Technology and I.P.

  • April 3, 2012

    by Nicole Flatow

    Responding to the concerns of 39 attorneys general over the impact of piracy on the U.S. manufacturing industry, a bipartisan group of senators has asked the Federal Trade Commission to “use all tools at your disposal to fight the theft of and use of stolen American manufacturing information technology (IT) and intellectual property (IP).”

    The request comes in response to a November letter from the National Association of Attorneys General that asked the FTC to help the AGs combat piracy by deploying a section of the Federal Trade Commission Act that prohibits unfair methods of competition.

    “Competition is the bedrock of free enterprise,” they write. “Competition is unfairly distorted, however, when a manufacturer gains a cost advantage by using stolen information technology, whether in its business operations or manufacturing processes. It offends our sense of fairness when such wrongdoers reap commercial advantage from their illegal acts.”

  • February 22, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The White House appears to being moving closer to revealing a strategy for addressing rising concerns over privacy breaches in cyberspace.

    Politico reports that a White House event tomorrow is “likely to set the stage for the public unveiling of the administration’s highly anticipated white paper on online privacy, which has been more than a year in the making. The white paper is expected to call for a consumer privacy bill of rights from Congress, while charging the industry to police itself under the watch of federal regulators.”

    Some commentators suggest that the administration’s policy is likely influenced, in part, by the work of the Commerce Department’s Internet Policy Task Force, which issued a green paper after a year-long review “that included extensive consultations with commercial, civil society, governmental and academic stakeholders ….”

    The paper’s forward asserts that protections of consumers’ privacy “are crucial to maintaining the consumer trust that nurtures the Internet’s growth.”

    The potential release of the administration’s plans to address privacy concerns comes admist reporting by The Wall Street Journal that the Internet advertising giant, Google, had bypassed “the privacy settings of millions of people using” Apple’s Web browser, Safari, apparently allowing Google to track “the Web-browsing habits of people who intended for that kind of monitoring to be blocked.”

  • January 19, 2012
    Creation without Restraint
    Promoting Liberty and Rivalry in Innovation
    Christina Bohannan and Herbert Hovenkamp

    By Christina Bohannan and Herbert Hovenkamp, law professors at The University of Iowa College of Law

    Promoting rivalry in innovation requires a fusion of legal policies drawn from patent, copyright, and antitrust law, as well as economics and other disciplines. Creation without Restraint looks first at the relationship between markets and innovation, noting that innovation occurs most in moderately competitive markets and that small actors are more likely to be truly creative innovators. Then we examine the problem of connected and complementary relationships, a dominant feature of high technology markets. Interconnection requirements, technological compatibility requirements, standard setting, and the relationship between durable products and aftermarket parts and supplies all involve interconnection, or “tying.” But views about the practice tend toward two extremes. Some see tying as inherently anticompetitive, while others view it as unexceptionally benign. In fact, bundling products or technologies is essential in high technology markets and most of it is socially beneficial, but some possibilities of abuse nevertheless remain. 

    Identifying good substantive legal rules for facilitating innovation is often very difficult. Two generations ago antitrust law addressed problems of complexity by shifting the focus to harm. The courts reasoned that they could often avoid unmanageable substantive doctrine by considering whether the plaintiff had suffered the appropriate kind of injury. Plaintiffs who are injured by more rather than less competition should be denied a remedy. In the case of patent and copyright law, the appropriate question is whether an infringer’s conduct served to undermine the right holder’s incentive to innovate, with incentives measured from before the innovation occurred. Some IP infringements do no harm to the incentive to innovate; others actually make the right more rather than less valuable. In these situations relief should be denied without inquiry into the merits of the infringement case.

    Patent and copyright law are both in crisis today – major problems include overissuance, overly broad and ambiguously defined protections, and rules that permit both patentees and copyright holders to make broad claims on unforeseen innovations that lie in the future. The result has been that many patents are valueless, while others have very considerable value precisely because they enclose ideas or technologies that rightfully belong in the public domain. Patent law could be greatly improved if inventions were tied to real, nonobvious technology actually in the patentee’s possession at the time its application was filed, and if patentees were obliged to give comprehensible and timely notice of their inventions. Copyright law would be greatly improved by an aggressive theory of harm that reduces the scope of the derivative works right and increases the scope of fair use. In Eldred the Supreme Court suggested that the First Amendment should not be an important copyright infringement defense because the Constitution’s IP clause and the initial copyright act were passed “close in time,” leading to an inference that Congress must have considered these concerns. But the original copyright act bears little resemblance to the expansive coverage granted by the current Act, passed almost two centuries later.

  • November 10, 2011
    Guest Post

    By Margaret Hu, a visiting assistant professor at Duke Law School. Her research focuses on immigration and surveillance policy. She previously served as special policy counsel on immigration-related discrimination in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.  

    When it comes to surveillance, size matters. In U.S. v. Jones, the GPS tracking case, the Supreme Court just might agree.On November 8, the Court heard arguments on whether the police violated the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures when it continued to monitor Mr. Jones’ car with a GPS device after the warrant expired. During oral argument, what seemed clear to the Justices is that cyber-surveillance today is not your grandma’s apple pie surveillance. With new technologies, the Justices seem to be wondering whether being watched 24/7 may one day be as common as, well, apple pie.

    Back in the day, surveillance meant being tailed. The government sent someone to follow you around. Today, technology has given the government the capacity to track both your body and biography 24/7. And it’s not just “persons of interest” anymore. With cyber-surveillance, it’s now cost-effective to track everyone.  But, is it ok for the government to check your email, google searches, and Facebook page? Skim your credit card records and purchases on Amazon? Monitor your cell phone records and smartphone locations? During U.S. v. Jones, the Supreme Court wondered aloud during oral argument whether the government could attach GPS devices to the license plates of everyone who owns a car in the entire U.S.

    This last scenario might not be as far-fetched as it sounds.

  • October 20, 2011
    Guest Post

    By Andrew Guthrie Ferguson, a professor at the University of the District of Columbia’s David A. Clarke School of Law

    In an effort to educate law students, the American Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section has established “The Citizen Amicus Project” which invites current law students to contribute their own insights to a current Supreme Court case now being decided. The goal of this brand new project is to encourage law students to contribute to a national dialogue on constitutional issues that are relevant to their lives.

    The project exists as a web-based constitutional debate about ongoing Supreme Court casesSimilar to formal amicus briefs, the Citizen Amicus Project seeks input from interested parties to help resolve constitutional issues. The goal is to provide a focused opportunity for law students to contribute to a national legal question that affects law students. 

    This first iteration of the Citizen Amicus Project focuses on the Fourth Amendment. Under current Fourth Amendment doctrine many of the Supreme Court’s determinations turn on what society considers objectively “reasonable.” What is objectively reasonable, of course, is a contested issue, and law students can weigh in on this standard as well as any other subset of Americans.

    More specifically, the 2011-2012 Project focuses on the Fourth Amendment questions arising out of warrantless GPS surveillance. Almost all law students own cell phones, computers, and GPS devices that can be tracked and, thus, personally can understand the liberty interests at stake in warrantless tracking. 

    In November, the Supreme Court will hear United States v. Jones a case that raises questions of whether warrantless GPS tracking violates the Fourth Amendment. In Jones, the Supreme Court will review two specific questions: