Electronic Frontier Foundation Targets ‘Abusive’ Patents

As part of its “Patent Busting Project,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) yesterday released its “Ten Most Wanted” patents — patents it claims pose the greatest threat to the public domain.

At its web site, the EFF has posted a “wanted poster” that mimics those found on post office walls. “Wanted,” the poster declares, “by EFF Marshals” for “crimes against the public domain; willful ignorance of prior art; and egregious display of obviousness.”

Patent offenders listed by EFF are Acacia Research, Clear Channel Entertainment, Acceris Communications, Sheldon F. Goldberg, Ideaflood, Neomedia Technologies, Test.com, Nintendo, Firepond and Seer Systems.

Dangerously Overbroad

“All the most-wanted patents are dangerously overbroad; many pose a threat to freedom of expression online,” the EFF said in a statement. “And every single one of the targeted patents is held by an entity that has threatened or brought lawsuits against small businesses, individuals, or nonprofits.”

According to Staff Attorney Jason Schultz, the EFF culled its most wanted list from nearly 200 suggestions submitted to its patent busting web site. “These 10 were the most egregious violators,” he told TechNewsWorld.

He explained that three criteria were used to screen candidates for the list. First was the broadness of the patent.

Threats and Intimidation

“These patents appear to be overbroad,” he said. “They claim to own some huge part of the architecture of the Internet or some basic software practice.”

The second benchmark used by EFF, he continued, was that the patents were being used to intimidate or threaten individuals, small businesses and nonprofits. “Basically, folks who can’t afford to handle a $400 an hour patent lawyer to defend themselves and are forced to cave in to the demands of the patent holder,” he said.

The final standard for picking perpetrators for the list was their patent’s threat to “the tools of free expression.”

Motives Unclear

“A lot of the patents on the list deal with voice over IP or streaming media or other technologies for people to express themselves,” Schultz explained. “If someone owns a monopoly on tools of speech, then that is going to inhibit speech and chill speech.”

For some companies on the EFF’s patent hit list, the organization’s accusations were a surprising development.

“Seer is not clear about the motives behind EFF’s decision to place Seer on its list today,” Stanley Jungleib, the sole principle in the Portola Valley, California-based company told TechNewsWorld in an e-mail message. “In truth, Seer is a small company that invested all it could to develop valuable technology only to have others try to take it away without authority for their commercial gain.”

Attacks Inaccurate

“Putting a stop to this by the proper exercise of legal rights is all that Seer is trying to do,” he continued. “EFF never contacted Seer about how its technology is being illegally exploited or why it thinks it is wrong to stop others from violating the law and acting unfairly.”

According to Jim Posch, CEO of Test Central, the Cleveland, Ohio-based concern that operates Test.com, the EFF attack on his company contains many inaccuracies.

“They’re portraying our company as one with this overreaching silly patent,” he told TechNewsWorld. “They claim that we’re claiming that everyone that does testing on the Internet has to pay us a licensing fee. That’s not true.”

Motives Questioned

Posch, in a letter sent to the EFF yesterday, a copy of which has been obtained by TechNewsWorld, questioned the motives of the organization for stigmatizing Test Central.

“[B]ecause of your organization’s close association to various universities and large corporate benefactors/donors, it would seem to me you should disclose the potential conflicts of interest,” the letter said. “These organizations significantly benefit by you originating this ‘mud slinging’ and ‘attack ad’ campaign.”

Charles T. Jensen, CEO of NeoMedia in Fort Myers, Florida also defended his company’s patents. “We believe our patents are powerful patents,” he told TechNewsWorld. “We’re not in the business to put people out of business; we just want to collect revenue from an ongoing royalty statement from people.”

The EFF’s Schultz explained that the group’s next step would be to gather “prior art” to discredit the originality of the patents on its most wanted list. When it has sufficient prior art, it will file requests with the U.S. Patent Office to reexamine the patents, and hopefully have them revoked.

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