Patents

The Supreme Court Is Cracking Down on Patent Trolls (fortune.com) 76

The Supreme Court on Monday limited the ability of patent holders to bring infringement lawsuits in courts that have plaintiff friendly reputations, a notable decision that could provide a boost to companies that defend against patent claims. The high court, in an opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas, ruled unanimously that a lower court has been following an incorrect legal standard for almost 30 years that made it possible for patent holders to sue companies in almost any U.S. jurisdiction. From a report: The justices sided 8-0 (PDF) with beverage flavoring company TC Heartland in its legal battle with food and beverage company Kraft Heinz, ruling that patent infringement suits can be filed only in courts located in the jurisdiction where the targeted company is incorporated. Justice Neil Gorsuch did not participate in the decision. The decision overturned a ruling last year by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, a Washington-based patent court, that said patent suits are fair game anywhere a defendant company's products are sold.
Government

Julian Assange Still Faces Legal Jeopardy In Three Countries (chicagotribune.com) 192

Though Sweden dropped an investigation into rape allegations against Julian Assange, "I can conclude, based on the evidence, that probable cause for this crime still exists," chief prosecutor Marianne Ny told reporters in Stockholm. An anonymous reader quotes Newsweek: Ny stressed in her statement Friday that the investigation could be reopened before the statute of limitations on the case expires in 2020. If Assange "went into British custody, then the Swedes may well revisit their decision ⦠as extradition is suddenly easier", tweeted legal expert David Allen Green. Assange failed to answer a bail hearing when he took refuge in the embassy, resulting in an active warrant for his arrest by London's Metropolitan Police, punishable by up to a year in prison. Foremost of Assange's concerns is possible extradition to the U.S., where he he could be detained on espionage charges... Ecuador has offered Assange asylum should he be able to leave Britain.
Meanwhile, The Chicago Tribune reports that "a federal inquiry is widely assumed to be underway by prosecutors in Virginia." According to a former senior Justice Department official, who requested anonymity to discuss the Assange case, American authorities are now presented with a "cat and mouse game." "The decision on whether to indict him rests largely on whether they can get their hands on him," the former official said. Indicting the head of an organization such as WikiLeaks presents a huge number of First Amendment issues, but the Trump White House has indicated such issues may be less of a hurdle than during previous administrations. Prosecutors could seek a sealed indictment -- or may have one already -- to be unveiled if and when Assange strays within reach of American law enforcement, the former official said.
United States

Aftermath From The Net Neutrality Vote: A Mass Movement To Protect The Open Internet? (mashable.com) 125

After Thursday's net neutrality vote, two security guards pinned a reporter against a wall until FCC Commissioner Michael O'Rielly had left the room, the Los Angeles Times reports. The Writers Guild of America calls the FCC's 2-to-1 vote to initiate a repeal of net neutrality rules a "war on the open internet," according to The Guardian. But the newspaper now predicts that online activists will continue their massive campaign "as the month's long process of reviewing the rules begins." The Hill points out that Mozilla is already hiring a high-profile tech lobbyist to press for both cybersecurity and an open internet, and in a blog post earlier this week the Mozilla Foundation's executive director sees a larger movement emerging from the engagement of millions of internet users. Today's support for net neutrality isn't the start of the Internet health movement. People have been standing up for an open web since its inception -- by advocating for browser choice, for open source practices, for mass surveillance reform. But net neutrality is an opportunity to propel this movement into the mainstream... If we make Internet health a mainstream issue, we can cement the web as a public resource. If we don't, mass surveillance, exclusion and insecurity can creep into every aspect of society. Hospitals held hostage by rogue hackers can become the status quo.
Meanwhile, The Guardian reports that it's not till the end of the FCC's review process that "a final FCC vote will decide the future of internet regulation," adding that however they vote, "court challenges are inevitable."
Crime

