News and Analysis of the Global Innovation Scene
|By Gobble, MaryAnne M|
Patent Reformers Take on the Trolls
The past 15 months have seen the most significant changes to the US patenting process in over 60 years, with the 2013 enactment of the America Invents Act, which was intended to harmonize the American patent system with the intel- lectual property regimes of the rest of the world. This year, patent applicants face yet another sea change in Ameri- ca's approach to protecting intellectual property.
The Innovation Act, which passed the
The reforms arrive at a time when the cost of patent litigation is increasing rapidly, driven in part by the activities of NPEs, often called patent trolls. A recent study by
The America Invents Act (AIA) in- cluded some provisions intended to simplify the patent process and, thus, reduce litigation and associated ex- penses. Perhaps the largest change in- troduced by AIA required the Patent Office to award patents to individuals who file applications first rather than those who could prove they were first to invent a patentable idea. That ad- justment, which puts the US system more in line with other industrial countries, also eliminated complex processes to determine priority among nearly simultaneous inventions.
The legislation represented an ini- tial response to concerns about the bur- geoning number of lawsuits against patent holders and the perception that the existing system permitted well- heeled infringers to outlast poorly funded start-ups that owned patents. During debate on the issue, opponents charged that the new system would benefit large technology companies with efficient-and expensive-patent offices. But the need for simplification overcame those objections.
The number of patent cases, how- ever, has continued to grow. The rea- son, according to supporters of patent reform: the act did not go far enough in countering patent trolls.
One thing has changed since the pas- sage of AIA; NPEs appear to have ex- panded their target group. "The targets of these lawsuits are no longer just large high-tech companies, as used to be the case," Black notes. Small and medium- sized businesses outside the technology arena now find themselves in the spot- light. Facing high legal fees, Black says, "many choose to settle even though they believe it is wrong, rather than face bankruptcy."
* Plaintiffs must disclose the patent owner before litigation, thus ensur- ing that patent trolls cannot disguise themselves behind shell companies.
* Plaintiffs must explain why they are bringing suit.
* Courts will decide whether a patent is valid early in litigation, thereby preventing patent trolls from string- ing out cases involving invalid pat- ents, thus forcing defendants to settle because of lack of funds or time.
* The US Patent and Trademark Office will provide educational resources for organizations facing abusive pat- ent litigation claims.
* Judges will award attorneys' fees to defendants in what they determine to be frivolous lawsuits.
Opponents of the proposed legislation make arguments similar to those made by opponents of the AIA: that the act will benefit large, well-established firms over small start-ups and hence hinder innovation. Critics point out that the legislation limits the ability of all patent holders-and not just NPEs-to assert their rights. In particular, they focus on the provision that losers in patent suits can be forced to pay the winners' fees. The possibility of huge legal bills if they lose, opponents charge, will likely dis- suade start-ups and other small compa- nies from pursuing claims that their patents have been infringed. "The clear message to little inventors," warned Re- publican Representative
Other critics assert that the proposal comes too soon after passage of the AIA.
As technology advances, the limiting fac- tor for further advancement in key areas, from wearable tech and advanced smart- phones to electric cars, is now batteries. Battery research has long taken a back- seat to computer chip R&D, arguably one of the key drivers of innovation over the past several decades. But now, driven by soaring interest in mobility of two different types-handheld or wear- able communication devices and elec- tric cars-battery research is taking off.
At a time when the pace of technol- ogy innovation seems to be increasing at an exponential rate, it seems like bat- tery innovation should be proceeding at a similar pace. So why isn't there a Moore's Law for batteries?
Moore's Law, which is actually an observation, holds that the number of transistors on integrated circuits or the overall processing power for comput- ers doubles approximately every two years. The reasons for this continuous increase are twofold: electrons are small and require little space in a chip, and chip performance is largely limited by the lithography technology used to fab- ricate the chips. As lithography im- proves, ever-smaller features can be etched onto processors.
Any such law for batteries, argues
Significant improvements in battery capacity can only be made by changing to a different chemistry, scientists agree. And even this different chemistry is go- ing to be governed by fundamental pa- rameters like the size of ions, which transfer charge in batteries and take up space, and the rates of chemical reac- tions and current flow, among other factors. As long as batteries rely on the electrochemical process, limitations will persist. These include low energy stor- age capability, slow charging, short ser- vice life, and high cost per watt-all significant barriers to the development of next-generation mobile devices and electric cars. Breaking through those barriers requires a much more funda- mental level of rethinking than the re- petitive application of miniaturization that has driven chip development. And the specific demands of particular appli- cations add to the challenge.
