back to article Good news: It's still legal for Apple to keep its MacBook, iPhone batteries from melting

Apple has had a lawsuit, filed by notorious patent holder Uniloc over safety electronics in notebook and phone batteries, thrown out. Judge William Alsup, sitting in a US district court in northern California, found that Unlioc's claim to US patent 6,661,203 was invalid, as the technology it described was neither new nor …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I know it's just a typo, but it's also sadly realistic:

    has been "long prevalent in physics and engineering," and thus is eligible to be patented.

    1. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: I know it's just a typo, but it's also sadly realistic:

      It's fixed - don't forget to drop corrections@theregister.com an email if you spot anything wrong.

      C.

  2. JohnFen

    Hooray!

    Maybe one day, it will no longer be profitable to engage in extortion patent trolling.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hooray!

      Unlikely. Its like playing the lottery, the fact you have lost 1000 times in your life doesn't stop you from buying the 1001st ticket, because the cost of entry is small compared to the potential payout.

      It is good that big companies have mostly stopped just paying a small nuisance settlement to get them to go away, and decided to fight even if that's a short term losing strategy since their legal cost exceeds the small settlement most trolls would be willing to accept.

      1. JohnFen

        Re: Hooray!

        However, with US laws, anyway, you can only get away with shenanigans for so long. If you're a patent troll, and you keep losing court cases because you're filing BS lawsuits, you will eventually get labelled a "vexatious litigant" and can be barred from suing people in the future. At that point, your entire business model collapses.

  3. as2003

    Does the Patent Office have no obligation to check the patents it issues are valid?

    Seems they'll just had out a patent to anyone with a check book, and let the courts pick up the pieces.

    They are doing everyone a disservice if that is the case.

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Does the Patent Office have no obligation to check the patents it issues are valid?

      I believe you are correct. They have become paper pushers and only check to see if is a patent already on file. Way back when, you had submit actual hardware for most patents, then it was "proof" and the proof was checked. Now it's "give us the money, we'll check our files and if not a copy of something already there... it's yours." Pretty damn sad state of affairs.

    2. tom dial Silver badge

      The underlying logic is quite straightforward and easily understandable.

      If a patent application is denied, the applicant will revise and resubmit it. This cycle can continue for a long time, at least until the pruned down patent no longer has any meaningful claims; given the obfuscation built into the language used in patent applications, that can continue for quite a few years. For most of that time, the patent is part of the patent office's, and of some patent examiner's, backlog. Having a large backlog is not good for publicity, seeking of Congressional approval, or examiners' annual appraisals.

      If a patent application is approved, however, it becomes a completed work unit for patent office publicity, appropriation request, and personnel evaluation purposes. All organizational and employee motivations are aligned, and the examiner's natural inclination to complete work and justify a high appraisal provides at least a gentle push toward approval and against denial.

      In addition, of course, there also is the obvious fact that patent applicants often are going to have more and deeper technical knowledge in their particular field that the patent examiner. And the claims presented in general language in the application always will have been constructed carefully to be as broad and abstract as allowable (or more: after all, the patent, if denied, can be retooled and resubmitted), requiring the examiner to imagine use cases that were entirely clear to the inventor. (After all,

      The system is broken, and was as soon as methods and software patents were let in.

      1. Enno

        Slightly less cynically perhaps (and those who know me will be crying alien impostor as they real this!) the view has long been that it's not possible for patent examiners to be subject matter experts in all areas of technology. As such they're quite unqualified to judge patent applications on the basis of intrinsic merit and thus fall back to the "does it look like something already on file" part of their job. After that, the validity or not of the patent will be tested in the courts. (Why yes Gloria, these people are all just lawyers... aaahh, there's that cynicism!)

        So to create a trollable patent all you have to do is pick some arcane corner of technology, say computers or electronics, find something so obvious no one has bothered to write it or anything like it down before and create a patent for it. The canonical example for me is sadly the "XOR pixels to create a cursor so you can XOR again to remove it and repaint it somewhere else (often one pixel over)" patent which at one time or another every graphical display and window system vendor has been trolled with. But only if you think XOR is a fabulous new invention and not completely obvious and with significant prior art. Or maybe this... https://www.nytimes.com/2002/05/13/business/patents-patent-office-faces-huge-backlogs-extremely-technical-inventions-absurd.html (patent lawyer teaches son how to make a patent with a playground swing as an example, patent is granted).