Sweden Drops Julian Assange Rape Investigation (cnn.com) 186

rmdingler writes: "Sweden is dropping its investigation into WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on rape allegations, according to a prosecution statement released Friday," reports CNN. "Assange, who has always denied wrongdoing, has been holed up at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since 2012, in an effort to avoid a Swedish arrest warrant." Despite Friday's announcement, he's unlikely to walk out of the embassy imminently. There is no apparent change in the risk of being detained in the west, particularly in the U.S., but it's definitely a win for Assange. Joshua.Niland adds: The pressure on Julian Assange may have lifted ever so slightly with Swedish prosecutors dropping their investigation into the allegations of rape. A brief statement ahead of a press conference by the prosecutor later on Friday said: "Director of Public Prosecution, Ms Marianne Ny, has today decided to discontinue the investigation regarding suspected rape (lesser degree) by Julian Assange." This will not likely deter the United States from pursuing their own charges against him for publishing tens of thousands of military documents leaked by Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning. After describing the development as "an important victory," Assange said, "[...] it by no means erases seven years of detention without charge under house arrest and almost five years here in this embassy without sunlight. Seven years without charge while my children grow up without me. That is not something I can forgive. It is not something I can forget."
Businesses

Uber Threatens To Fire Engineer Accused of Stealing Trade Secrets From Waymo (gizmodo.com) 39

Uber's general counsel Salle Yoo has warned Anthony Levandowski that if he doesn't return the files he's accused of stealing from Google's self-driving car unit and using them to develop similar technology at Uber, or open deny taking them, he could be fired. Gizmodo reports: Uber's general counsel Salle Yoo warned Levandowski in a letter sent Monday and made public last night that, if he didn't return the stolen files or openly deny taking them, he could be fired. The letter is a result of a court order issued Monday, and Levandowski has until the end of the month to comply. "We understand that this letter requires you to turn over information wherever located, including but not limited to, your personal devices, and to waive any Fifth Amendment protection you may have," Yoo wrote. "While we have respected your personal liberties, it is our view that the Court's Order requires us to make these demands of you." Despite the allegations against him, Levandowski's job at Uber has been protected so far by his reputation as a rising star in the self-driving industry and his close friendship with CEO Travis Kalanick, who called Levandowski his brother from another mother. However, Yoo's letter hints that the tide at Uber may be turning against Levandowsk -- in addition to demanding he return Waymo's documents, Yoo also asks Levandowski to return any Uber files he may have and to only use Uber-issued devices for work, where his actions will be monitored. "If you have not fully complied with our prior request to return all Uber-owned documents in your possession, custody, or control, you must immediately return all such documents to us," Yoo wrote.
United States

Federal Agents Used a Stingray To Track an Immigrant's Phone (detroitnews.com) 103

An anonymous reader shares a report: Investigators from Immigration and Custom Enforcement as well as the FBI have been using controversial cell-spoofing devices to secretly track down undocumented immigrants, court records show. According to a report the Detroit News, which obtained an unsealed federal search warrant affidavit, FBI and ICE agents in Michigan used a Stingray device to ensnare a restaurant worker from El Salvador in March. The devices, which were originally intended for counter-terrorism use, have come under fire because there are currently no clear rules governing when law enforcement is allowed to deploy them. Even in cases where authorities have a clear target in mind, they run the risk of exposing personal information of other innocent people in range. Until 2015, Federal investigators were free to deploy the devices without a search warrant. At that point the Justice Department laid out a policy requiring investigators get approval to use the devices first.
Transportation

Americans No Longer Have To Register Non-Commercial Drones With the FAA (recode.net) 113

