Victory! EFF Supporters Beat USPTO Proposal To Wreck Patent Reviews

6 days 18 hours ago

The U.S. patent system is broken, particularly when it comes to software patents. At EFF, we’ve been fighting hard for changes that make the system more sensible. Last month, we got a big victory when we defeated a set of rules that would have mangled one of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)’s most effective systems for kicking out bad patents. 

In 2012, recognizing the entrenched problem of a patent office that spewed out tens of thousands of ridiculous patents every year, Congress created a new system to review patents called “inter partes reviews,” or IPRs. While far from perfect, IPRs have resulted in cancellation of thousands of patent claims that never should have been issued in the first place. 

At EFF, we used the IPR process to crowd-fund a challenge to the Personal Audio “podcasting patent” that tried to extract patent royalty payments from U.S. podcasters. We won that proceeding and our victory was confirmed on appeal.

It’s no surprise that big patent owners and patent trolls have been trying to wreck the IPR system for years. They’ve tried, and failed, to get federal courts to dismantle IPRs. They’ve tried, and failed, to push legislation that would break the IPR system. And last year, they found a new way to attack IPRs—by convincing the USPTO to propose a set of rules that would have sharply limited the public’s right to challenge bad patents. 

That’s when EFF and our supporters knew we had to fight back. Nearly one thousand EFF supporters filed comments with the USPTO using our suggested language, and hundreds more of you wrote your own comments. 

Today, we say thank you to everyone who took the time to speak out. Your voice does matter. In fact, the USPTO withdrew all three of the terrible proposals that we focused on. 

Our Victory to Keep Public Access To Patent Challenges 

The original rules would have greatly increased expanded what are called “discretionary denials,” enabling judges at the USPTO to throw out an IPR petition without adequately considering the merits of the petition. While we would like to see even fewer discretionary denials, defeating the proposed limitations patent challenges is a significant win.

First, the original rules would have stopped “certain for-profit entities” from using the IPR system altogether. While EFF is a non-profit, for-profit companies can and should be allowed to play a role in getting wrongly granted patents out of the system. Membership-based patent defense organizations like RPX or Unified Patents can allow small companies to band together and limit their costs while defending themselves against invalid patents. And non-profits like the Linux Foundation, who joined us in fighting against these wrongheaded proposed rules, can work together with professional patent defense groups to file more IPRs. 

EFF and our supporters wrote in opposition to this rule change—and it’s out. 

Second, the original rules would have exempted “micro and small entities” from patent reviews altogether. This exemption would have applied to many of the types of companies we call “patent trolls”—that is, companies whose business is simply demanding license fees for patents, rather than offering actual products or services. Those companies, specially designed to threaten litigation, would have easily qualified as “small entities” and avoided having their patents challenged. Patent trolls, which bully real small companies and software developers into paying unwarranted settlement fees, aren’t the kind of “small business” that should be getting special exemptions from patent review. 

EFF and our supporters opposed this exemption, and it’s out of the final rulemaking. 

Third, last year’s proposal would have allowed for IPR petitions to be kicked out if they had a “parallel proceeding”—in other words, a similar patent dispute—in district court. This was a wholly improper reason to not consider IPRs, especially since district court evidence rules are different than those in place for an IPR. 

EFF and our supporters opposed these new limitations, and they’re out. 

While the new rules aren’t perfect, they’re greatly improved. We would still prefer more IPRs rather than fewer, and don’t want to see IPRs that otherwise meet the rules get kicked out of the review process. But even there, the new revised rules have big improvements. For instance, they allow for separate briefing of discretionary denials, so that people and companies seeking IPR review can keep their focus on the merits of their petition. 

Additional reading: 

Joe Mullin

Modern Cars Can Be Tracking Nightmares. Abuse Survivors Need Real Solutions.

6 days 20 hours ago

The amount of data modern cars collect is a serious privacy concern for all of us. But in an abusive situation, tracking can be a nightmare.

As a New York Times article outlined, modern cars are often connected to apps that show a user a wide range of information about a vehicle, including real-time location data, footage from cameras showing the inside and outside of the car, and sometimes the ability to control the vehicle remotely from their mobile device. These features can be useful, but abusers often turn these conveniences into tools to harass and control their victims—or even to locate or spy on them once they've fled their abusers.

California is currently considering three bills intended to help domestic abuse survivors endangered by vehicle tracking. Unfortunately, despite the concerns of advocates who work directly on tech-enabled abuse, these proposals are moving in the wrong direction. These bills intended to protect survivors are instead being amended in ways that open them to additional risks. We call on the legislature to return to previous language that truly helps people disable location-tracking in their vehicles without giving abusers new tools.

We know abusers are happy to lie and exploit whatever they can to further their abuse, including laws and services meant to help survivors.

