas.
According to the New York Times, the USPTO has notified both NTP and Research in Motion, the maker of the BlackBerry wireless e-mail device, that the technology patents at the heart of an infringement lawsuit by NTP against RIM are likely to be struck down. The office has issued preliminary rejections of all five wireless e-mail patents in the past. The final rulings may come by mid-February, earlier than expected.
Not too long ago, many universities started taking a more serious interest in the value of the collaborative research they conduct. Such interest however has been steadily slowing down the time it takes to negotiate new deals as each party tries to “protect” its intellectual property rights. To address this problem, a number of technology companies (I.B.M., Hewlett-Packard, Intel and Cisco) and American universities (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the Georgia Institute of Technology and the universities of Stanford, California at Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon, Illinois and Texas) have agreed on principles for making software developed in collaborative projects freely available. The guidelines and framework for the agreement will posted this week at www.ibm.com/university, and at the Kauffman foundation’s site, www.kauffman.org.
From the New York Times.
Wireless e-mail software provider, Visto, joined Good Technology and Nokia in licensing NTP’s patents. Maybe the reason was legal. However, it likely was also done for marketing reasons. It helps put additional pressure on Research in Motion, makers of the Blackberry, and the ongoing publicity regarding the dispute causes more people to look at competitive solutions.
New York Times – Blackberry Dispute Aids Rivals