Lots of blogs have been doing top ten lists or posts pondering their past year or resolving to do more in 2008. That is not my style.* But Wired’s top ten list of startups to watch in 2008 caught my eye because of a Chicago connection – click here for the entire list. Second on the list (alphabetically) is Chicago company 37Signals, a company that makes a suite of personal and business management software. I am trying out their web-based calendar and organization tool Backpack and, so far, I have been impressed. Here is what Wired says about 37Signals:
There’s a reason nobody ever uses the phrase, “It’s as simple as computer programming.” But Chicago’s 37Signals has made life simpler for programmers and small businesses alike with products such as Basecamp (project management software) and an increasingly popular open source web framework called Ruby on Rails. The company ditches the philosophy of “more features, more better” in favor of simplicity and accessibility: Focus only on the most important features and make things easier to use. The company itself embodies its keep-it-simple philosophy: Fewer than 10 staffers, working from humble offices, create programs quickly and nimbly adapt them based on user feedback. 37Signals released version 2.0 of Ruby on Rails in December, which should give many programmers a happy new year.
Founders: Jason Fried, Ernest Kim, Carlos Segura
Funding: Undisclosed sum from Bezos Expeditions
Employees: 8
* I will say that the Blog’s top two stories of the year were without question the Patent Reform Act and Trading Technologies v. eSpeed.
For some other good IP-related top ten or end of the year lists, check out:
Patent Docs (Top fifteen Patent Docs stories of the year, 11-15, 6-10 and 1-5)
Patently-O (Hal Wegner’s top ten 2008 patent cases)
TinyTech IP (Top ten nanotechnology patents)

Continue Reading Chicago’s 37Signals One to Watch in 2008

On Friday, I promised an explanation of what was included in the Patent Reform Act passed by the House. As I was preparing to write it, I found that Patent Docs had done it already. Patent Docs’ strong feelings about the Act shine through their analysis, but whether you agree with their position or not, their explanation of the Act’s various components is very thorough. Thanks for doing my work for me Mr. Noonan.

Continue Reading House Patent Reform Act Explained

The House of Representatives passed the Patent Reform Act 225-175 this afternoon.  I have not been able to find the final version of the bill yet or any information on the final version of the venue and damages provisions, but it appears that the bill includes revisions to current law in both areas.  I will

I, along with many others, blogged last week that the Patent Reform Act had stalled in Congress. But Congress has changed its mind and today the House is debating its version of the bill (available here). And experts expect some version of the bill to be passed by the House at the end of today’s debate. You can find an excellent summary of key amendments to the House bill at Tech Daily Dose. If you want a list of each amendment to the bill, by Congressperson, go to the House website. And it should come as no surprise that with the Patent Reform Act moving forward again both the MSM and blogs are full of commentary. Here is some of the best:
Chicago Tribune surveys the opinions of some Chicago-area companies.
271 Patent Blog weighs in with the President’s view and a survey of news stories on the Act.
FileWrapper says that the House will likely pass some form of the Patent Reform Act today, but that the Senate is not expected to consider it until October.
IP Central is watching the House debate on CSPAN and says that most of it centers on procedural issues, not substance.

Continue Reading It’s Alive: Patent Reform Act Being Debated in the House

My recent story about Ebert’s use of his “Two Thumbs Up” has been receiving a lot of attention (and I even scooped the Sun-Times):
Likelihood of Confusion — Ron Coleman agrees with E. Leonard Rubin, interviewed in the Chicago Tribune today, who says that the written “Two Thumbs Up” mark is pretty strong.
Robert Feder of the Chicago Sun-Times — Feder says that the “Two Thumbs Up” mark is “the most powerful and influential symbol in movie marketing.”
The fact that the Patent Reform Act has stalled in Congress, which I discussed earlier this week, has been picked up by several blogs:
Maryland IP Law Blog — Citing my post.
Patently-O — Dennis Crouch says that the Patent Reform Act is not just stalled, it is dead.
271 Patent Blog — Leads with a great Simpsons’ quote in saying the Act is on hold.

Continue Reading Chicago IP Blog in the News

The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday (subscription required) that patent reform is stalled. I blogged last month – Can Patent Reform Cross the Finish Line? – that it appeared that the patent reform efforts in this Congress were in trouble because the reform proponents were not maintaining a unified position. The WSJ’s article suggests that my analysis was correct, although the WSJ focuses on a new critic of the reform legislation – the AFL-CIO. The AFL-CIO argues that the Patent Reform Act of 2007* will cost America, and specifically the AFL-CIO’s members, high tech manufacturing and production jobs. The union is concerned that patent reform would weaken the U.S. patent system, thereby causing high tech manufacturers to send their manufacturing and production work overseas where they will receive relatively stronger patent protection. It is an interesting view on the reform issue that, judging from other blog posts, most people in the IP community had not considered: FileWrapper.
* For more analysis of the Patent Reform Act of 2007 check out the Blog’s archives or the Maryland IP Law Blog’s excellent five part series on the Act: 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5.