A federal appeals court on Friday struck down a federal rule that required owners of recreational drones and other model aircraft to register the devices with the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA had announced the rule in 2015 in response to growing reports of drones flying near manned aircraft and airports. Drones have become increasingly popular with hobbyists and more than 550,000 unmanned aircraft were registered within the first year it was required. From a report: The court ruled that the FAA's drone registration rules, which have been in place since 2015, were in violation of a law passed by Congress in 2012. That law, the FAA Modernization and Reform Act, prohibited the FAA from passing any rules on the operation of model aircraft -- in other words, rules that restrict how non-commercial hobbyist drone operators fly. Now, if a person buys a new drone to fly for fun, they no longer have to register that aircraft with the FAA. But if flying for commercial purposes, drone buyers still need to register. The lawsuit was won by John Taylor, a model aircraft enthusiast, who brought the case against the FAA in January 2016. Since first opening the FAA's registration system in December 2015, more than 820,000 people have registered to fly drones.
Education

Elsevier Wants $15 Million In 'Piracy' Damages From Sci-Hub and Libgen (torrentfreak.com) 157

lbalbalba writes: Elsevier, one of the largest academic publishers, is demanding $15 million in damages from Sci-Hub and LibGen, who make paywalled scientific research papers freely available to the public [without permission]. A good chunk of these papers are copyrighted, many by Elsevier. Elsevier has requested a default judgment of $15 million against the defendants for their "truly egregious conduct" and "staggering" infringement. Sci-Hub's efforts are backed by many prominent scholars, who argue that tax-funded research should be accessible to everyone. Others counter that the site doesn't necessarily help the "open access" movement move forward. Sci-Hub's founder Alexandra Elbakyan defends her position and believes that what she does is helping millions of less privileged researchers to do their work properly by providing free access to research results.
Facebook

EU Fines Facebook $122 Million Over Misleading Information On WhatsApp Deal (siliconrepublic.com) 31

On Thursday, the European Union's powerful antitrust chief fined Facebook 110 million euros, or about $122 million, for giving misleading statements during the company's $19 billion acquisition of the internet messaging service WhatsApp in 2014. From a report: During the review process, the EC discussed the possibility of Facebook matching its users' accounts with WhatsApp users' accounts, to which Facebook replied that it "would be unable to establish reliable automated matching" between the two. Since then, though, the company has found a way, and it seems pretty straightforward. Unhappy with this, the EC today revealed a "proportionate and deterrent fine." How it acts as a deterrent, however, is unclear. Facebook was at risk of a fine totalling 1 percent of its turnover, which would have been closer to 200 million euros, but the figure was lower due to its compliance during the investigation. "The commission has found that, contrary to Facebook's statements in the 2014 merger review process, the technical possibility of automatically matching Facebook and WhatsApp users' identities already existed in 2014, and that Facebook staff were aware of such a possibility," the EC said.
Communications

Google's Balloons Connect Flood-hit Peru (bbc.com) 16

An anonymous reader writes: "Tens of thousands" of Peruvians have been getting online using Project Loon, the ambitious connectivity project from Google's parent company, Alphabet. Project Loon uses tennis court-sized balloons carrying a small box of equipment to beam internet access to a wide area below. The team told the BBC they had been testing the system in Peru when serious floods hit in January, and so the technology was opened up to people living in three badly-hit cities. Until now, only small-scale tests of the technology had taken place. Project Loon is in competition with other attempts to provide internet from the skies, including Facebook's Aquila project which is being worked on in the UK. Project Loon recently announced it had figured out how to use artificial intelligence (AI) to "steer" the balloons by raising or lowering them to piggy-back weather streams. It was this discovery that enabled the company to use just a "handful" of balloons to connect people in Lima, Chimbote, and Piura. The balloons were launched from the US territory of Puerto Rico before being guided south.
Businesses