Each of the bills seeks to address tech-enabled abuse in different ways. The first, S.B. 1394 by CA State Sen. David Min (Irvine), earned EFF's support when it was introduced. This bill was drafted with considerable input from experts in tech-enabled abuse at The University of California, Irvine. We feel its language best serves the needs of survivors in a wide range of scenarios without creating new avenues of stalking and harassment for the abuser to exploit. As introduced, it would require car manufacturers to respond to a survivor's request to cut an abuser's remote access to a car's connected services within two business days. To make a request, a survivor must prove the vehicle is theirs to use, even if their name is not necessarily on the loan or title. They could do this through documentation such as a court order, police report, or marriage separation agreement. S.B. 1000 by CA State Sen. Angelique Ashby (Sacramento) would have applied a similar framework to allow survivors to make requests to cut remote access to vehicles and other smart devices.

In contrast, A.B. 3139 introduced by Asm. Dr. Akilah Weber (La Mesa) takes a different approach. Rather than have people submit requests first and cut access later, this bill would require car manufacturers to terminate access immediately, and only requiring some follow-up documentation up to seven days after the request. Unfortunately, both S.B. 1394 and S.B. 1000 have now been amended to adopt this "act first, ask questions later" framework.

The changes to these bills are intended to make it easier for people in desperate situations to get away quickly. Yet, for most people, we believe the risks of A.B. 3139's approach outweigh the benefits. EFF's experience working with victims of tech-enabled abuse instead suggests that these changes are bad for survivors—something we've already said in official comments to the Federal Communications Commission.

Why This Doesn't Work for Survivors

EFF has two main concerns with the approach from A.B. 3139. First, the bill sets a low bar for verifying an abusive situation, including simply allowing a statement from the person filing the request. Second, the bill requires a way to turn tracking off immediately without any verification. Why are these problems?

Imagine you have recently left an abusive relationship. You own your car, but your former partner decides to seek revenge for your leaving and calls the car manufacturer to file a false report that removes your access to your car. In cases where both the survivor and abuser have access to the car's account—a common scenario—the abuser could even kick the survivor off a car app account, and then use the app to harass and stalk the survivor remotely. Under A.B. 3139's language, it would be easy for an abuser to make a false statement, under penalty of perjury—to "verify" that the survivor is the perpetrator of abuse. Depending on a car app’s capabilities, that false claim could mean that, for up to a week, a survivor may be unable to start or access their own vehicle. We know abusers are happy to lie and exploit whatever they can to further their abuse, including laws and services meant to help survivors. It will be trivial for an abuser—who is already committing a crime and unlikely to fear a perjury charge—to file a false request to cut someone off from their car.

It's true that other domestic abuse laws EFF has worked on allow for this kind of self-attestation. This includes the Safe Connections Act, which allows survivors to peel their phone more easily off of a family plan. However, this is the wrong approach for vehicles. Access to a phone plan is significantly different from access to a car, particularly when remote services allow you to control a vehicle. While inconvenient and expensive, it is much easier to replace a phone or a phone plan than a car if your abuser locks you out. The same solution doesn't fit both problems. You need proof to make the decision to cut access to something as crucial to someone's life as their vehicle.

Second, the language added to these bills requires it be possible for anyone in a car to immediately disconnect it from connected services. Specifically, A.B. 3139 says that the method to disable tracking must be "prominently located and easy to use and shall not require access to a remote, online application." That means it must essentially be at the push of a button. That raises serious potential for misuse. Any person in the car may intentionally or accidentally disable tracking, whether they're a kid pushing buttons for fun, a rideshare passenger, or a car thief. Even more troubling, an abuser could cut access to the app’s ability to track a car and kidnap a survivor or their children. If past is prologue, in many cases, abusers will twist this "protection" to their own ends.

The combination of immediate action and self-attestation is helpful for survivors in one particular scenario—a survivor who has no documentation of their abuse, who needs to get away immediately in a car owned by their abuser. But it opens up many new avenues of stalking, harassment, and other forms of abuse for survivors. EFF has loudly called for bills that empower abuse survivors to take control away from their abusers, particularly by being able to disable tracking—but this is not the right way to do it. We urge the legislature to pass bills with the processes originally outlined in S.B. 1394 and S.B. 1000 and provide survivors with real solutions to address unwanted tracking.

Hayley Tsukayama


6 days 22 hours ago
 「楽しいはずのクリスマスイブの日を、これから少女は毎年つらい思いで過ごさなければならない」。米軍兵士による16歳未満の少女に対する誘拐暴行事件が起きたのは去年の12月24日、クリスマスイブの日。被害にあった少女について沖縄に住む人たちは絞り出すように語った。 日本政府が一体となって沖縄県に事実を隠し続けたこの事件が、琉球朝日放送の昼のニュースで第一報が報じられ明るみに出たのは6月25日。外務省や防衛省、そして県民の警察のはずの沖縄県警は、県に連絡しなかった理由として「被害者..


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