So the race is on, both to discover al- ternatives to the traditional battery and to find ways to make battery power last longer. Who's in the lead? It is still too early to say, but several pockets of ex- pertise are emerging.
US start-ups and universities are also generating a steady flow of ideas, some just as ambitious as Apple's, if not more so, and attracting attention and venture capital. Venture capital firms
A team of researchers from the Uni- versity of
Interest in high-performance auto- motive batteries is exceptionally high in
There's plenty of action in Germa- ny's vast public research sector, too.
Other German groups joining the battery research fray include the Fraun- hofer Institute, the
Some believe much more of the prog- ress around batteries for cell phones, tablet computers, wearable communi- cation devices, and even electric cars will come out of the labs and factories of Asian giants, like Samsung, Panasonic, and
Despite all the work going into the pursuit of better batteries, there is no guarantee of breakthroughs in battery technology equivalent to those seen by computer technology over the past 30 years. But if and when someone comes up with a battery that has high storage capability and long service life and is safe and easy to maintain, that porta- ble source of energy will dramatically change our lives.
The Ethics and Law of Robots
A driverless car makes its way through a parking lot, when a shopping cart from one direction and a baby carriage from another roll in front of the car at the same time. A human driver would likely steer away from the baby carriage and toward the shopping cart to avoid hurt- ing the baby in the stroller. The person recognizes the baby carriage as an object deserving greater care than the shop- ping cart. Would an autonomous system make that judgment or simply detect two objects of roughly the same size and shape?
This is not a question for the future.
Even today, modern society increas- ingly relies on autonomous systems to replace human interactions and stream- line transactions. Automated stock trad- ing, for instance, uses algorithms to execute pre-programmed "robot" trad- ing instructions-more than half of all equity trading in the EU and
As the role of artificial intelligence in human lives expands, occurrences like this are bound to increase. Questions about the legal and ethical implications of robotic systems are becoming in- creasingly urgent.
In a recent interview,
As law professor
As autonomous intelligent systems proliferate, other legal questions arise. Who is responsible for losses arising from automatic stock trading based on algorithms? Who owns the copyright on sports stories written by a computer? What right do people have to know when they're interacting with an auto- mated bot on social media, as opposed to a real person?
Some regulations are starting to emerge.
Beyond liability and traffic regula- tions, however, new developments in robotics are raising questions about the ethical responsibilities of robots and those who create them. As robots emerge to, for instance, work with children with autism or help care for the elderly or hospital patients, many researchers and ethicists argue that ba- sic questions about ethics and morality and their place in the design of robots must be addressed.
Science fiction has been dealing with these issues for decades. Isaac Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics, published in 1942, are often cited as a touchstone for human-robot interactions in the real world. The three laws suggest that all of the ethical questions regarding robot behavior rest on three principles:
1. A robot may not injure a human be- ing or, through inaction, allow a hu- man being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own exis- tence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
Writers, roboticists, and philosophers have modified the original laws as the technology has developed. A genera- tion later, as real robots now live among us, lawyers are scrambling to codify the rules, regulations, and statutes to ac- commodate the roles robots play and will play in issues of liability, ownership, and privacy as well as social and com- mercial intercourse.
While legal experts work to ham- mer out basic rules for robots, technol- ogy ethicists are pushing for deeper considerations at the design phase. If robots are to be more than uncom- plaining workers, they argue, then their design must reach beyond tech- nology to address moral and ethical judgments. Social robots must be able to grasp the significance of a social mo- ment with a person or group of people, for example, interpret that moment through the filters of culture, language, history-even its own purpose for be- ing present-and respond in a way that is socially appropriate, legally accept- able, and ethically sound.
In short, we're on the front edge of a wave of technological change that will bring along with it deep social changes. It's not just that we'll need ro- bots that accommodate human ways of thinking. The current reconsiderations of legal and ethical codes are only the first step in building a civil society that includes machine intelligence.
Other Developments in the Fight Against Patent Trolls
Tesla workers assemble a Tesla Roadster at their showroom in
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