Qualcomm Sues Apple Contract Manufacturers (reuters.com) 56

Qualcomm on Wednesday sued the manufacturers that make iPhones for Apple for failing to pay royalties on the chip maker's technology, widening its legal battle with the world's most valuable company. Qualcomm's lawsuit, filed Wednesday in a federal district court in San Diego, accuses Compal, Foxconn, Pegatron, and Wistron of breaching longstanding patent-licensing agreements with Qualcomm by halting royalty payments on Qualcomm technology used in iPhones and iPads. From a report: Apple sued Qualcomm in January, accusing it of overcharging for chips and refusing to pay some $1 billion in promised rebates. Qualcomm said in the complaint that Apple is trying to force the company to agree to a "unreasonable demand for a below-market direct license." Qualcomm said last month that Apple had decided to withhold royalty payments to its contract manufacturers that are owed to the chipmaker, for sales made in the first quarter of 2017, until the dispute is resolved in court. "While not disputing their contractual obligations to pay for the use of Qualcomm's inventions, the manufacturers say they must follow Apple's instructions not to pay," Qualcomm said in a statement on Wednesday.
Crime

Chelsea Manning Set To Be Released From Prison, 28 Years Early (nbcnews.com) 540

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NBC News: Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning is set to walk out of prison Wednesday -- but she won't be entirely free. Manning's 35-year sentence for leaking an enormous trove of military intelligence records was commuted by President Barack Obama in January. But Manning is still appealing her conviction in a case that could take years, and the government has yet to respond to the appeal. And all the while, Private First Class Manning, 29, will remain an active duty soldier in the U.S. Army. She won't be paid a salary, and it's highly unlikely that she will be called to serve. But being placed on voluntary excess leave rather than discharged, says one of her attorneys, makes her vulnerable to new military punishment or charges if she steps out of line. Such an offense could be anything from getting into a fistfight to revealing previously unreleased classified information. Manning could even get into trouble with the military for speaking and writing. The Army private then known as Bradley Manning was just 22-year-old when she leaked nearly 750,000 military files and cables to WikiLeaks. Manning was court-martialed and sentenced in 2013 to 35 years in prison, with opportunity for parole after seven years served. n a statement given to the TODAY show the day after sentencing, Manning came out as a transgender woman. Last Tuesday, in Manning's first official statement about her plans after prison, she said, "I can see a future for myself as Chelsea."
Businesses

UploadVR Had a 'Kink Room,' Pressured Female Employees To 'Microdose,' Alleges Lawsuit (gizmodo.com) 444

The virtual-reality company UploadVR is being sued by the company's former Director of Digital and Social Media for rampant sexual harassment. According to Gizmodo, "the lawsuit alleges that the company's employees and founders created a hostile work environment in which sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and retaliation occurred on a regular basis." From the report: In the suit documents, the former Director of Digital and Social Media for UploadVR claims that the office environment was a "boy's club" that employees expressly referred to as a "boy's club." From the suit: "Specifically, the male employees of UploadVR, including Mason and Freeman, would discuss their sexual exploits in graphic detail at the workplace in front of Plaintiff and other female employees. For instance, UploadVR employee [name redacted]'s sex life was a frequent topic of conversation. The other male employees would talk about how he 'refuses to wear a condom' and 'has had sex with over 1000 people.'" The documents also claim that employees were engaged in Silicon Valley's hot new trend of "microdosing" and "using Marijuana in the office." When female employees didn't want to participate, they would be ostracized by the male employees and excluded from important meetings and lunches.
Facebook

ZeniMax Is Suing Samsung After Winning Its Case Against Oculus (cnn.com) 78

Games company ZeniMax successfully sued Facebook-owned Oculus for $500 million earlier this year, and now it has a new target in sight: Samsung. The company has filed a new lawsuit over Samsung's Gear VR headset, claiming that "Samsung knowingly profited from Oculus technology that was first developed at ZeniMax, then misappropriated by Oculus executive John Carmack," reports The Verge. From the report: Carmack, whose company id Software was acquired by ZeniMax in 2009, was one of the driving forces behind the Gear VR. While the headset was released by Samsung, it's described as "powered by Oculus," with heavy software optimizations developed by Carmack. But the lawsuit alleges that Carmack owed much of his success at Oculus to software he developed as part of a team at ZeniMax. Among other things, the Texas court filing claims that Carmack secretly brought Oculus (and former ZeniMax) employee Matt Hooper into id Software's offices to develop an "attack plan" for mobile VR, which Oculus would later take to Samsung. The Samsung Gear VR was also built on some of the same code as the Oculus Rift, which was the subject of ZeniMax's earlier lawsuit. ZeniMax's basic argument is that Samsung would have been aware of the lawsuit against Oculus, which was filed during the initial development of the Gear VR. But "Samsung continued to develop the Gear VR with full knowledge of ZeniMax's allegations and without obtaining any right or permission from ZeniMax to use any of its copyrights or other confidential information." The new lawsuit officially accuses Samsung of copyright infringement for using ZeniMax VR code in the Gear VR, as well as trade secret misappropriation, unfair competition, and unjust enrichment.
The Courts