Continue Reading Is the Patent Reform Act Stalled?

Last Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee began marking up the Patent Reform Act. At the beginning of the Committee’s public markup session, Committee Chairman Leahy (D-Vt.) stated that he wanted to finish the markup Thursday, vote on the bill and send it to the full Senate. The Committee, however, only got through two amendments, one of which was a “manager’s amendment” which just includes technical/clerical revisions.” And Leahy, prodded by several Republican senators and Dianne Feinstein (D-Ca.), agreed to provide the Committee additional time to consider the Act further. The one substantive amendment (which you can read here) further limited venue in patent cases. The amendment was strongly worded stating that in any patent case:
. . . a party shall not manufacture venue by assignment, incorporation, or otherwise to invoke the venue of a specific district court.
This preamble language is very interesting. It has the potential to lead to a big increase in initial motion practice in which defendants argue that whatever entity sues them was created to create venue in the jurisdiction. But this problem is seemingly resolved because in almost all cases plaintiff’s principal place of business or state of incorporation will not create venue, it will almost always be based upon defendant’s footprint and infringing activities. The amendment goes on to specify that venue would be proper:
1. where defendant has a principal place of business or is incorporated;
2. where defendant has committed “substantial” infringing acts and maintains a physical facility constituting a “substantial portion” of defendant’s operations; or
3. where plaintiff resides, if plaintiff is a university or an individual inventor.
The 271 Patent Blog also has a good post on the markup.

Continue Reading Patent Reform Act: Senators Limit Venue

Intel’s General Counsel, Bruce Sewell, had an interesting commentary piece in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal: Patent Nonsense (because it is from the Op/Ed pages, I do not think a subscription is required). On the day that the Senate Judiciary Committee renewed its consideration of the Patent Reform Act of 2007, Sewell makes many of the arguments that led to the changes proposed by the Act. Sewell argues that the number of patent law suits is increasing, damages awards are rising (he states that there have been at least four settlements or judgments in excess of $500M in the last five years) and the more and more “questionable, loosely defined patents” are being issued. Sewell’s remedies to these problems include:
limiting damages to the patented component not the entire product (i.e., a patentee’s damages should be based on its patented engine component, not the entire car);
strong post-grant PTO review;
strengthening of venue requirements so that suits must be brought in a forum with an actual connection to the alleged infringement; and
requiring a showing of actual bad faith for a willfulness finding.
Sewell also argues that the allegedly increasing number of “questionable, loosely defined patents” chills research and development in technology areas covered by the patents. But I am not sure this argument is correct. In my experience, a patentee, assignee or exclusive licensee with a broad patent tends to assert its patent when the technology is developed and a large chunk of the research investments have already been made. That is the point when the alleged infringers have developed a market and, therefore, potential damages. So, while I am all in favor of careful examination by the PTO (as are most people involved in this debate, I think), I am not sure that the problem with the broad, questionable patents is that they chill research and development investment.

Continue Reading The Case for Patent Reform

In yesterday’s edition, the Chicago Tribune published a commentary on the Patent Reform Act of 2007 by Cummins-Allison Corp.’s Chairman William J. Jones — Cummins-Allison is based in Mt. Prospect, Illinois and develops and distributes coin and currency handling/counting machines. Jones has strong feelings about the Act and offers some unique opinions. First, he is against “harmonizing” US law with international patent laws, arguing that the European and Japanese systems are “parochial.” He also makes the, in my experience unfair although widely held, argument that the Chinese system “specializes in intellectual property theft.” I believe if you look at recent Chinese cases or the experts on Chinese IP law — like the excellent IP Dragon — you will see that China has become increasingly willing to protect the intellectual property of foreign entities, as long as the entities have invested in the necessary Chinese patents, trademarks, etc.
Jones notes that at the recent Congressional hearings, no manufacturing firms testified, despite some interesting statistics:
U.S. manufacturers undertake 60 to 70 percent of the nation’s research and development and hold 60 percent of its patents.
* * *
. . . . Roughly one-third of all patent applications are made by independent inventors, small manufacturers, universities and non-profit research groups. Their efforts are crucial for leading-edge scientific advances, and their views should be heard.
Jones is against the proposed post-grant review process because he believes it will diminish the value of patents by making their strength very uncertain. He also suggests that instead of giving an “overburdened” PTO broad, new rule-making powers, Congress should fully fund the PTO so that it can hire and retain a high quality staff of sufficient size to expedite the prosecution of patent applications. Finally, Jones points to what he believes is the diverse opposition to the Act, which he argues warrants taking the time for additional, robust debate.
Jones has some very strong views, not all of which I agree with. But I do not see how additional debate and discussion could harm the Act at this point. There are some strong dissenting voices, the Federal Circuit’s Judge Michel for example.

Continue Reading A Dissenting Voice on Patent Reform