        The 'fix' is to find some non-lengthy-court-battle way for patents to be reviewed. Maybe to consult experts or academics, or to have a year window after the patent is granted for the public (i.e. any interested party) to offer comment that might lead to review. The current system has clearly become too unwieldy to survive much longer as it drives small companies to settle or cease trading and fills the courts with unnecessary litigation from organisations big enough to defend themselves.

        1. gnasher729 Silver badge

          The XOR cursor patent is something that is very obvious - in hindsight. I would say it was non-obvious before it was patented.

          1. Mike 16 Silver badge

            XOR Obviousness

            The application of XOR to manipulating a cursor on a video screen might (barely) escape the "blindingly obvious" category, but it boils down to the "XOR Bit-splice" technique that was known and used (but of course not patented, because software patents were not a thing) in the days of tube/valve-based computers. Yes, I have used at least two (well, three, but of two types) such computers. Taking a well-known technique for altering memory contents in a reversible/configurable way and adding "but do it to memory that is scanned out to a screen" is pretty borderline.

            Not the only such. The Heatherington ( +++ AT ) patent is pretty clearly based on longstanding communications techniques and, among others, the way tape-drives of the 1950s recognized the "Tape Mark" (end of file) indication. Attempts at avoidance of the patent have saddled the modern world with, e.g. Bluetooth devices that can be suborned with in-band text.

            Finally, there was a time when CS professionals were explicitly not considered qualified to be patent examiners, IIRC. So all software-based patents were by definition examined by unqualified examiners.

          2. JohnFen

            Uh, no, it wasn't. At the time the patent was granted, it had been a commonly used and well known technique for quite a while.

            Not to mention that it's a mathematical formula, and as such should never have been eligible for patent protection even if it was novel.

        2. 2+2=5 Silver badge

          > The 'fix' is to find some non-lengthy-court-battle way for patents to be reviewed

          A much quicker fix would be for the head of the patent office to forfeit a portion of his bonus for each patent overturned by a court. The more scathing the language used by the judge the bigger the forfeit. When (if) the bonus is exhausted then start on the next rung of management.

      2. Jeffrey Nonken

        Your explanation is incomplete. It's not just job satisfaction, it's actively rewarded.

        https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20171228/17052738897/shocked-shocked-to-learn-patent-office-is-structurally-designed-to-approve-shit-patents.shtml

        I hope that makes it through whatever filters El reg has in place. It is a legit link.

  4. Herby

    It all boild down to "Prior Art".

    Which is all fine and good, but the patent office only thinks that "prior art" is that which is patented. Something outside that has been know for eons, just doesn't fit the bill.

    In some cases, fortunately, we get judges, and (hopefully) juries that understand "common sense".

    So, the patent office will patent, and the courts will continue to rule invalid. Life goes on.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It all boild down to "Prior Art".

      "juries that understand "common sense""

      I think you are hoping for a miracle there..

      At least judges are paid well, they choose to do the job, juries are paid a pittance, there is minimal motivation for anyone with a good mind to actually serve,.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Uniloc the patent holder...

    You mean 'Uniloc the patent troll'.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patent_troll

    If it walks and talks like a duck...

    1. Andy Mac

      Re: Uniloc the patent holder...

      If it walks and talks like a duck... I’d say “Wow! A talking duck!”

      And then patent it or something.

      1. Chris G Silver badge

        Re: Uniloc the patent holder...

        Andy, don't forget to copyright for 144 years,anything the duck says.

      2. CrazyOldCatMan

        Re: Uniloc the patent holder...

        I’d say “Wow! A talking duck!”

        And then patent it or something.

        Hmm.. Hoisin sauce.

        Sorry - got carried away there. And now I'm hungry.

  6. ButlerInstitute

    Have Patent Offices ever needed to see implementations?

    I don't think patent offices have ever tried to see inventions in action, except for perpetual motion machines. Think of those inventions like the one to let trains cross on a single track?

  7. Mage Silver badge

    Good.

    Now can we have most of the fake patents, trademarks, design patents (=UK registered Design), DMCA, fake copyright held by major corporations chucked out too?

    Also reform USPTO and other agencies. Charge MORE for rejection than acceptance.

    Stop the copyright landgrab of 144 years and cut back existing copyright which has been extended too much.

    Curb power of USA ITC instead of it being used via dubious USPTO approvals and US Corporations to block trade from outside USA.

  8. Grooke
    Pint

    Haven't seen it mentioned yet, so good job Judge Alsup. Seems like he knew what he was talking about.

    1. Robert Halloran

      Alsup competency

      This is the judge who actually invested some time during the Oracle v. Google case to learn basic C coding, and told the Oracle people how far off base they were during the trial. One Of The Good Ones...

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