Judge's Order Bars Uber Engineer From LiDAR Work, Demands Returns of Stolen Files (arstechnica.com) 43

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: A U.S. federal judge has ordered Uber to bar its top self-driving car engineer from any work on LiDAR, and return stolen files to Google's self-driving car unit Waymo. Today's order by U.S. District Judge William Alsup demands Uber do "whatever it can to ensure that its employees return 14,000-plus pilfered files to their rightful owner." The files must be returned by May 31. The order was granted last week, but just made public in an unsealed document this morning. U.S. District Judge William Alsup found that Uber "likely knew or at least should have known" that the man it hired as its top self-driving car engineer, Anthony Levandowski, took and kept more than 14,000 Waymo files. Those files "likely contain at least some trade secrets," making some "provisional relief" for Waymo appropriate. Levandowski has previously asserted his Fifth Amendment rights with respect to his possession of the files. "If Uber were to threaten Levandowski with termination for noncompliance, that threat would be backed up by only Uber's power as a private employer, and Levandowski would remain free to forfeit his private employment to preserve his Fifth Amendment privilege," Alsup wrote. Several factors limit the amount of relief Waymo might receive. First of all, in the judge's view, not all of the 121 elements that Waymo defines as "trade secrets" are really trade secrets. Additionally, the judge has slapped aside Waymo's patent infringement accusations as "meritless."
The Almighty Buck

Up To 1.4M More Fake Wells Fargo Accounts Possible (siliconvalley.com) 91

An anonymous reader quotes the Bay Area Newsgroup: Wells Fargo may have opened as many as 3.5 million bogus bank accounts without its customers' permission, attorneys for customers suing the bank have alleged in a court filing, suggesting the bank may have created far more fake accounts than previously indicated. The plaintiffs' new estimate of bogus bank accounts is about 1.4 million, or 67%, higher than the original estimate -- disclosed last year as part of a settlement with regulators -- that up to 2.1 million accounts were opened without customers' permission... The attorneys covered a period from 2002 to 2017, rather than the previously scrutinized five-year stretch from 2011 to some time in 2016 in which the bank acknowledged setting up unauthorized accounts.
Wells Fargo terminated 5,300 employees for creating fake accounts, and their CEO now acknowledges that "we had an incentive program and a high-pressure sales culture within our community bank that drove behavior that many times was inappropriate and inconsistent with our values." In a possibly-related story, Wells Fargo plans to shut 450 branches over the next two years.
Businesses

Sprint Sues FCC For 'Capricious' Deregulation of Business Data Services (bizjournals.com) 19

An anonymous reader writes: Sprint and another wireless company have filed a lawsuit against the Federal Communications Commission for the agency's recent decision on business data services. Overland Park-based Sprint and Arkansas-based Windstream Services filed the petition for review earlier this week, seeking relief "on the grounds that the Report and Order is arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion," according to a filing in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The lawsuit is based on an April 20 vote by the FCC to deregulate its business data services, among them wireless backhaul services, which are crucial for transmitting large amounts of data quickly. Sprint had supported the price caps proposed under former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, as the carrier pays companies like AT&T, Verizon and CenturyLink to use their bandwidth to bridge gaps in the Sprint network during backhaul services. Although Sprint did not report the breakdown of these costs in its annual filing, the carrier noted that they are "a significant cost for our wireless and wireline segments."
The Courts

Waymo's Case Against Uber Sent By Judge To US Prosecutors (bloomberg.com) 52

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: The judge presiding over Waymo's trade-secrets theft lawsuit against Uber Technologies Inc. asked federal prosecutors to investigate the claims in the case. U.S. District Judge William Alsup said in Thursday's order he takes no position on whether prosecution is warranted. The specter of a possible prosecution has hung over the case for weeks, ever since the engineer at the center of the dispute, Anthony Levandowski, said he could potentially be the subject of a criminal investigation. Levandowski cited the explosive allegations that he downloaded thousands of proprietary files at the Alphabet Inc. unit before he left. He later joined the ride-hailing giant. Alsup said at a May 3 hearing that Waymo hadn't presented "smoking gun" proof of wrongdoing by Uber even though the evidence strongly suggested that Levandowski downloaded files that Waymo accused him of stealing. The judge's brief order referring case to the U.S. attorney's office made reference to a ruling he issued a few minutes earlier -- sealed from public view -- with a detailed description of evidence.
Google

German Publishers' Lawsuit Against Google May Backfire (npr.org) 29

jowifi writes: VG Media, a German publishing company, filed a lawsuit against Google claiming Google's use of snippets in their search results infringed the publishers' copyrights. However, the suit may backfire because the Berlin court is now reviewing the law itself to determine if it is even valid. The question arose because Germany did not submit the rule for review by the EU before enacting it, violating an EU Directive. If the law is invalidated, the decision could present problems for a proposed EU-wide directive that is similar to the German rule. Germany's rule had a rough start when it was implemented in 2014. Google refused to pay fees to publishers, instead allowing them to opt in to having snippets shown. One publisher declined to opt in, but changed their mind after traffic from Google dropped 40% and traffic from Google News dropped 80%. Handelsblatt Global explains why Germany decided not to notify the EU about the draft of this law: "While typically a formality, notification reviews of national laws by Brussels can take up to two years or more. In 2013, Germany did not submit the copyright law for notification, citing a Justice Ministry argument that the law's scope was so limited, it didn't fall under the E.U.'s notification requirement."
Patents

Cloudflare Declares War On a Patent Troll With a $50,000 Bounty (fortune.com) 54

Internet security company Cloudflare has declared war on a company called Blackbird that consists of a group of lawyers who file patent lawsuits against tech and retail firms. In a blog post titled "Standing Up to a Dangerous New Breed of Patent Troll," Cloudflare called Blackbird's business model destruction and unethical, and announced a $50,000 bounty to anyone who would help invalidate Blackbird's patents. Fortune reports: "There's no social value here. There's no support for a maligned inventor. There's no competing business or product. There's no validation of an incentive structure that supports innovation. This is a shakedown where a patent troll, Blackbird Tech, creates as much nuisance as it can so its attorney-principals can try to grab some cash. Cloudflare does not intend to play along," said the blog post. While patent trolling has been around for years -- and is a particular bug bear of the tech industry -- Cloudflare says Blackbird's model of trolling involves a new and unethical twist. Specifically, the company says Blackbird's lawyer-executives are violating their professional obligations by buying the claims of potential clients and engaging in questionable fee-splitting arrangements. Here is how Cloudflare, which says it is filing complaints with the state bars of Massachusetts and Illinois, explains it: "Blackbird's 'new model' seems to be only that its operations set out to distort the traditional Attorney-Client relationship. Blackbird's website makes a direct pitch of its legal services to recruit clients with potential claims and then, instead of taking them on as a client, purchases their claims and provides additional consideration that likely gives the client an ongoing interest in the resulting litigation. In doing so, Blackbird is flouting its ethical obligations meant to protect clients and distorting the judicial process by obfuscating and limiting potential counterclaims against the real party in interest."

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